Jeni Rae D
It was March 1, the day I would finally move into my new place far away from home. It would be my first time living independently, without anyone in my ear telling me what I could or couldn’t do.
It would also be the first time not having anyone watching my every move, assuming I was about to do something stupid again.
Although, after what I did two years ago, and seeing where it landed me, I would hope I’d be smart enough never to do something as stupid as what I did.
As we left San Antonio’s airport for Bandera, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d be over four thousand miles away from home, with no friends or family in the area.
And because of that, my parents thought they’d fly to Texas with me to help get me situated and to see where I chose to live.
Before leaving Alaska, I admit, I was nervous about moving away from the only state I’d ever known and how far I’d be away from my parents.
So when my father came to me, informing me they’d be flying along, I had no problem with it.
I didn’t want them worrying about me twenty-four-seven and calling me every ten minutes to see how I was doing and asking if I was okay.
On the way to Bandera I was too excited to stare at the directions on my phone and wanted to focus more on seeing what Texas looked like.
So I sat in the back seat, looking out the window, while my mother directed my father on where to go. With all my father’s money, we’d never traveled outside of Alaska.
Of course he did. But we, as a family, didn’t. So you could say I was more excited about seeing another part of the world than giving directions.
While looking out the window and watching the world go by, I started daydreaming about the kind of people I’d meet and who’d be coming in at the diner in town, where I had been hired.
After everything I’d read about the city of Bandera and the type of people living there, I hoped it would all be true.
My beating heart rapidly gained speed when I saw the sign welcoming us to Bandera, the cowboy capital of the world, and heard my father groaning.
“Really, Josie? You chose to move to a town full of cowboys?”
I had a feeling that was the reaction I would get from him. But I didn’t care.
Wanting to move there was what I wanted, and whether he liked it or not, I was there to meet a real cowboy, with hopes of making him mine.
I giggled after hearing him groan again. Then I smiled. “Yes, Father. What’s so wrong with that?”
“Apparently nothing, in your eyes. But in my eyes, I see trouble,” he growled.
I removed my seatbelt, sat at the edge of the seat, then rested my elbows on each of the two front seats while looking at my father. “Trouble? Why do you say that?”
“Cowboys, Josie? Every one of them is trouble. They’re always drinking, partying, and fighting.”
I shook my head, then nudged him.
“No, they’re not. From what I’ve read, they’re all hard workers. And because this is a smaller town, there’s very little crime, and they know everyone. So stop being so judgmental.”
“I’m not being judgmental. I’m only telling it like it is.”
I rolled my eyes, but instead of responding and causing an argument, I sat back in my seat and remained quiet until my father pulled up to the house he and I had found online.
He opened the door, quickly stepped out, stretched, and looked around, studying everyone working in their yards.
As I exited the vehicle, the front door to my rented house opened, and a woman came out, giving us a welcoming smile as she headed toward us. Her hand extended toward me.
“Howdy. You must be Josie Winchester.”
Shaking her hand and smiling, I said, “I am. And you must be Callie.”
“I am. And these are your parents, I presume?” she asked, turning and shaking both of my parents’ hands.
“Yes. This is my father, Daniel, and my mother, Tess.”
“Why don’t you come inside and look around? And if it’s to your liking, we’ll review the rental agreement. Sound good?”
I immediately fell in love with and was in awe of the home.
I also loved that it came fully furnished—something my father made sure of before agreeing I could move, in case I hated living there and had to worry about flying all my belongings back to Alaska.
Another thing he liked was that Callie agreed to me having only a six-month lease. He still thought I’d move back after the six months were up.
“I’ll be out of the country on business, so if you have any problem with the house or anything else, please call Calvin.
“He’s a good friend who lives here in town, and the only one who knows how to fix everything. I have his name and number posted for you on the refrigerator,” she said, pointing to the fridge.
My father had questions of his own. So while he and my mother talked with her, I stepped outside and looked around the home. I couldn’t help but smile as I looked at the clear blue sunny sky.
Then, still grinning like I had won the lottery, I closed my eyes and inhaled, taking in the smell of the fresh country air. It was refreshing and different from Anchorage’s atmosphere.
After the landlady left, we unloaded the car and drove around and explored the town.
Of course, my father wasn’t too impressed with the looks of it. My mother, on the other hand, was excited for me.
She’d finally had enough of my father griping and complaining the entire time he drove, and she began scolding him.
“Listen to me, Daniel. This isn’t the kind of place I’d choose to live either, but this is what she wants.
“There comes a time when you need to step back and allow Josie to discover herself and explore her horizons. And that time is right now.
