He put his thumbs through his belt loops and leaned against the fence. The smell of horse and bull shit filled his nose when a warm breeze wafted from across the field where the rest of the rodeo had stacked up for the weekend. The other trailers had grown silent over the last few hours, the fights between the managers and their cowboys slowly fading to loud singing over copious shots of whiskey and cans of cheap beer. The local girls had long since slunk back home after experiencing their own version of a glorified eight-second ride.
Sam packed his chunk of dip a little deeper in his mouth and felt the sting of tobacco as it seeped into his lip. He never dipped, except for the night before a big ride. Jamie wouldn’t approve.
He spat a huge chunk of brown spit into the mud at his feet and furrowed his brow. The shadows of the night covered the shadow that had passed over his face. That woman would be the death of him, if a bull didn’t get him first.
He turned and tapped his boots against the side of the tires to try and knock off some of the mud and shit before he climbed into the small trailer he had borrowed from a buddy who broke his leg at Marble Falls and couldn’t ride for awhile. Kurt had lent him the trailer for two weeks after Sam had reminded him about the night in San Antonio last year. The night with the throwing stars and the one-eyed Arab? Yeah, Kurt was more than willing to give Sam the keys to his shitty tailor for the next few rodeos.
Sam ducked his head down to get the back where Jamie lay. He picked up his hat that was next to her on the mattress and bent down to give her a quick kiss on the check. She liked to use that hat sometimes, pretending she was a cowgirl and he was the bull. He guessed it made her feel like she was part of the action, or maybe she was trying to tame him. He smiled as he remembered the look on her face as she rode him, her breasts bouncing up and down in a display of perfection he could never seem to keep his hands off of. He let his hand caress one of her breasts now as she slept, gently passing over her perfectly pink nipple with his thumb before he left the trailer quietly.
His boots picked up mud and god knows what else on his walk to the ring. The lights were out, of course, but the lights in the stable were still lit. Sam glanced around at the empty stadium seats before he made his way over to the stables. He pushed the door open slowly so the livestock wouldn’t startle unnecessarily. Studying the stalls as he walked past them, he finally found what he was looking for and stopped short. His boots crushed bits of straw beneath his feet.
“Hi, friend, you can’t be in here!”
The stable-hand shuffled over quickly, leaving the mare he was brushing a few stalls down. His voice was firm and his posture was assured until he caught sight of Sam’s face.
“Sam? Sam Astley?”
The stable-hand’s demeanor changed at once.
“Well, god damn, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Junior Santiago.”
Junior stuck out his hand earnestly and Sam gave it a firm shake while the man continued.
“I- I’m sorry, Mr. Astley, but you know the rules. No riders in the stables. But if I had known it was you, I’d had rolled out the red carpet.”
He was almost tripping over his feet in excitement.
“Do you want a tour?”
“No, Junior, I just want to meet my opponent.”
Sam walked past Junior and looked at the now calm beast in front of him. Junior let him pass without hesitation.
“You know, Mr. Astley, I was at the rodeo, when-”
He glanced down at Sam’s left hand and and didn’t finish the sentence. Sam stretched out his left arm and looked at his hand with Junior. He barely thought about it anymore. So much had happened since…
“Is that why you left roping and went to riding?”
“Well, yes, Junior, it is pretty difficult to maintain enough grip to hold a rope and saddle when you are missing a few fingers.”
Mr. Santiago didn’t have the sense to be abashed at his insensitive question. Dropping his hand, Sam’s focus went back to the bull.
“They say it was a freak accident. Most riders only lose the tips of their fingers when they can’t get their hands out from under the rope in time.”
Sam remained silent and watched the bull snort and pull against the rope that held him tightly to the back wall of the stall. Sam was trying his damnedest not to remember how it felt to feel his fingers rattle freely in his glove before the medics yanked it off. The leather had still been intact…but his fingers…
Sam turned away from the bull and thanked Junior for letting him pay his respects to the bull before tomorrow. Junior followed him out of the stable, going on and on about how it was no trouble, he was just so grateful to have met his rodeo hero. When he finally shook the overly eager stable-hand, Junior went back to the trailer… back to Jamie.
To be continued…