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Old 11-20-2007, 05:28 AM   #1
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**MCL CONTEST SUBMISSIONS -- READ & VOTE NOW**

Congratulations! We received 12 entries! That's fantastic. Now, it's time for the AW folks to judge them. Each AWer may vote one (1) time via PM. Each entry is below, posted anonymously here. People who entered may also vote.

To vote ...
  1. Create a Private Message address to me.
  2. Subject line should read "MCL Contest Vote"
  3. Choose the three entries that best suit the contest description (below) and put them in rank order from first to third. The body of your email might look like this:

    1, 7, 12

  4. You may include comments. Put those AFTER your vote. Try to keep each comment 30 words or less. I'll include comments when I announce winners. If you're making a comment about a specific entry, be sure to say something like this:

    12. Great entry, flowed well.
Votes must be received by PM no later than 8:45 p.m. EST, Thursday, Nov. 22.


You can, may and should discuss the entries here. As always, your feedback means plenty to the entrants. So, be constructive, be fair, but do offer feedback. Again, the discussion thread is here.

To reprise, contestants were asked to write a vignette about the person described here:
"Brenda Karricker is a ranch hand in Montana who has spent the last three seasons working the 99ers Ranch outside of Butte. No one's sure how or why Brenda traveled from Maryland to Montana, however, they are all sure this mother of three and former investment banker left plenty behind to come work here."
The entries follow. Good luck to all contestants and let the voting begin!

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:29 AM   #2
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Entry #1 by WittyandorIronic

Scoop, lift, dump. Scoop, lift, dump. The hard dirt floor was gradually revealed beneath fouled straw as the tines stirred flies and scent.

Scoop, lift, dump.

"Karricker."


She paused and peeked out the stall to see Dave at the stable entrance. All the hands called from a distance rather than come upon her unaware. It hadn't taken long to realize 'courtesy' at 99ers Ranch was to quietly accept, rather than express interest.

Wave. Get back to work. Don't ogle.


Brenda smiled as Dave sauntered closer and ducked back into the stall. Her litanies were for comfort now rather than survival, but sometimes they were still useful. Dave was what Miranda, her oldest, termed, “Arrogant with cause." Dark hair, cowboy hat, and a lean form hardened by ranch work made him more than tempting, as he well knew.


"Hank wants you," he said, skirting the wheel barrow to enter the stall. The Montana accent was unique. It didn't twang like the southeast or disregard certain letters like Boston or her native Maryland. Nope. Montanans' were typified by slowly speaking the fewest words possible.


Dave stepped closer, forcing her to look up and her stomach to drop. She was half tempted to retreat, and half tempted to run a hand through her auburn hair to dislodge the straw she was certain peppered it. She did neither.

He took the pitch fork. "I'll finish for you."


"Thanks." She nodded, dropped her gaze.


She peeled off her leather gloves before grabbing her jacket. She tried to edge past him, but was stopped short as his arm barred her way, his hand at her waist. Her heart lurched, discomfort and attraction rising competitively. Her already large eyes widened.


"If you need anything, I'm here." His blue gaze was searching and the heat of his hand penetrated through the fabric of her flannel.


Her gaze flickered between him and the sanctuary of the stall gate. Before she was capable of responding he released her, and relieved she ducked her head and scurried through the door.


Inhale, walk, exhale. Don't run. She shoved her arms into the sleeves of her jacket, hurrying past stalls and tack. Dave had always flirted with her, made passes, but he had never accosted her before. Touched, she sternly corrected. Although it had taken years, Brenda was able to differentiate between being accosted, and a man touching her.

She walked towards the office, wondering if she was finally able to appreciate that difference as well.

* * *

"You knew." Montana had influenced her. Accusation, fear, fury; all of it contained in two low, slow words. Dave stopped shoveling but didn't turn.

She had been just as curt with the lawyer in the tin shack office. He had served her papers, snidely explaining that she was lucky no criminal charges had been sought, just an upcoming divorce and custody hearing. He was lucky she hadn't kicked his ass, Brooks Brothers suit and all.

"Why'd you let me walk in there blind? Aren't we at least friends?" Her jumble of dark emotions coalesced into anger. She was angry with the smug lawyer, and angry with Dave for distracting her from his ominous words with a teasing touch. She was angry at herself. She had changed her hair, her job, her life, but it hadn't been enough. Baltimore to Butte hadn’t been far enough.


But the real source of her simmering anger was Max.

It was just like him to find her here, now. Her teenage years were spent in the shadow of Max's popularity. Her college abandoned when they accidentally started a family, though he, of course, had graduated. Her career as an investment banker had been spent as his glorified secretary. All fifteen years focused on his success, and conversely her perceived failures.


“Pay more attention, smile, keep his dinner hot, don’t make him mad.” She spent hours berating herself, trying to obey all his rules, but her consistent failure earned his wrath. Now she had done something on her own, struggled to succeed, and here Max was to snatch it away.

Dave turned with narrowed eyes. "Friends know if their friends are married. Maybe I thought we were 'at least friends' too." He leaned against the rough timber wall. "Maybe we were both wrong."


Brenda looked up and down the stable row before entering the stall. "That's bullshit, Dave. This isn't a joke. This is my life, and my babies' lives."

At the mention of her girls, he softened. Miranda, Joyce, and Allie were well known and loved by the ranch staff.


"Don't tell me some stiff suit can scare a girl like you."


“Girls like me? You think Hank often hires girls with more pageant experience than horse sense? You think I came here out of some burning desire to tend cattle? Who that lawyer represents scares me. Why else would I be here?"

"I don't know, Brenda. That's the problem. You've kept me in the dark for three years. Don't shut me out and then expect me to have your back in a situation I know nothing about."

Brenda opened her mouth to protest, but stopped. He was right. She had isolated herself, given nothing, and now expected loyalty and friendship. Needed his support.


Inhale, exhale. She rubbed a hand over her eyes.

He pulled her into his arms and stroked a hand up her back.

Despite a touch of unease, she leaned into his embrace. Her need for comfort was stronger.

"I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry."

"No, you're right," she spoke into his chest.


“What does he want?”

She swallowed hard before replying, "I won't let him have my girls."

“’Course not."

"He doesn't even want them. He just wants to hurt me."


At her whisper he stilled. "I won't let him, Brenda.”

With a finger at her chin he forced her blue eyes up to meet his own possessive gaze. “I'll help protect you, if you let me."