“She’s twenty-four years old. Let her figure out what she would like to do with her life on her own, without interfering. She’ll call or return if she doesn’t like being this far away from home.”
My father didn’t say another word. Then, the next thing I knew, he parked in a grocery store parking lot. He turned the car off, then sat quietly for a few seconds before turning to look at me.
“Before your mother and I leave to head home, I’d like to buy your groceries. After this, you’re on your own.”
“You don’t have to buy my groceries. I can do that.”
I wasn’t expecting him to buy my groceries. I was going to buy them after they left. But to keep the peace, I showed my appreciation with a smile while thanking him.
“Consider it a housewarming gift from your mother and me.
“I know how much money you have in your account. And until you start working, I want to be sure you won’t go hungry and lose weight you can’t afford to lose. You’re skinny enough as it is.”
I sighed, “Thanks, Dad.”
I knew I was skinny, but that was Spencer’s fault, since he’d told me I couldn’t eat the foods I liked eating.
He insisted I keep my figure and forced me to eat what I didn’t care to eat: seafood and salads.
I was never a seafood eater, so in order not to argue with him, I only ate salads and vegetables. Sometimes I ate nothing, whenever I got sick of eating the same foods every day.
So a few weeks ago, when my mom made spaghetti, I’d taken advantage of the invite and eaten as much of it as I could, savoring every bite.
It was like a treat for me. Like a pig, I ate two plates of it.
Feeling free to eat whatever I wanted, now that Spencer was out of my life, I filled my cart with everything I hadn’t been allowed to have for the past year.
Three overfilled carts later, we were finally in line to check out. As we stood waiting to load the food conveyor, I heard a child causing a ruckus behind me, and I turned around.
A young boy was sitting on the tiled floor, screaming, kicking, and holding his hands to his ears, while a man wearing a cowboy hat was trying to get him to calm down and stand.
I was curious to see the man’s face after seeing his beautiful, corded, and very sizable muscles bulging out from the arms of his white T-shirt as he reached for his son.
I stood staring, waiting for the cowboy to turn around.
“Josie,” my father anxiously said, interrupting my imagination. “Are you going to help us empty the carts or watch the kid be a spoiled brat?”
I spun around, scowling, “Oh, Dad, stop it. You can’t assume he’s being a brat.”
“Any child who acts that way is a brat.”
Ignoring my dad’s comments, I walked around and began loading the food onto the belt, but not without keeping my eyes on the cowboy, who was still trying to calm the child down.
It made me smile to see how calm the cowboy was with the child and how he didn’t care that everyone’s eyes were focusing on them.
Then, seeing the child stand and hug the man, my smile broadened, and my heart warmed after he kissed the top of the child’s head while calmly talking to him.
Something I remembered learning in nursing school told me he wasn’t a brat like my dad assumed. Instead, everything I’d just witnessed suggested the boy could very well be autistic.
I never did see the cowboy’s face, but my gut told me that wouldn’t be the last time I’d see him, and I couldn’t wait.
Because if his body was as appetizing as it appeared, I was sure his facial features were just as delicious.
My parents had stayed the night, so all morning I’d been anxiously waiting for them to leave.
I wanted to enjoy the freedom I’d come here for and go out and continue exploring the town while enjoying the warmer weather.
Then I remembered that Callie had attached an itinerary of the town’s daily and monthly activities on the fridge.
I walked over, removed the list, and stood with my back against the counter, looking to see what they had planned for tonight.
My mouth curved into a happy one upon seeing that there was an event later in the evening with live country music and dancing.
“What’s with that smile?” my mother asked as she entered the kitchen.
I lowered the itinerary to my side, then looked at her.
“I’m just happy to be on my own,” I told her, then bit my bottom lip, contemplating asking when they were leaving.
Instead of asking and making it evident that I wanted them to go, I walked over to the coffee pot, asking, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No thanks. I came in to tell you that your father and I are about to leave.”
Now I didn’t have to ask the rude question about when they were leaving.
With a smile, she reached and then pulled me into her arms. “I’m going to miss you. Make sure you call every once in a while to let us know you’re doing okay.”
I squeezed her tighter. “I will. Thank you for flying down here with me, talking some sense into Dad, and helping me with the groceries. I appreciate all of it.”
“You’re welcome. And you know your father can be dramatic at times. He just needs to be reminded that you’re an adult and can make your own decisions,” she said, hugging me again.
“Just promise me you won’t get into any trouble that’ll make your father say I told you so.”
“I promise. I’m doing this to prove I’m not the girl he thinks I still am.
“But I’m also doing this because it’s what I want to do, so I can think and do things for myself without anyone telling me differently, as they have been.”
I loosened my hold around her and smiled while leaning back to get one last look at the beautiful face I’d miss seeing.
