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The doctor looked at Chance, sympathy obvious in his eyes. “I’m sorry. You’ve done far more damage than even I can fix.” He walked away from the lit up x-ray box where his patient’s broken hip was on display and sat heavily in his chair, swinging it around to look at Chance. “You should get more movement in your leg once the hip heals better, but I’m afraid there will be no more bull riding for you.”
Chance Watson swallowed the bile rising in his throat. The quick rush of emotions threatened to tip him over the edge if he didn’t get a grip on them. He’d been expecting something like this, but it still rocked his world. His first big injury was also going to be his last. How ironic was that?
He cleared his throat before he spoke. “It’s all I know. Not sure how I’m going to go back to running a ranch without the thrill of upcoming competitions to look forward to.”
“Well now, I’m sure once you get used to it, you’ll manage just fine. Your granddaddy bred some of the best bucking bulls in Montana back in his day, before he passed on and left it all to you. Don’t see why you can’t take over the reins now it’s time.” The doctor leaned back in his chair. “You know, he’d be right proud of what you’ve achieved in your career. Champion bull rider for what, twelve years in a row? Can’t say I know of anyone else who’s had as long a career on the IBR tour as you have.”
Chance snorted and looked away. He’d had an amazing career and as far as he was concerned, it was still flourishing. Or at least it had been until his injury this season. “How much longer until you can take the pins out of my hip?”
The doctor leaned forward and reached for his laptop, flicking through the dates. “I can take you into surgery in five weeks. I don’t see any reason why the bones wouldn’t have knitted well enough by then so long as you don’t take any knocks to the bone. Pretty standard procedure so you’d only be in overnight.” He turned from the screen and smiled. “Go home to Marietta, Chance, and rest up. You have the ranch to fall back on and I’m sure with a little bit of help you’ll do well. Just that you’ll be on the other side of the bulls from now on. Breeding them, not riding them. Much safer in my opinion. Last thing I wanted was to see you here in this state.”
Chance stood up with the help of his cane, getting his balance before letting go of the edge of the chair. He tried to stand tall but the pain in his hip made it almost impossible for him to stretch out to his full height of six feet three inches.
“My nurse will be in touch the week before the operation to go over the arrangements for admission. Go and start your new life. Kick back and think of doing something that won’t give your body such a hard time from now on. You’ve earned the retirement and looking at all the bruises and scars you’re carrying, it’s not before time either.”
“Sure, Doc. Ranching fulltime sounds just like the ticket to me right now.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice, but deep down he wondered if this was what he was looking for.
The tour had lost its appeal over the last couple of years and he’d been having trouble trying to figure out why. The drinking, women, and parties no longer appealed, nor did being in the public eye give him the thrill it used to. The modeling shoots for his sponsors used to make him feel proud, cocky even. Lately he’d felt out of sorts, strutting around in the latest clothes, boots, and sunglasses for ad campaigns that would see his pictures all over billboards and magazines. The only thing that had made him feel satisfied was his own line of products and seeing them hit the shelves.
“You have younger brothers, don’t you? Surely one of them can help you out until you’re on your feet.”
“I’ll be fine, Doc. Always someone wanting to work for me. See you later and thanks.”
Chance put his hat on his head before he shook the doctor’s hand and headed out of his office. At the curb, Ralph, Chance’s old school friend and fellow competitor, sat on the hood of his car.
“Ouch, looks like someone got bad news.” Ralph stood when Chance hobbled toward him and he hurried to open the back door, holding his hand out to help his best friend.
Once Chance was settled inside, he dropped the cane to the floor. Raising bulls instead of riding them isn’t exactly what I’d planned on this year. My career can’t be over, not just yet. Not when I’m still the toast of Montana and the IBR tour. But perhaps it was what he’d been looking for, why he’d felt so unsettled, and why Terror – two tons of bucking fury – had gotten the better of him. Sometimes things happened for the best reasons even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.