Say yes.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:29 AM   #3
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Entry #2 -- Snow Ghosts by orchDork

After three years Brenda Karriker still had difficulty with the foreign sound of her name. Yet, she smiled to herself. Well, not really. She smiled with Barney, her favorite pinto. It seemed as if he was smiling too.
Brenda was momentarily upset when the foreman picked her to get the dairy cow from the east forty. On the way to the barn her displeasure quickly passed as the seasons first snow began to fall. Grabbing her tack, Brenda noticed Barney poking his head out of the stall. “You’re so nosy! Wanna come?”

Barney nickered in response.
“Alright, but no complaints when the old cow decides she doesn’t want to come home.”
There was no wind, and the usual smell of the ranch was cleansed with huge snow flakes exploding on Barney’s ears. Heading away from the warm barn, the glow from the yard light faded in the thick snow.
Brenda felt warm and comfortable in her Eddy Bauer rain suit. Wow, I’m in a good mood. I’m smiling again! Barney picked up on her vibes and perked his ears. The guys at the ranch always gave her a hard time about her jacket. There were times when she came back from a long day’s work tired but dry. They on the other hand were tired, wet, and cold.
Even though it was dark, the snow covering the stunted grass enabled Brenda to see a short distance. Barney’s thick coat was encrusted with ice and the snow was now accumulating on her. Brenda didn’t bother to brush it off. She imagined they were almost perfectly camouflaged. Horse and Rider slowly rode into the foothills as if they were the only beings in the universe.
The ride to the east forty wasn’t far, and Brenda told her three children she would be back in a couple of hours if all went well. At the base of a small valley between hills she reached for the compass around her neck. The small radium dial told her she needed to bear left.
She smiled. Brenda’s three boys, teenagers now, each owned their own compass. She liked to think the simple device was all they needed to guide them in life. Since living in Montana, she and her boys learned “Ranch Ethics”. The 99er’s Ranch taught them the meaning of ethics in a way Brenda had never thought possible.
It seemed as if the boys turned into men in the short time they’d lived there. Now when they promised to do a task they did it without complaint no matter how tired, cold or wet they became. On repeated occasions, they’d expressed a desire to stay at the 99er’s forever.
If only it was that simple. She couldn’t stop the thought.
She only needed four more years for the statute of limitations to run out on Duroc.
It all started innocent enough. Brenda, at the time known as Karen Ricter, graduated from Carlson School of Management top of the class. Duroc’s executive board offered her the dream job of a lifetime. She married her college lover and quickly had three sons. Daycare raised the boys while she and her husband pursued their careers.
Karen’s husband was tragically killed in a car accident when the boys were young. After grieving, Karen knew she needed a plan to save her family from the Machiavellian life she led.
It took approximately ten years of extremely hard work. With every bonus and raise Karen received, she took stock options instead of money. Once Karen proved herself as a ruthless business woman to the executives, she set up the Duroc board members to take the money and run from the remains of a once great company.
Karen did it all for her family and had an escape route designed well in advance. With clean identities for them all, she even had the job offer at the 99er’s Ranch, the last place anyone would think to look for Karen Ricter.
In the days before her meeting with the board, Karen sold everything she owned. All of her stock, her home, the car, and the cabin in the mountains. With $7.2 million in a Cayman Islands account and four one way tickets to Montana in her briefcase, Karen walked into the boardroom and gave them her final advice; sell everything - now.
Some of them were shocked, others smiled and complimented her on the fine job she’d done. After the meeting Karen transformed into Brenda and disappeared with her sons.
At first it seemed as if the authorities ignored her role in the fiasco, but one month later there was an all-out search for Karen Ricter. She hadn’t been found. Brenda allowed herself to relax and finally got to know her boys. Together, they learned to live their new life honestly.
Brenda and Barney’s rise in elevation put them in an area of stubby spruce trees. One, covered with snow, loomed unseen next to her and she started when Barney’s shoulder brushed it. Her eyes were adapted to the gloom, but with the heavily falling snow she couldn’t see past 50 yards.
Barney picked his way through the spruce and emerged in the middle of the pass. Brenda peered into the swirling flakes, looking for the pasture gate and sure enough she saw a black form take shape. Relief flowed through her. The old cow had a tendency to forget where the gate was and would stand in the corner of the forty waiting for one of the ranch hands to lead her home for the evening milking.
As they moved closer, an unexpected green flash caught her eye, followed by an equally bright red flash. She stopped Barney immediately. They stood, invisible snow ghosts, watching as another shape walked from the flashing red and green lights to the shape at the corner of the forty. It wasn’t the cow, it was two men. They obviously didn’t see her.
Brenda watched silently as a wisp of wind revealed a helicopter.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:30 AM   #4
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Entry #3 by c.e. lawson

Damn foreman, leaving her up here alone. Sean Garrison’s jeep bucked and brawled its way up the gently-sloped but rocky north hill of the 99ers Ranch. He scanned the hillside as he bounced around in his seat, looking for the ranch hand repairing the downed barb wire fence. She should have been back for lunch already. So where was she? From what he’d been told, the broken fence lay just around the bank of trees on his left. He down-shifted and revved the engine to climb over a small boulder, then veered left around a ponderosa pine. There. Even from fifty yards off, he knew he’d found Brenda. Her sleek brown ponytail shone amber in the sun, but even if it had been covered with a cowboy hat, he’d still have recognized her. Her slender, unmistakably feminine form would was obvious under the typical blue jeans and tee shirt of the ranch’s staff. Then he noticed something odd. Brenda wasn’t working. She sat on a tree stump, rocking slowly back and forth. As he slowed the jeep to a halt, he cursed under his breath. He’d had been right to come and check on her after her phone had rung unanswered for the last half hour. Sean jumped out and hurried the last few yards to her.

Brenda looked up as he approached, her blue eyes wide. She held her right arm in her left, close to her body. Dark drops of crimson dripped slowly off her arm. A small black pool of it lay on the dry earth beneath her. Sean knelt before her and saw a gaping cut in her right forearm.

“Brenda, what happened?”

“I cut it on the wire.”

“Looks like you’re going to need a few stitches.”

Her lips tightened as she nodded.

He put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Honey, why didn’t you call for help?” His voice was soft and non-scolding.

A flush of red covered her cheeks and she looked away as she answered, “I couldn’t remember the number.”

Against his will, his eyes traveled to behind her left ear where a pink, jagged scar ran a two inch span just along her hairline. He grimaced. He always grimaced when he saw that scar. “Shit, Brenda—John should have given you the damn number.”