I felt tears beginning to form. So before my mother noticed what I was about to choke on, I said, “I better say goodbye to Father.”
I found my father outside, hesitantly placing their luggage into the car, still not looking thrilled to leave me behind.
Finally I walked over to the car and stood against it with my arms crossed against my chest. “Thank you for all your help. Without you I couldn’t have done this.”
With a forced smile he closed the door, stepped in front of me, and pulled me in for a hug.
“You’re welcome. Just know that the offer is still there to come home at any time. I also agreed with Callie that she could keep the money if it didn’t work out for you before the six months were up.”
I knew he’d bring that up. But because I was determined to make this work and had told myself I wasn’t returning to Alaska no matter how bad it got, I assured him I’d be fine.
“Promise me you won’t be calling and checking in on me every ten minutes.”
“I promise,” he sighed, pulling me in for one last hug. “Take good care of yourself.”
“I will,” I said confidently. “Now, hurry and leave. I don’t want you to miss your flight.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know you want us out of here,” he said, looking at my mother as she got into the vehicle.
Seeing the tears in my mother’s eyes caused mine to spring a leak. So before I cried like a baby, I looked away.
The last thing I wanted to do was to go to the dinner-and-dance event with swollen, puffy eyes.
Finally they pulled out of the driveway. And the second my parents got to the edge of the street and started turning, I couldn’t help but clap and jump up and down.
Then I ran into the house like a little kid and happily screamed.
The event didn’t start for another few hours, but I wanted to begin getting ready.
I started rummaging through the clothes I had put away the night before, frowning at everything I had brought along.
Everything I owned would have me looking like Paris Hilton, and that was someone I didn’t want to be looking like around here.
I wanted to fit in with the people in Bandera and to look more like the person everyone claimed I reminded them of: Carrie Underwood.
Callie mentioned I could use her car whenever needed, but since I didn’t know her or the area, I ordered an Uber to drive me around town.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” the Uber driver chuckled after I asked him to bring me to the mall.
“No. Is it that obvious?” I asked, suddenly feeling stupid.
He laughed again, “I thought so. Where are you from then?”
“Well, for one, you don’t have the southern Texas accent. And two, there are no malls here in Bandera. So if a mall is where you’d like me to bring you to, then we’d have to drive to San Antonio.”
He looked into the rearview mirror, asking, “Are you looking to buy clothes or something?”
“San Antonio?” I muttered quietly, remembering how it was about an hour’s drive.
Suddenly my cheeks heated in embarrassment for wasting his time picking me up and bringing me nowhere but around the block.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. But yes, I was looking to buy clothes.
“Everything I own would make me stand out like a sore thumb, and I’d rather not have everyone staring at me like I’m some blonde bimbo with money.
“I would like to fit in with the residents here. So if there’s no mall, where would one go to buy clothes around here?”
He grinned and said, “I know just the place.”
What a relief. “Thank you.”
I noticed how the driver kept looking in the rearview mirror at me. So when he looked again, I finally asked, “Why do you keep looking at me like you are?”
He pulled into a parking spot and then turned to look at me. “I’m sorry. It’s just that you look familiar.”
I could feel where he was going with this, and I giggled, then said, “Let me guess. Carrie Underwood?”
His eyes widened, and his face suddenly turned flush. “You’re not her, are you?”
Opening the door, I laughed and shook my head. “No, I’m not her. But I’m asked that often, so don’t feel embarrassed by it.”
His expression turned to disappointment.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to disappoint you.”
“It’s all right. I’m not disappointed. I should’ve known better than to think you were her, since you said you didn’t have any clothes that make you fit in.”
He looked at the store, then at me. “I have nothing going on. So if you’d like, I can stay and wait for you.”
What a sweet man. I wondered if they were all this nice here. “Are you sure?”
“Thank you very much. I’ll try to hurry,” I said, closing the door.
My senses were immediately hit with scents of leather, gunpowder, and sandalwood the second I entered the store.
The bold and rugged scents smelled so good that I stopped, closed my eyes, and inhaled until I was interrupted by an employee.
“Hello. Can I help you find anything?”
I opened my eyes and smiled at her. “I need clothes. Anything that’ll help me not look like a tourist.”
“Of course. Follow me,” she said happily.
An hour later I walked out of the store with multiple bags and a smile, excited to wear my new outfit for the night.
I was also excited to get to the town’s party to watch and learn how the cowboys and cowgirls danced. I also hoped to make some new friends.
After showering and getting dressed, I did my hair, adding bouncy curls to my long blonde locks, and then topped the look off with my new cowboy hat.
