A/N: I don't own this. We all know who does. What I do own is my love of a new Justin Bieber song. What's wrong with me? :D
A major thank you to MariahajilE for being an amazing beta and an even better friend. My love for you knows no end. :) Sorry I can't give you more of this, but you know... Priorities. ;) And did I tell you which story would win, or what? :D
And a huge, HUGE thank you to Belle Clementine for prereading this and telling me what sounded good, what felt incomplete, and what needed to hit the editing room floor. You're amazing. And it looks like now we don't need those pretty Montana pictures I sent you. :D
This was my entry in the MeetTheMateContest. There are some great stories, and a few of my favorites even won awards! You can find it in my Favorite Authors tab here on ff dot net. Alas, this didn't win anything, but I figured it wouldn't. Me and contests don't really see eye-to-eye very often. :D
Are you the cowgirl I'm looking for?
Wanna take a ride on the wild side of wheat harvesting?
Funny, but no.
I need a hand on the range and with the ropes and in my pa-
Six months on FarmersOnly, and still nothing that's even the tiniest bit interesting. How in the hell Alice talked me into actually paying for this crap I'm not sure.
I huff and slam shut my laptop. One guy. Just one guy who's decent looking, nice, and under fifty. It's not too much to ask. Unfortunately, most of the guys on FarmersOnly who meet those qualifications live nowhere near Butte, Montana, where I've been teaching school for the past five years. Every time I talk to my mother, she mentions grandchildren and how all of her friends have them. Then she talks about my high school boyfriend, Jake, who's recently divorced and has been asking her about me. I don't buy that. It's probably more a case of my mother dropping my name and ignoring the grimace on Jake's face when she goes on and on about what a wonderful stepmother I'd make for his three kids. Yeah, 'cause I need that in my life. Raising my ex-best friend's kids is what I want to do − especially after she went behind my back and got knocked up by my cheater boyfriend, only to result in him dumping me when she brought the sonogram picture over to show him while he had his tongue down my throat one last time before I left for college.
Like I said, he's not interested. I'm positive.
Since I'm spending my Friday night grading papers, I turn to channel 6 to see if Dateline's gonna be any good. You can't ever be too cautious these days, though it seems like I'd probably need a boyfriend or husband to fall into any of the unfortunate predicaments most of these ladies wind up in. I'm almost finished grading today's math test when my phone rings.
"Bella! Did you see the newest posts on Farmers?" Alice practically screams into my ear.
"Hello to you, too. And no, I didn't search for any guys today. I checked my flirts and decided to watch Dateline rather than read about what some guy wants me to help him with that would require my hand being in his pants."
Alice groans. "Bella, seriously. They're just being dumb when they say that shit. You know farmers have no sense of humor."
"Well, dumb or not, I don't want some guy telling me where to put my hands − at least not until after he's bought me dinner a few times and we've made out. Call me old fashioned."
"Ugh. Whatever. Anyway, there's a new entry. It just posted today, and you've got to see it!"
"Why? This Dateline episode's getting good. The lady disappeared from the mall on Black Friday. How does that even happen?"
"Bella, he lives in Sheridan, and he's under thirty. And there's a picture. He's hot!"
"Sheridan, Montana?" I ask. This sounds too good to be true.
"You sure it's not Sheridan County, Montana?" I ask. I live in the southwestern part of the state. Sheridan County's in the northeastern part. It still wouldn't work.
"Nope, it says Sheridan, Montana. Look it up. His username's CattleMan620."
Begrudgingly, I pull my laptop open and type his name into the search box. After a few seconds, a profile pops up and when I open it... Damn. He is hot. Well, the picture is actually of two guys, but both of them are gorgeous.
"Whoa," I mumble.
"I told you. Sheridan's only an hour away, Bella. You should totally send him a flirt and see if he responds. There hasn't been a guy under fifty that's lived this close to Butte in almost a year!"
"I'll think about it, but no promises."