“He tried.” She drew in a shaky breath. “I…told him I knew it. And I did. But when this happened, I…” She glanced down at her arm and back up at him. “I just…couldn’t remember.” She dropped her head again. “Damn it, Sean. I’ve worked here for three years and I still can’t remember the bloody number?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone forgets things when they’re scared or upset.” He knew that sounded lame. But it was true, in part. Her memory had improved considerably since the weeks following the accident. If not for instances like this, no one would even know there’d been a time when she couldn’t even tell someone what she’d had for breakfast. ‘Where’s your phone?”

Following the tilt of her head, he saw it lying open on the ground several feet to her right. He picked it up and heard a busy signal. He glanced at the display. She’d come within one digit of the ranch’s number.

Then he heard her crying. “Hey,” he said softly, turning back to her. “It’s okay. We’ll get this taken care of.” He put his arm around her shoulders and helped her stand. “Come on. Let’s get you to the clinic.”

A few minutes later they were heading back down the way he’d come as Brenda leaned her head against the passenger headrest, eyes closed.

“I’m going to say twenty-four. Care to take a guess?” Sean tried to keep his voice light.

She kept her eyes closed as she answered, “Twenty-four what?”

“Stitches.”

There was a pause before she responded, “Sean, I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?”

“This.” His hands gripped the steering wheel more tightly as he waited for her to finish. “This pretending I can handle everyday life.”

“But you can.”

She sat up and turned to him. “God, Sean – what if it had been one of the girls hurt? And I’m fumbling around not able to remember a damn phone number!”

“Your girls are fine. You’re a great mom.”

She drew in a shaky breath and sat back, closing her eyes again. “I feel like it’s all a big act. And everyone’s going to find me out.”

He pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. She wasn’t looking at him. He reached out and fingered some stray hairs back from her cheek and stroked the side of her head. “Baby, we all feel like that once in a while.”

“Try feeling like that everyday.”

“I’m sorry.” He whispered the words and she turned to him. “I’m sorry that driver skidded on the ice. I’m sorry you lost so much that night. But you’re strong. You survived. You came here and built a new life. And I know your daughters are happy. I see it.”

Her eyes glistened, and for a moment he thought she was going to cry again. It hit him then—how long it had been since he’d seen her cry before today. But she didn’t cry. She just leaned her head against him.

“You can do this,” he said. “You’ve been doing it. Everyday.”

She gave a little sigh.

They sat there, quiet, at the edge of the road, no sounds but the occasional car passing by and the gentle rhythm of her breathing. He waited, not knowing what else to say, hoping she could see what he saw.

A few minutes later she broke the silence. “All right. Eighteen.”

“Eighteen? What?”

“Eighteen stitches.”

He kissed the top of her head and smiled as cool relief washed over him. “You’ve always been an optimist. Come on. Let’s get you to Dr. Wilson.”

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:31 AM   #5
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Entry #4 by C.bronco

There were three shots: the first hit her shoulder, the second grazed her ear, and the third hit her heart. Brenda Karricker’s weighted body shifted into the sediment where the Wye River met Chesapeake Bay as Brenda Karricker pulled up to her brother’s house and packed her three daughter’s into their new Lexus LX. She told the girls that it would be a new start, and they would meet better people and hopefully a new dad. Alex and Allie whined moderately, but were easy enough to convince. Olivia, who was fifteen and had a steady boyfriend, was another story. She made the drive out miserable. They were headed for Seattle, but when Brenda stopped for an overnight in Butte, Montana, one night turned into a week, and then a month.

Three years later, the novelty of physical labor at the 99ers ranch was wearing off, despite the eye candy she found on the job every season. Her daughter, Olivia, saved enough money to move to California after graduating from high school, and then left almost immediately. Allie and Alex were a lot easier to manage, and had a few years to go before they got attitudes. Things were okay; Brenda had her eye on a few men, but still hadn’t come across anyone like David Karricker. She hated being lonely. She told herself many times: “I had no choice. David was going to turn me in.” It didn’t help most of the time. He never would have left Brenda anyway.


The “investment banker leaves behind her worldly possessions to live in the country” mystique intrigued a lot of the other patrons in M&M’s bar. It also explained why she didn’t own any designer clothes. “It’s too painful to talk about life in Maryland,” Brenda said time and again, and that usually put a stop to further inquiries. Everyone figured that she’d been beaten by her ex-husband. It wasn’t true; she had two ex-husbands and neither one beat her, though they both turned out to be scum.

Brenda didn’t look bad for thirty-eight. Once she’d lost the baby weight from Alex, she hadn’t gained a pound of it back. Most of the women she knew were jealous; they called her a “stick” or “too skinny,” but they just complained because they let themselves go. That’s why their husbands were out at the bar hanging out with her while they were at home watching reruns of Dancing with the Stars.

She did still keep in touch with her parents, in a round-about way. She used the internet to make it seem like she was traveling abroad with David for the first few months. Then she explained that they’d broken up. The girls went along with it, no questions asked. They started to believe everything she told them after a while. She’d told her brother, Vince, that Brenda Karricker ended up in a mental institution after David left her, and knowing his gossiping, it must have spread like wildfire. As long as no one from Silver Spring, Maryland came to Butte, Montana, no one ever had to know that her real name was Stacy Torcini.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:31 AM   #6
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Entry #5 by nessam