I stood in front of the mirror, smiling and twisting my body from side to side to check out the new look, making sure I looked okay.
…And thinking about how my father would have a heart attack if he could see what I was wearing.
Since the event wasn’t far from my place, I walked.
And the closer I got, and the more I heard everyone hooting and hollering and having a good time, along with the music playing and the sounds of gunshots firing, the more I got goosebumps.
It felt a bit weird walking around by myself, so I tried blending in by walking over to the kids who were getting their faces painted.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a familiar face getting his face decorated: the young boy from the grocery store.
So I glanced at the parents watching and taking pictures, hoping to see what the boy’s father looked like, but I could not distinguish who he was, since all the men wearing hats looked the same.
The smell of the barbeque sauce lingering in the air went straight down into the pit of my belly, causing my stomach to growl.
So I headed to the barn where they were serving food, filled up my plate like I hadn’t eaten in years, then found an empty picnic table and sat.
While I was listening to the band and pigging out on my second barbeque sandwich, a man sat across from me.
Every time I took a bite of my food, I noticed the man’s eyes never left me, so I set down my sandwich and looked at the young, thin-framed, blue-eyed man.
He wasn’t the type of cowboy I was looking for, but since he looked like he wanted to say something, I politely asked, “Can I help you?”
He smiled and tipped his hat while saying, “Howdy. I’ve never seen you before. Are you new in town or just a tourist?”
“No, I’m not a tourist. I moved here yesterday,” I said, trying to be friendly.
He grinned widely. “Excellent.” He turned, facing the area where couples were dancing, then looked back at me, extending his hand toward me. “Come here now. Dance with me.”
I looked down at my plate, bunched up my nose, then looked at him, pointing to what I didn’t feel like throwing away. “What about my food?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “What about it? Just come on here and let’s dance.
“Let me show you a good ole Bandera, Texas, welcome. It’ll be fun. I promise,” he assured, smiling and waving his hand for me to stand.
I looked at my sandwich, and as I stood, I grabbed it, then shoveled it into my mouth as he guided me to the dance floor.
The young cowboy raised my hand when we got to the area he wanted, spun me to face him, then began dancing as I tried swallowing the last of my remnants in my mouth before I choked on it.
I had no idea how to dance as the other couples were, and I started laughing. “I’m sorry. I’ve never danced like this before. So forgive me for stepping on your feet.”
“You’re fine. Just follow my lead.” He pointed to the couples dancing beside us. “See how the others are dancing?”
“Watch them, then follow me. It’s easy. Eventually you’ll get the hang of it.”
Finally, after a while, I got the hang of their way of dancing and was having fun. Then, as the song ended, a man got on the microphone and announced that the next dance would be square dancing.
“Square dance?” I asked when he stopped me from leaving.
“That’s right. Come on. It’s fun.”
He grinned, pulling me toward a group looking to fill their square.
“I haven’t square danced since the fourth or fifth grade. I’m not so sure I’ll remember what to do.”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Are you serious? It’s one of the easiest dances to do. You just follow the announcer’s directions and dance. It’s not that hard at all.”
I looked away from the friendly guy and over at the couple standing across from me. The next thing I felt was my heart palpitating ridiculously after seeing the gorgeous cowboy eyeing me.
I looked at the woman he was with, then down at his hand, looking for a ring. When I saw nothing, a smile on the inside formed.
I know that didn’t mean anything, but when I looked up and saw the sexy cowboy’s eyes were still on me, my body went numb.
“Damn,” I muttered under my breath.
The guy that insisted I dance with him must have taken notice of where my eyes were, because he leaned into my ear, saying, “His name is Jesse.
“And I have to tell you, if you’re interested in that guy, all I can say is good luck. The man doesn’t trust women, and he’ll stay as far away from them as possible.”
“What do you mean? I’m just trying to figure everyone out,” I lied while checking out the size of his arms and chest—my panties moistening the longer my gaze stayed on him.
The cowboy was nummy, and I couldn’t help but undress him with my eyes. And how my body was reacting to him! I was now more than determined to learn who he was.
We finally started dancing. And when we were instructed to switch partners, my partner let go of my hand after swinging me around, and I landed in the dreamy man’s arms.
Our eyes locked, and then I went limp.
I couldn’t stop staring into his eyes, since they were the grayest eyes I’d ever seen.
Then finally my eyes diverted away from his and went to his mouth. His lips and the stubble surrounding them had me feeling wetter than ever.
I was so engrossed in his looks that I didn’t hear him telling me to start dancing until he got inches away from my face.
“Howdy. I said, start dancing,” he said lowly.
The moment he spoke and I felt the heat of his breath fanning against my skin, I lost it and dropped to the ground.
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