by Laina Villeneuve
When Dani Blazer set aside her career as a rodeo barrel racer for teaching in a California mountain town she thought it was for love and a family. All she has now is an empty home, a broken heart and a young mustang that needs a slow, gentle hand.
Hope Fielding watches the intriguing, attractive newcomer with a nameless panic. She’s been the mother to her siblings most of her life, and the choices she’s made to please her family and church weren’t easy. She never dreamed she’d have to make them again.
As the long mountain winter sets in, passions catch fire and two women desperately resist the choices of the heart.
The Lesbian Review
The Right Thing Easy is a well written romance. The writing is clean, the characters are charming and the story keeps you entertained. Villeneuve wrote the characters with a finesse and grace that I enjoyed, especially when they were struggling with tough choices. Laina Villeneuve writes nicely. The thoughts and feelings the characters had were real and...I could not help but understanding what they were going though.
You know what you get when you play a country song backward?
The corny old joke jumped into my head the second I heard the opening chords of the country song that tipped me over the edge into tears. You know that one about the lover who hightails it, leaving a trail of dust to choke on? My hand snaked out to click off the radio like it would to smack a mosquito only to see an angry red welt already swelling. That’s when the tears started. So many that if Chummy had been in the cab next to me, she’d have been all over me trying to lick away any traces.
That’s the sting of the joke. Play a country song backward, and you get your house back, your girl back, your dog ain’t dead anymore.
I checked the rearview. At least I had my girls, Daisy, my champion barrel racing quarter horse, and Eights, a three-year-old mustang Candy had recently adopted. The trailer had stopped swaying back and forth, so I hoped the unbroken mare was settling in. Candy was going to shit when she found the corral empty, but she’d been off her rocker to adopt the little filly in the first place, and I was mad enough after she took off with my dog to do something I knew would piss her off.
She was the one who swung our whole relationship around, like throwing a crazy eight down in that old card game I’d played as a kid. That’s how the horse got her name. I’d been telling her to call the filly Wild Thing, but she said nobody in her right mind would get on a horse named Wild Thing. “Well, there’s no question, she’s wild,” I said. “A wild card, wild as an eight in that game of Crazy Eights.” Most people probably think of jokers, not eights, but jokers are wild cards in a grown-up’s game. I never was interested in playing the grown-up games. Maybe that’s why she was able to play me so long.
She took Chummy to hurt me. We’d hollered so much the border collie probably thought that’s how humans talked to each other. She said I didn’t deserve the dog, that I was abandoning both of them. I thought I was making our future possible, but that’s an argument I can retire now. No need to keep running through everything we fought about, the scripts I had well memorized, my part as well as hers. I wondered what I’d fit into all that empty brain space now that she’d moved out, or rather, now that I’d moved on.
I’d never planned on taking anything but my clothes and Daisy, but when she called Chummy and left me with the image of both of their tails going out of the door one last time, well, I guess she stirred up a little fight in me. I was never the bronco rider. Candy was. I only ever rode barrels. I checked my watch. Nearly eleven. She might be at our place. Her place, I reminded myself. I pictured her standing by the empty corral feeling thrown, hoping that she felt like she’d hit the dirt like I had. That might make a good country song. You’d think with the amount of country I listen to, I would have been able to see the end coming.
Foolishly, I thought it was someone else’s pain. I never once thought it would be mine.
I swiped the tears from my face and got to concentrating on the road. The hairpin turns were upon me, and it would do no good for me to pitch off into the canyon below. Would the Quincy newspaper run a story about the promising new hire at Feather River Community College meeting her maker before she got to teach even one student what she knew about rodeo, let alone create the Rodeo Certificate she’d pitched during her interview? I might have been reckless if I’d been by myself, but I wasn’t about to put my prized mare, not to mention Eights, in danger.
Daisy had put me on the map and made me who I was. I had confidence about one thing and one thing only: that she could carry me into the future.
I swung into the saddle, and rocked my weight to center. It was the only place that felt like home to me now. Each morning, I forced myself to keep my eyes shut and at least pretend I was sleeping past dawn. Take my time in the shower, chew the food I didn’t feel like eating while I stared at mismatched furniture that came with my rented college apartment right down the road from the campus.
Each morning, as the student interns broke the hay bales and chucked flakes into feeders, I sat in Eights’ corral telling the rangy buckskin stories to get her used to my voice. I talked about her ground training, how she’d be under saddle in no time and about her tall black stockings that made it look like she’d waded chest deep through thick mud. The whole town still asleep for summer and the student body not due back for weeks, I had little opportunity to use my voice. I didn’t try to make conversation with the interns who were clearly unnerved by my presence. I couldn’t blame them. I’d have worried about a professor hanging around the barn, too, especially since Tim Keith, the program director, made a point to be on campus only when he was teaching.