Brenda hurriedly walked down the dusty path to the outer gate of the ranch. With a loud screech she pulled the gate open just enough for her to slip through. The wind blew dust up all over her face. She jerked a rag from her pocket and wiped the dust and sweat that had turned to mud from her face.
She took one last long drag of her cigarette before throwing it down and smashing it with her boot. ‘Why is the bus never on time?’ She thought to herself as she nervously tapped her boot on the gate.
Finally the bus turned the corner in the distance. It sped down the dirt road as this was the only stop within miles. The brakes began to squeal as the bus rolled to a stop. First Megan, her oldest, bounced off the bus and ran down the path toward the ranch.
“Nice to see you too,” Brenda yelled after her.
“Hi Mom, I got an A on my math test,” her youngest Diana showed her proudly.
Last her son and middle child stepped off the bus. The bus pulled away with another blast of dust flying all over them.
“What is it today?” she asked him.
He refused to look at her. It was always something with Brian. He was the Karma of all her sins wrapped into one small eight year old body.
He handed her a note addressed to Ms. Karricker, “It’s from my teacher,” he stared down at the ground smashing a pebble into the dirt.
She opened the letter “Ms. Karricker, Brian was found cheating on his spelling test today. Please call to schedule a conference immediately. Mrs. Brown.”
Brenda clutched the note in her hand, “We will talk about this after dinner. Go get washed up.”
She lit a cigarette and began her walk back to the ranch house. She sucked the cigarette as though it would somehow provide an escape from this day or from her life. As she neared the door she flung the cigarette away.
She took a roast from the oven and sat it on the counter to cool. She saw her reflection in the window. Her face looked drawn and much older than it had only two years earlier. She sat down at the table and buried her face in her hands.
Brian her only son was so much like his father, Matt. Every time she looked in his amber eyes she was haunted by memories of her past. How was she going to break the cycle of destruction Matt had caused them?
Brian was the only one who looked like his father. The girls looked like her, tall and thin with auburn hair and eyes that glowed like emeralds. Brian, however, was shorter and stockier. He seemed to saunter in and out of trouble on a daily basis.
She had left her former life behind in order to save her son from his father’s mistakes. Brian was still angry that his father had left them. Brenda never told them the truth of the matter.
“Mom, is dinner ready yet?” Megan came into the kitchen with the phone attached to her ear.
“Yes get off that phone and come set the table.” Brenda finished preparing the meal while trying not to think of her past.
The four of them ate dinner with surprisingly few arguments. Brenda thanked God for small wonders. Brian finished his dinner and started to dart away.
“Brian, you will sit and wait while I clear the table. We have to talk.”
Brian turned back and sulked in the chair. When she finished with the after dinner clean up she sat across from him.
“Tell me about the spelling test.” She lifted his chin in order for him to look at her.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled.
They went on with this conversation for a while. She asked questions and he refused to answer them. When she was tired of this she finally slammed her fist down on the table and stood up. He looked up at her with fear and shock in his eyes. She had seen this expression before just as the police came and took her husband away.
She sent Brian to bed and went out to the front porch. She sat in the porch swing and lit a cigarette. How had she gotten here she wondered.
She was a successful investment banker for a large firm in Maryland when she met Matt. She had the fairy tale romance with Matt. He swept her off her feet and months later asked her to marry him. One evening after dinner the police knocked on the door and arrested him for embezzlement. She stood by him through the trial. She never believed he could do such a thing. When they brought out the offshore accounts in her name she nearly fainted in the courtroom.
After his conviction he begged her not to divorce him. She just could not imagine staying with him any longer. She could not show her face at the firm anymore. All of her colleagues stared at her with a sympathetic, how could you be so blind, look.
She decided then to move to Montana and help her Uncle on the 99ers Ranch. She did not love her work. She loved nothing about the small towns around them. She missed the cities and the people of the North East. She loved her children more though.
Brenda flung her cigarette across the porch. She knew she was doing the right thing for her children. Her resolve strengthened as she turned to go back into the house. She could make it one more day or one more year. She would do what she had to, to keep her children away from him. Matt would be out of prison in one month. He would never think to look for them here.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:32 AM   #7
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Entry #6 by Maryn

Brenda Karricker slung her saddle on a rail inside the 99ers Ranch stables. After dinner, Mallory would clean it, and visit the little sorrel Bob Bemis let her ride.

Near the kitchen door of the tiny house Bemis rented to her, she hung her jacket and hat on the pegs. “Something smells good.” Her callused hands raked her rust-and-silver hair and came away sweat-damp.

“Mommy!” Cody flung himself at her, his arms wrapping her waist.

She bent to hug the six-year-old, ignoring the twinge in her lower back.

“It’s just spaghetti. Again.” Lauren’s spoon clanged inside the cast iron pot.

After school, Johanna Bemis kept Cody while the girls did school work, then Lauren cooked while Mallory watched Cody. Freed once dinner was over, the girls would slam two doors in rapid succession, Mallory racing out the back door to the barn and Fancy, while Lauren holed up in her room, not to reappear until morning.

Worry accomplished nothing. Lauren’s homework got done; her last report card had been fully respectable. Her teacher noted Lauren’s flair for writing poetry. Was that what she did in there, write angst-filled verse to match the black wardrobe?

“Well, it smells great. I’m hungry.” And dirty, and tired. Brenda washed at the kitchen sink, unwilling to face her windburned face or matted hair in the bathroom mirror.

“You say that every day.” Lauren stirred the sauce, ignoring what slopped over except to dab at a splash on her black T-shirt.

Maybe it was okay she wouldn’t wear the blue lambswool pullovers Grandma Karricker knit. The blue which matched her eyes, and Richard’s, would show spots.

Richard. Her mind invariably replayed his last phone call from the North Tower to her at Schwab’s Bethesda office. “I can’t believe I’m the only one carrying my laptop,” he’d told Brenda’s voicemail. “I printed my client list, or I’d be outside by now. Do people think it’ll be business as usual tomorrow?”

No last ‘I love you.’ It would have been a lie.

She’d called back almost immediately, but his phone went straight to voicemail and stayed that way. Had he died with his mistress at his side? She would never know.

“Spaghetti and salad’s a Karricker classic.” Exhausted after a long day crunching numbers for Schwab, Brenda had served it too often, too.

With Mallory’s grudging and Cody’s incompetent help, Brenda set the table, adding water and bagged salad for everyone while Lauren served plates. Brenda took Cody’s hand in her left, Mallory’s in her right. Lauren tolerated her siblings touch but not her mother’s.

“Bless this food to our use and us to Thy service,” Brenda said. “Amen.”

“Amen,” her family chorused, except Lauren. Ironic, considering the oversized silver cross on a heavy chain, today paired with a studded dog collar.

The trial separation and Brenda’s transfer to the Bethesda office had been hard for everyone. Was Lauren any more wrong to become the only Goth in Montana than Brenda to be 99er’s only female ranch hand?

“Mallory, my saddle needs some TLC.” Brenda squeezed Mallory’s hand under the table. “And so does Fancy, and maybe Clay Bemis, too.” She hoped two eleven-year-olds alone in the barn wouldn’t get into any trouble beyond first kisses.

This level of worry was nothing. Worry was wondering whether you should have an abortion and never let your estranged husband back in New York know. Whether you should file for divorce or suck it up for the girls’ sake, pretending single-parenting in the Maryland suburbs was a swell idea. Whether your oldest had figured out why Daddy’s assistant at Cantor Fitzgerald felt free to adjust his tie and touched him more than Mom did. What you should do with your life when your cheating husband was vaporized.

Mallory took it well; at five, even before the separation she didn’t see much of Daddy, who usually arrived home after bedtime. Lauren simply closed herself off, refusing to cry, or talk about her father, cold to her grandmother, distancing herself from her few friends, indifferent about school, simultaneously exploring The District’s Goth scene and her own inner darkness, but always home by curfew.

Cody snapped Brenda from her reverie. “Mallory likes Clay! Mallory likes Clay!”

Mallory reached across the table and pinched him. His eyes filled with tears, but Cody was Montana-tough, unwilling to cry.