“Where to, Chance? Back to the hotel?” Ralph grinned at him from over his shoulder, waiting for instructions.
“Yeah, but we won’t be staying there for long. I’m expected at the office for a catch-up with the boys from the International Bull Riders to fill them in on future plans. While I’m there, I need you to grab my bags and then you can drop me at the airport if you don’t mind. I’m heading home to the ranch. I have things to sort out.”
Callie Lister gazed out at the red, barren land just outside of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Australia. This place was her home, always had been, and she’d expected to grow old here, just like her father’s parents and his parents before that. Her father regaled her with tales of how she would take over when he was too old to work, letting her run the station as she saw fit. She would make sure her sisters could work alongside her as well, if that was what they chose to do, still keeping the spread in the family for future generations.
But now that was all gone…or would be by the end of the week. The accident that took both of her parents brought home the cruel reality of life in the outback. All in the form of a letter from the bank delivered just days after the funeral that saw both of her parents buried under the unforgiving, red earth because a tired driver caused them both to be taken far too young.
“Callie.” The youngest of the twins, Jess, stood at the gate of the house paddock, looking unsure of whether to approach her or not. Tears streaked down her thin pale face and Callie held open her arms to her sister. Together they stood in the dusty, barren yard, holding each other up against the onslaught of pain threatening to knock them down.
“Hush. It will alright, you’ll see.” Callie brushed the damp hair from Jess’s face. At three weeks shy of sixteen, Jess was the more sensitive of the twins. She was the one who always felt the pain or disappointment in life whereas her sister Lori was pragmatic and down to earth. It was she who was packing the twins’ belongings to move to the city to live with their father’s parents so they could attend university and get a better education.
“I don’t want to go. I want to stay with you.”
Callie pushed her back and wiped her thumbs under Jess’s eyes to stay the tears. “You can’t and we both know it. I have to do this; I have no other choice if we want the family name to not be tarnished with debt. I won’t let Mum and Dad have their names run through the mud this way. You’ve heard what’s happening in town already. They don’t need to be the gossip at the local pub because they died leaving us to sort out the bank. I won’t do that to them.”
“But you’ll leave us alone.” She hiccupped and the tears trickled down, making twin paths across her freckled cheeks.
“You won’t be alone. You have Grandpa and Nana and I’ll be home as soon as my contract ends. I don’t have a choice and you know it.”
“Get a job here on another station. There must be someone who will employ you.”
“There isn’t. Besides, the money isn’t that good here anymore, not with the drought hitting everyone as hard as it has. Plus, I don’t know anything else but farming. I wouldn’t stand a hope in hell of getting a job in the city either, Jess. I’m better off taking this chance and going to America. The rancher is offering great money for a twelve-month contract with all the perks and a bonus at the end of it if I manage to up the stock numbers.” She stroked her sister’s hair, willing her to understand. “I need that bonus. The banks told us in no uncertain terms what our position is. It’s not fair but we can’t change it. I will not let our parents be remembered for leaving us rolling in debt. They deserve more than that. Maybe then I can come back and we can start again, maybe find a new place if the bank has sold our home off.”
Callie was holding onto the hope that with so many farmers walking off their properties due to crippling debt and high interest rates, their little slice of heaven would still be sitting here when her contract ran out in America. But would she be able to come back with enough money to buy it or would she be happy to clear her parents name and move on?
If the twins made the move from country to city and adjusted well enough, she could take the time to make her own life so long as their schooling was covered. Financially, she was responsible for them and their needs came before hers.
I don’t know if I can get away after the time limit is up. Twelve months will go fast, especially if I work hard and save my money but will it be long enough?
“No buts. Stay strong and go and help Lori pack your stuff. Grandpa will be here soon and I doubt he will want to hang around much. It’s a long drive to town.” She watched Jess slowly make her way back inside the house, shoulders hunched over in defeat.