“What’s your pleasure, Daisy girl?” I asked. Her delicate brown ears swung around, but they were the only things that moved. I could feel her energy beneath me ready to move in whatever direction I chose. The college had a nice selection of round corrals and arenas that we had yet to test out. We’d been exploring the trails, something new for the both of us. A year ago, we were in full swing of rodeo season, hours and hours on the road or in the saddle running our barrels, collecting belt buckles and prize money. I wouldn’t have dared take her out of the arena and risk her soundness.
When I retired, I could have sold Daisy. Her flashy paint markings had always turned heads in the arena. Lord knows I had enough offers, from greedy riders who thought they could make their name and fortune with her to those who just didn’t want to see her disappear from the circuit. I couldn’t do it. I wish I had some story to tell about how I raised her up from a foal and taught her everything she knew or rescued her from an owner who’d never had any faith in her and turned her around like Seabiscuit. The truth is, Candy had seen her and said she was talented. I was doing okay with my old gelding, Bandit, but she insisted that I could do better. And I did. With Daisy. Candy had started our dreaming, and even though everything told me to give up on the dream, selling Daisy would have made it too real to me.
I tipped my hips toward the road that led up to campus, beyond which we found all sorts of trails to explore. My one pleasure these days was feeling her giddiness as we took in this new world around us. She was all focus in a rodeo arena, but on the trail, she jumped at the slightest noise, poised in her flight instinct the whole time. I watched her ears more than I watched the trail, taking in her wonder as we explored this new place together.
The trail we picked today climbed steadily, offering Daisy a challenge she dug into. Where the trail crested, I pulled her up, giving her a chance to catch her breath. I turned and caught my first glimpse of the whole town of Quincy, a small clearing surrounded by mountains. With a population of three thousand six hundred, I could practically have been living in my old high school back in Arlington, Texas. We’d had close to three thousand just in the year I graduated. I told myself I was avoiding the town because I was afraid of it feeling like a high school campus. I’d been in once for groceries and tanked up my truck. Aside from the conversations I’d had with Eights and Daisy, a rather unfriendly cashier was the only other time I’d used my voice. I wasn’t ready to answer my mom’s calls yet.
I sat there looking at the town I’d decided to call home, a town I’d given up rodeo for. A town where I’d pictured myself starting my own family, and thought back to the settlers who may have stopped at the top of the same mountain, looked at the valley below and thought there. There’s the spot we’ve been looking for. What kind of prosperity did they envision? Did they feel the grip of fear in their belly that I did facing so many unknowns? I wondered if any of the city’s founder’s descendants still called Quincy home, and I wondered if it would ever feel like home to me.
Daisy swung her head around and chomped at her bit.
“I know,” I said. “Time to get moving. Enough of this standing still stuff.”
We fell into our rhythm, and the sound of her hoofbeats kicked my brain into gear brainstorming ways to get myself out of the house, trying to remember what it was I did before I spent all my free time with Candy. She loved to catch a movie or drag me out dancing. Enjoying the quiet of the trail, I realized how many times I wished I could just suggest that we stay in. Curl up with a good book. Now there was an idea. Finding the local library would be just the thing to get my own feet in motion.
Hope strolled up and down the narrow stacks looking for books left out for reshelving. She wasn’t on the library’s payroll, but she enjoyed the quiet of the library, the peace it offered like a shelter. As she rounded a corner, she noticed Pauline Honeylake, the librarian, talking to someone at the checkout desk. She paused. That someone had a bright green tee tucked into the tightest Wranglers she’d ever seen and one booted foot propped on the other. Dust caught in the folds of the jeans so long they stacked in folds at her ankle. The cuffs frayed white from being walked on said she was a working cowgirl, no tourist, but she was no local either. No one in town had long black hair like that, thrown into a lazy ponytail.
Realizing how long she’d been staring, Hope started back down the aisle, but she picked up her pace scanning for unshelved books so she could get another look at the cowgirl. This time, Hope noticed she was busy with a pen and paper. Again, she forced herself to disappear into the stacks. A few locals using the Internet worked quietly, and she didn’t want anyone noticing where she was looking.
Busy. She needed to keep busy, her hypothesis that she could distract herself from temptation. Not that Quincy had that much to offer after the summer season ended, taking with it the tourists who came for the music festival, fair or rodeo. But it had been years since she’d indulged in a summer indiscretion. Maybe this stranger was a straggler, one on her way out, Hope thought, sure that all the major social events had passed.
In her teens, she’d hit all the events, waited all year for the tourists to flood the valley and bring a breath of life with them. She’d learned well from one of the local girls. She’d never been able to explain her fascination with Kristine Owens. She’d been a freshman when Kristine was a senior, so their paths had rarely crossed. Kristine wasn’t a member of the church, and Hope didn’t ride horses, but something about Kristine captured her awareness, and she’d follow her every move, watching and learning.