“Mallory, I could always clean my own saddle, leave you the dishes. Apologize.”

“Sorry, Cody.”

“Okay.” Quick to forgive, Cody plucked carrot shreds from his salad and set them on the rim of his plate.

Bereavement leave had segued into maternity leave. The 9/11 settlement meant Brenda didn’t have to return to investment banking at Schwab, or anywhere else. When she’d closed out Richard’s apartment, the empty space in New York’s skyline plagued her as much as Lauren’s remoteness but worried her less.

She would take her young family away. Brenda plumbed her own experiences, determining teenage summers on a Montana dude ranch, while her parents toured Europe, were her happiest time. Though small and wiry, she could ride and rope better than most of the boys, even the local ones the dude ranch hired for the summer, like Bobby Bemis.

Two months after Cody was born, Brenda left her children with Richard’s mother in New York to work a sorry ranch for next to nothing while renewing her skills, only returning to the city once winter clamped down. Subsequent seasons took her better ranches. Three years ago, she looked up Bob Bemis.

As Lauren reached for the salad dressing, Brenda checked the inside of her elbow and its line of silvered circles from dozens of punctures. All three years old or more. Only the black leather band laced over her daughter’s forearm was unfamiliar.

“New bracelet?”

Her daughter delivered her best withering smile. “It’s a gauntlet, Mom. And no, it doesn’t cover a tattoo, or cutting, so give me a break, okay?”

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:33 AM   #8
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Entry #7 by nerdsRus

They'd been riding for some time when Brenda suggested they rest the horses.

"I don't trust the fencing around that old corral," she said. "But they'll tie up well enough to the porch railing."

"A two-hour ride and that's the first thing you've said," Tommy remarked. "Don't believe I've ever met a woman could keep quiet that long."

"I used to talk too much. I don't miss it."

"Well, that's alright, but maybe you'd care to talk long enough to tell me what this place is."

A fine layer of dust coated the porch floor planking. The last stringy remnants of muslin curtains fingered back and forth through the empty window frames of the deserted house, while spindled chairs rocked alone in an easy wind.

"We can sit in these, they won't break under you," Brenda said.

Tommy settled himself and pulled a pouch of jerky from his kit bag. "A fine day" he said. "And this is a fine view. Not a damn thing out here, and you can see for miles. Care for some of this chewy stuff?"

"I have my own, thank you." Brenda held up a clear cellophane bag of dried apricots, which crackled loudly in her hand.

"That's a mighty modern sound in a time-stopped place. So, where are we, Miss Brenda?"

She described the goings-on at this house of ill repute; the copper miners, the old bordello life, and Sally Shea, who had been the mistress of the house.

"They say that Sally shot a man one night, shot him right off this porch," Brenda said. "They claim he'd gotten too mean with one of her girls. He's supposed to be buried out here somewhere. Sally and the girls dug deep and did the job right, so they say."

"You admire Sally."

"What?"

"You had a look of admiration just now. You're independent, she was too, makes sense you'd like her."

Brenda turned her face away, the bag of apricots forgotten in her lap.

"Come on," Tommy said gently. "You're not invisible. And I wasn't twenty years a carny for nothin'. Carnies get around, we see the whole country a thousand times over, we see people. All day long, all night, you observe, every kind of people there is."

"Well, stop watching me."

"Look, word is you're the mystery lady of Butte. A curiosity in a place full of them, yet you stand out. And that, my friend, is saying something; Montana is a place plenty before you have come to disappear. Could be your good looks, and your books. Reading in your cabin late at night instead of carousing around. Folks notice."

"Are you here to disappear?"

"Nope. I just needed something new in life. Something clean. I'm who I claim I am."

"And you're saying I'm not?"

"Can't make heads nor tails of that. But I can tell you what you used to be. Some of it, anyway."

Tommy rocked complacently. They both watched a tumbleweed gambol along the distant scrubline. The place was so quiet they could hear the chewings of the horses in their patch of weeds.

"Okay," Brenda said. "Let's see how good you are. I'll bet you ten dollars you get it wrong. You just joined our ranch last week - there's no way you could know anyone yet."

"You're on." Tommy sat up straighter and looked her in the eye. "You're used to wearing business suits, not chaps. You still dye your hair blonde. You either come from money or you've made money or both, and you were horse-happy as a kid; and, speaking of kids, you've had at least one. You've got a fine figure, Miss Brenda, don't take me wrong. But a man can usually tell these things. Last thing, somebody burned your heart up bad. That's easy to see. You wouldn't be out here otherwise."

Brenda sucked in her stomach and narrowed her eyes.

"This is creepy. I've been out here three years and nobody knows a thing about me. That's how I like it. Explain yourself."

"Well, no lifetime ranch girl crosses her legs when she sits down, except when she's got a dress on," Tommy laughed. "You spent a lot of years in skirts, 'cause you're still crossing your legs."

"Goddammit." Brenda swung her legs up and dropped her bootheels hard on the porch rail.

"The bottle-blonde part is obvious," he went on. "Most ranchgirls don't bother with that either, past a certain age. You turn yourself out pretty nice, and you talk like East Coast. That bag of fruit is an East Coast type thing, too. Healthy and all that. The money, you couldn't have survived on your own out here this long without something in the bank. Ranch work don't pay that great."

Brenda leaned back and closed her eyes. She hadn't talked to anyone in any real way for such a long time; maybe it was time to undo the belt of memories and breathe a little easier. "Investment banking. I made a lot of money for people with lots of money. I had a horse when I was a little girl - after my parents split up it was apartment life and I couldn't keep the horse."

"Okay. So, who was the guy, and where are the kids?"

"Eh. He did the normal things. He was good for awhile, then he was stepping out, then he knocked me across the kitchen when I asked for a divorce. The kids are grown and married; I go back East to see them twice a year. They've got nice houses with shrubs shaped like gumdrops, same as my parents used to have, same as their father and I. I didn't want a gumdrop life anymore. Sweet on the outside with nothing but wobbling glop in the middle. That kind of candy never lasts. And that's the most truth I've told anyone in three years."

The high noon sun was making lacy patterns in Brenda's eyelids but she kept them closed. Tommy observed with satisfaction that her boots were still firmly on the railing.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:34 AM   #9
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Entry #8 by Limey Dawg

Cal Hollings sipped at his coffee, watching Brenda Karricker sitting atop the fence, staring off toward the distant mountains littered with the head frames of long-dead mines. After three years, he still wanted to know what she saw in her solitude, to step inside those beautiful eyes and comfort her in her pain. However, a man can only fall into the same hole so many times before he learns to sidestep the hazard. Besides, he knew what she would say if he asked her.
“A little peace.”