Callie looked at the weatherboard home. The peeling paint, rickety fences, and broken concrete path up to uneven front steps. No matter how bad it looked to the casual observer, it was the only home she’d ever known and she’d miss it terribly. She closed her eyes, opened them again, and focused on it, knowing she could only take her memories with her when she left.
The bank had been quite clear on that. Nothing was to be removed apart from their personal effects. No machinery or stock was to be touched. Anything of value would be sold off to put against the debt. Not that they had much anyway. Life was too tough for extras and that had never been a problem for any of them. They were happy living on the station, working the land as they had. There weren’t many trips into Alice Springs apart from the drive for supplies once a month. It was then that Callie got excited. They picked up the lessons from the post office for home schooling when they were younger, and her favorite treat of all was the magazines they were allowed.
While the twins had been into fashion magazines, Callie’s favorite had been the Horse and Cattle Digest. She would climb up on the hay bales in the barn and lose herself between the pages for hours. After she’d read every single word, she would take her ever-suffering, old quarter horse and put him through the paces as if she was in the rodeo and he was a stud-worthy, blue-ribbon winner. Her mother, an American by birth, had told Callie bedtime stories of the rodeo and encouraged her to dream big, hoping that one day her daughter would get her own chance at the rodeo she so craved.
As she’d grown older and more realistic, she’d dreamed that one day the farm could afford to buy stock like those between the pages of the glossy magazine. Sadly it was not to be, and the reality had hit hard when the local police had come to inform the girls of the accident that had taken both parents from them.
Callie’s things were already packed and sitting on the end of her bed ready to go. Her work visa and passport were tucked in the side of the old canvas carryall bag along with a photo of her parents and the three girls sitting together on the old, rickety veranda. She was leaning on her father’s shoulder, her arms draped over his chest and he was holding her hands, laughing up into her face. Her sisters were both perched on their mother’s lap, faces close together and hands linked. Callie couldn’t remember who had taken the photograph, but it was the only one of them all together in recent years.
The sound of a car traveling over the cattle grid by the roadway caught her attention. Her grandfather was here. She watched as he drove down the drive, doing his best to avoid the large pot holes that jarred even her teeth. She winced as he hit a particularly big one and the bumper made contact with the red rock of the driveway.
“Callie.” Jock Lister pulled up beside her and opened the car door, got out, and stood in front of her. He held out his arms and she fell against him, giving into one last bout of tears before she said goodbye to everything she knew and loved. He patted her back as she cried and pulled out a handkerchief when she moved away from him.
“Thanks, Grandpa. I didn’t mean to cry all over you.”
“Honey, I don’t care. I just wish your grandmother and I could do more for you. We both want you to come back and stay with us in the city, you know that. There’s no reason to go flying off to another country to make a decent living. You can do that right here in Australia.”
“No, I can’t. I’m not qualified to do anything other than run a station, as much as we might like to think differently. I’ll be okay, I promise. I’m twenty-six years old for goodness sakes. Probably time I left home anyway. I might even be able to catch up with some of Mum’s family while I’m over there.”
“That would make this old man feel better. At least you have a job to go to anyway. Better than rocking up with nothing planned.”
Oh, Grandpa, if only you knew what I have planned. You’d hog tie me to a fence and not let me go. But I have no other choice if I want to clear the debts on this place and make a future for my sisters.
How could she tell him she knew they would struggle on their pension to bring up two teenagers let alone have the money for them to go to university? His pride would be damaged beyond repair. Losing his only son and his wife had been bad enough, finding out the debt they left behind had forced her to sign up to marry a stranger because she felt backed into a corner with no choice would kill him. She wouldn’t do that to her grandfather.
Her sisters were relying on him to keep them safe while Callie tried to bring home the money that would keep them out of the poorhouse and lift their parent’s reputation out of the dust. And she was relying on the wages she brought in to make a nest egg for the girls. They’d get enough education to enable them to qualify for a decent job.
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