As far as she knew, Kristine never dated any of the locals. She lived for summertime and made the most of it. People talked. Forrest Fielding, Hope’s father, spoke especially of how disgraceful her behavior was, what she would suffer had she been one of his girls. Her father never said the word lesbian, only talked about sins and repentance, but Hope had seen the way Kristine would drift away from the music stages with girls she didn’t recognize. At one rodeo, just before Kristine left Quincy to go to college, Hope had seen her slip into an empty stall in the fairgrounds stable. She tried not to think about how she’d approached the stall, her blood pulsing. Remembering the quiet sounds of pleasure coming from the stall brought a rush of desire that she thought she had quelled years ago.
Distraction. She turned her sneakered feet in the opposite direction, not wanting to think of the summers she had followed in Kristine’s footsteps. She’d been recommitted to her faith for three years, overfilling her days with community service that the church encouraged. Hope knew that her faith saw time devoted to volunteering as service to God and believed that participating in such wholesome tasks would surely leave no room for dalliance in her life. She kept her head down, busying herself in the outermost stacks. After weaving through every aisle she could without passing by the front desk, she risked looking again. Clear. With an audible sigh, she joined her longtime friend.
“Everything’s in order?” Pauline asked without looking up. Though in good shape, she had a Midwestern boxiness. For as long as Hope had known her, she’d permed her thin hair, and recently she’d started dying it back to its original chestnut brown.
Everything but my equilibrium, Hope thought, chagrined that the view of someone’s backside could send her into such a tailspin. “The stacks look good,” she answered honestly, her mind and body still distracted. Though she’d barely caught a glimpse of the woman, she felt a pull that she tried hard to ignore.
Pauline turned her librarian’s eyes that missed nothing back to Hope, who straightened stacks of fliers. She tried to remember what they talked about, but her brain refused to feed her anything but questions about the stranger. “Did I tell you Halley decided to take some classes?”
“Is she still planning for her mission?”
“Oh, yeah. But she can’t go until she’s nineteen, so she decided it would be good to get some college credits in before then.”
“She decided?” Pauline asked with a grin.
“With some help from her big sister.”
“She’s eighteen now. You can stop mothering her.”
Hope thought of herself at eighteen, how she’d wondered if she could have talked to her mother about who she was. She’d wanted to be mothered then. She could still use some mothering now.
“Sorry.” Pauline squeezed Hope’s arm. “That wasn’t fair. It’s great that Halley’s taking classes. They hired some new teachers this year. One of them just signed up for a library card.”
“That was a teacher?” Hope spilled, betraying that she’d observed the newcomer. Her mind spun. If she were full-time at the college, that meant she’d be in town the whole year. She tried to still her attraction. Maybe it was just the jeans, the boots that had transported her back. She hadn’t even seen the woman’s face or her eyes. Maybe her body was wrong.
“Hiring them young, aren’t they?” Pauline smiled playfully.
“That’s not what I meant,” Hope faltered. “I didn’t really see her, just her clothes…I pegged her for a rancher.”
“Tim must be expanding the equestrian program they have there. You could ask her.”
Hope turned, startled to see the woman approaching the desk. It hadn’t occurred to her for an instant that the woman hadn’t left, that she’d been off browsing while Hope talked to Pauline. Trapped, she tried to find something, anything to distract her. She failed, unable to stand so close to someone without acknowledgment. Their eyes met, and Hope found herself bathed in a wide smile framed with full lips. From behind, she had appreciated her thick wavy hair. Face to face, the woman’s flawless almost-olive complexion took her breath away. High cheekbones and sculpted dark eyebrows gave her a look of adventure.
“Y’all have a better selection than I figured you for,” she said, her dark eyes snapping back to Pauline as she accepted the stack of books.
Pauline puffed up with pride, and Hope heard for the umpteenth time how important a wide variety of books was in a small town. Hope tuned it all out, focused only on the tiny woman with her Texan drawl. She’d glanced only briefly at Hope, keeping her attention politely on Pauline and her lecture, but Hope had seen enough to know that her body was right. She tried to identify how she knew. Was it the set of her shoulders? Her slender hands? Whatever it was, she knew. She knew exactly how those muscled arms would feel around her, how soft her lips would be. A deer caught in the headlights, she couldn’t move, couldn’t think. She was helpless to wait for the unstoppable, inevitable impact.
“You’re sure to see a lot of me,” the professor said with a wink, sliding her stack of books from the desktop.
Hope let out her breath as the woman exited the library. If her statement proved to be true, Hope knew for sure she was in trouble.