Montana was the right place for a woman looking for solitude. She found hers perched atop the fence, staring as if the only place she might find that peace was beneath the distant Rockies. Cal Hollings knew better than to trouble her when she got like this, when her mood was colder and more distant than the mountains that framed the landscape. Here, where the ground had generously given up its trove, she gave so little of herself that a man could starve on the difference between what he knew of her and nothing.
It was not that she kept quiet; she was a woman after all, he thought to himself. Around the ranch, she was happy to talk about work, happier still when she had the chance to lead, to be the boss. It was probably, he reminded himself, a carryover from all those years as an investment banker in Maryland. He knew that much about her and the fact that she had left three children behind in the care of her mother, but that was all she gave. Hollings was sure she had told him the names of her children, but only once. He might be an unschooled cowboy but he was bright enough to know when to leave well enough alone.
Pieces of herself were all she gave, crumbs to the curious, but never enough to satisfy the hunger of curiosity. She was a mystery to everyone who knew her, and she attracted rumors like an actor collects roles, glad to play whatever part people gave her. She had been an outlaw, a deadbeat parent, an escapee from a mental institution, and more. She never denied any of it and her selfishness with her story only added spice to the plots that others wrote. She reveled in the suspicion and intrigue until truth, born by a little detective work, quashed the rumors, or the plot line became so outrageous that not even a Montana cowboy could believe it.
In her search for peace, she became the “Piece Woman,” but only to the hands of the 99ers Ranch, and only amongst themselves. The one thing she seemed happy to share was her temper. She was nitroglycerin in her unpredictability, and the whispers around the 99er was that she blew when the questions cut too close, when the scrape of a comment chased away the veneer of her exile and exposed the skin of her past. Nevertheless, here, folks were more comfortable with the cold, and so they quickly learned to leave the Piece Woman alone in search of her peace.
Cal sipped the hot coffee as he stared, but it did little to fend off the chill that Brenda projected. She was an enigma, a vein of secrets in a land with a history of hiding nothing.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:34 AM   #10
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Entry #9 by Teige Benson

The sun ascended high in the open Montana sky; the roof of the barn doing little to stop the sweltering heat from invading its confines. Inside, Brenda Karricker wiped the sweat-soaked tendrils of auburn hair from her forehead with the back of her hand. Although lean in stature, the muscles rippled on her firm arm as she took a tight grip on the pitchfork. She speared another bale of hay and tossed it to the side. The now familiar snap of a nail caused her to look at her fingers curled around the wooden shaft and curse.

From where he stood across from the barn, Jeb watched from under the brim of his cowboy hat. After three seasons of employment at the 99ers Ranch, the woman still concerned herself with her damn nails. The fact that she kept them long and painted irritated him. Drunk on swill. There could be no other reason for old man Rockford to hire the female city slicker. He tilted his head back and launched an arc of tobacco-colored spit to the ground below. What did anyone from Maryland know about ranching, let alone a scrawny, citified mother of three?

Aware of Jeb's eyes upon her, Beth finished moving the last of the hay before venturing further into the barn to escape his critical glare. She knew what he thought of her, what they all thought about her. Oh no, Jeb was not the only one with his theories. On many occasions, she heard tales of their late-night talks around the fire discussing their suspicions. They ranged from running from a failed marriage to getting the axe from her job. Her favorite though, was the one where she embezzled millions from the investment company she worked for and was now on the lam, the whereabouts of the money still a mystery.

The idea amused her. If she had millions, the old worn blue jeans and oversized shirts she wore would not be her first choice of a wardrobe. Furthermore, if she had done what they imagined, why would she pick a ranch for her hideout and why had no one turned her in? That was the problem with men. They had little imagination.

She pulled the hose from the hanging rack and dragged it to the first empty stall. The cleaning of the stables fell to Jefferson but she often helped when she finished her own work. That work ethic was the only reason they accepted her at all. With the hose pointed on target, she opened the release. The reason she worked so hard was not to impress the ranch hands. No, driving herself to the brink of exhaustion on a daily basis proved the only way to quell the rage that built within.

Tired, and with muscles aching, Brenda finished up in the stall. Ranching may be a cowboy's world but you did not have to be a man to be one. If she knew anything to be true, she knew that. From where she stood, the image of the horizon through the barn door caught her attention, and added to her previous belief. The land in question shaped itself as unyielding and rugged but the Butte of today hardly compared to the Old West of days gone by.

Eager for a hot shower, she made her way through the barn but fell short of the exit. The familiar pitch of Mac Reynolds voice drifted towards her. Desperate not to run into him, she searched for a place to hide, settling in behind the pitched saddles. Of all the ranch hands, Mac caused her the most worry. His weathered skin and piercing green eyes intimated her but it was more than that. The biggest threat from Mac was that his analysis of her hit too close to the truth. The less time spent in his presence, the better.

Only half concealed by the saddles, she caught his attention right away. With Jeb in tow, he turned and with a muffled voice spoke, causing both to roar with laughter. Whatever he had said, she had been the butt of it and her face reddened at the fact. She sped from the barn, her long legs carrying her in full strides to the bunkhouse. Tears formed in her eyes but she refused to let them fall. With more force than necessary, she pushed the door open and stormed inside. Some things would never change. She could work the next ten seasons and they still would not accept her. Her brows dropped in a frown, and her normally blue eyes turned a stormy grey. Who cared what they thought of her. She was here for her own reasons, of which they knew nothing about. Although, she realized as she kicked off her boots, one knew more than she would ever be willing to admit.

The glint of the gold-colored frame on her bureau caught her eye and she reached for it. Three smiling faces looked back at her, and her breath caught at the sight of the innocence present in their eyes. Never would it be there again. Her chest tightened as short shallow breaths began to take over. She knew the oncoming well. If she did not gain control soon, she would hyperventilate.

Taking a seat on the bed, she folded her body over until her head fell between her knees, her long untamed hair dangling to the floor. She willed herself to relax, an internal mantra resounding in her mind. You can do this, Brenda. You've come so far already. With her breathing beginning to settle to a natural rhythm, she sat up slowly. Yes, she could do this. In fact, there was only one thing left to settle before the demons of her past would leave her alone. The 99ers Ranch would be the site of her salvation and the time was drawing near.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:35 AM   #11
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Entry #10 by qdsb

This was the right decision, she thought, as she brushed the burrs and debris out of Arabella’s mane. No one here subscribes to The Wall Street Journal. No living thing in a 50-mile radius knew of her catastrophic multi-billion dollar failure, of her partner’s suicide, or of the ridiculously perfect family she left behind to deal with the fallout.

“How could you bring such shame on the Karricker family?” Vivian had said. “You’re a disgrace as a wife and mother!” Her mother-in-law had never forgiven her for marrying the Golden Boy. Nothing she did was ever good enough for that woman. Forget three brilliant and beautiful daughters, the five-bedroom house in Ellicott City, complete with in-law suite for those compulsory visits. None of that had been enough. And now she had extravagantly fulfilled her role as the black sheep in Vivian’s family drama.

Bella pulled away from her, drawing her attention back to the task at hand. She saw the grooves from her brush strokes.

“Sorry, sweetheart. Didn’t mean to be so hard on you. Got lost for a second, but I’m back.”

Exactly why I’m here, she thought. It’s all about the here and now. No time for the luxury of mental self-flagellation.

Agatha, her textbook middle child, had been her biggest cheerleader. “Mom, take all the time you need. You’ve been through so much, and we’ll always love you, no matter what.” Of course, that’s what Agatha would say because, under other circumstances, it would be the exact advice she herself would give someone. And, with the same wavy black hair, the same hazel eyes, the same large build, Agatha had always been her miniature, whereas the other girls had their father’s pale, delicate features.

Agatha would love this place. The silent mountains. The endless sky. And all the animals! She’d be in heaven. Her throat seized at the thought of her children, and she rested her head against Bella’s as she concentrated on regulating her breathing. The horse’s warmth and stolidity helped tremendously. Composed, she patted Bella’s rump and said, “All done, girl. Go get some water.”

“How can you leave us like this?” Breanne had said. “How can you just leave Dad to deal with this mess, all these calls, all the news whores?” She could picture all the girls standing around the marble-topped island in the kitchen as she told them her plans.

In the end, Will had been her most persuasive advocate.

“A few reporters don’t scare me, Brenda. Take all the time you need. Just don’t forget where your home is.” His enveloping embrace implied he could handle anything the world threw at him…or her. And she’d been so tempted to stay, to let him protect her, defend her, pamper her shattered ego.

But this was absolutely the right decision. This was where she needed to be.

Here she had only the earth and the sky and the cattle. People didn't do "lunch" or “spa dates” or small talk. People here rarely deal in abstractions. They don’t want or need to know your past. Here everything is about getting things done. Your strong back, your undivided attention, your ability to ride all day—every day, and your dedication to chasing down every stray. Those are the work ethics that matter.

Not a mindless job, by any stretch. But a straightforward one. Not a clean job, but definitely an honest one.

She grabbed the pitchfork from its hook and tossed fresh hay into Bella’s stall. The first week here had been exhausting. By the third day, her “city-fied” arms and legs had quivered and ached constantly. Now, finally, her body worked again. Her muscles were carved not from hours in the gym but from necessary labor.

The most important thing about the ranch was that she was needed. It felt good to be essential again.

Only one question nagged at her now: Where is my home?

As she put away Bella’s saddle, Randy strolled in with a message.

“There’s a visitor up at the house for you.”

“Who?” Trying to act nonchalant, she brushed hay and dust off her jeans. Only her family knew she was here, but they would have contacted her first.

“Fella in a suit. Shoulda heard him cussing about the mud on his I-talian loafers.” Randy looked down at her as if he’d been told to record her reaction. “Think he said his name was Powelton.”

“Thanks, Big R. Guess I should go see what’s what. Can you put Bella in her stall for me?”

Shit. How the hell did he find me? She started toward the house, hoping she could sneak in the back way and wash up before facing Mr. Raymond Powelton, CEO of International Investments, Ltd. No matter where her home was now, one thing was clear: She would not return to that world.

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Old 11-20-2007, 05:36 AM   #12
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Entry #11 by reigningcatsanddogs

“This is my favorite time of the day.” Brenda Karricker let the reins drop over the saddle horn, and bent over to wrap her arms around Pajamas’ neck, snuggling her face into his soft coat. “Oh, Jams, look at the sunset. Smell the air.” She took a long breath, then sat up again. “You’ll be ready for your supper and a nice rub down. You deserve it, Baby.”

As she rode into the yard, Uncle Chas sauntered down the bunkhouse steps to greet her. “Long day out there. Get cleaned up, and I’ll take care of that fleabag for ya.”


She laughed. “He doesn’t like it when you call him that.” Throwing her long, jean-clad leg over the horse’s neck, she jumped to the ground.

“I’m sure as hell not gonna call him… you know… why the hell couldn’t you give him a real name? Brutus or Max or something?”

“That’s the whole point, Unk. What self-respecting, macho cowboy would even consider getting on a horse called ‘Pajamas’? They leave him alone, don’t teach him bad habits and don’t wear him out. He’s mine. Now, if I could just find a bright pink saddle, I’d have it made, wouldn’t I? You go back in. I’ll take care of him and be in shortly.” Clicking her tongue, she turned towards the barn. The palomino followed, nibbling at the tip of his beloved’s bouncing ponytail.

“Don’t worry, Jams. Unk really does love you. He’s a marshmallow inside.” She pulled off the bridle, hung it on a nail beside the already removed saddle, then picked up a bucket of water. The horse followed her into the stable. “Thank god he’s such a softy, cause otherwise you and I wouldn’t be together. I’d be marking time in an office downtown. I sure as shit wouldn’t be working here. What ranch hires a pencil pusher from Maryland as a cowhand? Unk pulled the strings. He threw me a life line.” She dumped the water into the trough. The horse nudged at her elbow. “Stop that! I’m getting the brush. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Some days, you’re worse than a kid.”

She left the stall with the bucket, and returned seconds later with a currycomb and brush. She ran the comb over his strong neck. “It’s probably a blessing you’re so much like a kid, cause I sure miss mine.” She hugged his neck again. “I feel so selfish sometimes, but I just couldn’t do it any more, Jams. I woke up in tears; I went to bed the same way. Everything in the house reminded me of them. Everything in the city reminded me of them.”

“Of what?”

Brenda chuckled. “Damn it, Unk, you caught me again.”

Chas took the brush and started to work on the other side of the horse. “Angel, I don’t understand why you think you need to keep this secret. You did nothing wrong. Any one of these guys would do anything to help you, protect you…hell, there’s more than just a few that would gladly jump into the bunk with you, if that’s what you want. You just have to say the word.”

“Right. I’ll remember that. Look at how beautiful he is.” She walked to the horse’s head and gave him a quick peck on the nose. “He’s got those beautiful eyes, this soft coat, this magnificent, powerful body…”

“Yeah, he’s a peach. I don’t understand how you can look at this bag of dog food and see so much beauty, but you see nothing when you look in a mirror. You don’t notice the perfect complexion, the aquamarine eyes that sparkle and laugh, the warm, loving smile. The sun sparkles off your blonde hair every time you move. You’re young, strong, smart, funny and, by any standards, bloody well traffic-stopping gorgeous.”

She stopped combing. “When I look in a mirror, I see a woman who was so caught up in her career, who was so consumed with making money and having a perfect house in a perfect neighborhood, that she neglected being the perfect mother.”

“Angel, you’re not being fair to yourself.”

“The day I lost my family was the day I lost myself, Unk. I know it’s hard for you to understand but I should have been driving the kids to soccer that day, not sitting in a boardroom. That should have been me in the van. I wish it had been me, because burying my children and my husband made me realize just how much I had wasted, and for what? Making sure my kids wore Nike’s instead of those cute sneakers they sell at WalMart? It really didn’t matter a damn what was on their feet when that semi smashed into the van. Hell, their shoes were blown right off their god-damned feet.”

Chas swallowed hard. “I know you’ve been through…”

“Jesus, Pajamas!” She gave the horse a shove. “You got four damned feet to stand on, so use them and quit leaning on me.” She started to comb again. “The guys here know I had a family, cause they’ve seen pictures of the kids. They know I was a banker. Shit, they rib me about that everyday. But if they knew I was a widow…” she sniffled, and her bottom lip trembled. “If they knew what happened, how would they look at me? They would treat me different. They would walk on eggshells. They would pity me. I don’t want pity. I don’t want to be reminded all the time. I just want to somehow start to live again. I’m trying, but it’s hard enough without the looks and the whispers.”
Chas took the comb from her hand and hugged her. “Damn it, Angel, I’m sorry. It’ll happen in good time. You’re going to be fine.” He kissed her on the top of the head, then gave her a gentle swat on her backside. “Now get you butt inside and get cleaned up. I’ll finish bedding down the fleabag.”

Last edited by jst5150; 11-24-2007 at 05:23 AM.
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Old 11-20-2007, 05:36 AM   #13
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Entry #12 (Final Entry) by Teige Benson

As proprietor of the 99ers Ranch, Buck Waterston knew every hand that worked for him. Some he knew well, others not so much. His sharp eyes narrowed in on Brenda Karricker, sitting at the long mess table amid the other ranch hands.

Brenda remained a puzzle. When she arrived three seasons before from Maryland, she was slender, well groomed and not accustomed to the country way of life found here on the ranch, a few miles outside of Butte. He watched her now as she shoved another large mouthful of mashed potatoes into her mouth. No. This was not the same woman.

Her plaid shirt, only half tucked into her worn jeans, barely concealed the rolls around her midriff. Wasn’t surprising really, the way the woman ate. Her skin had also morphed from the made-up face of a professional investment banker to that of sun-baked leather. Worn, ruddy and rough.

The biggest change, though, was her hair. Gone were the full-bodied chestnut curls that hung loose down her back. Instead, she kept it buzzed short, which emphasized her pudgy cheeks and sparkling green eyes. Darker than emeralds, those eyes pierced through her long lashes, reminding you that no matter how much she had changed, Brenda Karricker was still a woman.

He muttered under his breath, certain his thoughts set off her woman’s intuition, for she was walking right towards him. She stopped at the coffee urn, and after filling her Styrofoam cup, came to stand beside him. “How’s it going, Buck?”

“Still on schedule,” he said, trying to ignore the piece of beef caught between her teeth, “though there’s still work to do before the guests arrive.” His hand came up to tap on his own teeth but her penetrating stare stopped him. Damn those eyes. With the dangling piece of meat forgotten, he looked into the emerald depths of her eyes and rocked on his heels. When he spoke again, his voice took on a hoarse quality. "You hear from the family this week?”

Her eyes snapped shut and when she opened them again, a fiery darkness blazed within. “Not this week,” she said hurriedly, and then, “like you say, though, lots of work to get done.” Without another word, she turned and walked away, her boot heel marking the old linoleum floor as she left.


She knew what they were up to with their questions. Especially Buck. Well, he could forget about it. She had told them all she was going to tell. This was her life now, out on the Montana plains, far away from the city of Baltimore. That life was over, all the ties of the past firmly cut. For Brenda, the future was the only way to look.

The hot temperatures of the past few days had dissipated thanks to the cloud cover that settled in the night before. She ran a calloused hand over the short bristles atop her head before cutting a path behind the horse stables. There, she pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from the breast pocket of her shirt. With one long inhale, the cigarette between her fingers came to life, filling her lungs with its potent flavor. She exhaled and tilted her head to the sky.

They were in for a storm. The clouds were building, a large grey army looming overhead, ready to cast down its warfare to the open ground below. A crack of thunder sounded and she jumped in surprise. She did not scare easy but that had done it. The sharp crack too familiar, the same sound… she shook the thought away. With one last drag, she tossed the cigarette to the ground and snubbed it out with the toe of her boot. Some things you could outrun, but the haunting sounds of the past were not one of them.

The images flashed through her head on her walk back to the main hall. Although distorted in time, each scene a vivid picture in her mind. The seventeenth floor corner office. The faces of her children. The gun. Black, cold, and deadly.

Her eyes blinked in rapid fashion as an icy chill ran down her spine. Before the memories could consume her, she tilted her head in determination and ran for the main house. It was harder to run now, she mused. It used to be easier, before the extra sixty pounds. By the time she made it inside, a hot flush covered her face. Her breathing came fast and heavy and a sheen of sweat beaded across her forehead.

She was half way up the stairs when a voice stopped her cold. Frozen on the stairwell, she gripped the rail, her fingertips turning white from the force. Maybe if she just stood there long enough, refusing to turn around, she could make it go away. In her mind, she understood the absurdity. It would be like one of those bad dreams. The ones where you told yourself to wake up but your head would not obey.

Drawing in a deep breath, she steadied herself and then turned around. The young man stood adjacent to the kitchen entrance, a sight she missed when she came through the door. She tried to smile, but instead, her face took on a distorted grimace. Her throat constricted, and no matter how many times she opened her mouth to speak, the words would not come out.


At the same moment, Buck walked through the front door, stopped and took in the scene before him. He noticed Brenda's normally reddened face was void of color and the look fear clouded her eyes. Whatever he had walked into, it was big.

He turned to Brenda in question but the young man was first to speak. "Aren't you going to introduce us, mother?"

Last edited by jst5150; 11-24-2007 at 05:23 AM.
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