After she begs for a few more minutes, she finally hangs up and lets me get back to Dateline. Unfortunately, my eyes keep wandering over to the picture still open on my laptop. The men in the picture are really, really good looking, and they both look younger than fifty, which is nice. I glance over the profile and see that CattleMan620 is actually 29 years old, 6'2", a non-smoker who drinks on occasion, and is looking for something long term. Huh, sounds good so far. When I get to the part about what he's seeking, I'm pleased to see he's interested in women, wants an average body type, and someone who's between 25 and 40 years old. I can work with that. I love ice cream too much to give that up.
I force myself to watch the rest of Dateline, finding out that the lady's estranged husband followed her into a changing room, killed her, and then stuffed her body in the ceiling. Good thing their creepy next door neighbor had been secretly videotaping them for months and had a recording of the husband telling his mistress all about it. Ugh. Men. I put the hottie cowboy out of my mind, not letting my hopes climb too high.
A few days later, as I'm eating lunch in the teachers' lounge, I get two text messages from FarmersOnly.
Wanna help me germinate my seeds? - AlfafaLover4
There are three other people that wanted the name AlfafaLover? I delete the message and block that poor idiot. No, thanks.
Did you know there's no Sheridan Hotel in Sheridan, Montana? Sounds like false advertising to me. - CattleMan620
Holy shit. He sent me a flirt? The hot cowman sent me a message? For a few moments, I'm stunned, not sure how I should respond. The sound of kids throwing food distracts me, and it's not until later in the evening that I finally have time to read the message again. I think about it for an hour or so and then decide. Why not?
I'm shocked and appalled. Someone needs to write a strongly-worded letter to the Ruby Valley Chamber of Commerce. - CountrySwan
About half an hour later, I get a response.
You should do it. Might be a good test to see if you're really a teacher after all. - CattleMan620
I laugh, knowing he's right. You can't ever trust what people write about themselves online.
I'll get to work on that as soon as I'm done grading the "Anatomy of a Volcano" drawings my students did today. - CountrySwan
We send a few more messages back and forth over the course of the evening, and just as I'm heading off to bed, I hear my phone ping once more.
It was fun talking to you. I didn't think there were any smart, eligible women under 65 left in Montana. My brother said this site would never work, but you've proved him wrong. Can I message you again? I don't want to bother you if you're not interested. - CattleMan620
He's sweet and he's funny, and if that picture's real, I'm happy to let him message me all he wants.
You've restored my faith in this site today, so thanks for that. I'd love to have you message me again, but first, I have a serious question. If you choose to answer it, I'll reply to any future messages. If you don't, I'm afraid I'll have to include your name in that letter I'm penning to the leaders of Ruby Valley. Here goes… That profile picture you have - please tell me you're not conjoined twins or, at least if you are, that there's an operation you're eligible for. I'm a one-man kinda girl. - CountrySwan
A minute later, I get my answer.
That's me and my brother. It's the only picture I had on my phone, but I promise we're not conjoined. Now, before I continue messaging you, I have one comment about your picture. I don't believe it's you. You're much prettier than any swan I've ever seen. - CattleMan620
I laugh, looking at my profile picture. It's my official Miss Swan photo from the yearbook, but it shows what I look like in all its unflattering normalness. At least I'm not making a duck face in it, which is what most of the other women on this site do.
Thanks. Of course, if you want to tell me I'm pretty, you'll have to get in line behind the five students in my class who seem to be in love with me. Bribes of ice cream or chocolate will move you to the front. Don't tell the other boys, though. They think I only like apples and heart pictures. - CountrySwan
We message back and forth a few times each day for the next several weeks. He's busy ranching, or whatever it is he does, and it seems like forever between each of his responses. My only free time is in the evenings between grading papers, parent-teacher conferences, and phone calls from my mother and Alice. They're both concerned for my future, though each is for a very different reason. My mother wants me to move home and settle for my past mistakes. Alice wants me to move to a ranch and start popping out babies. Neither of those ideas sounds interesting to me, so I continue messaging CattleMan620, who I eventually learn is named Edward. He's not really supposed to tell me that. Stupid FarmersOnly rules. I tell him my name's Bella, but first names are the only real information we offer up. We mostly talk about random things and trade bad pick-up lines with each other. He's heard some doozies, and he never fails to make me laugh, even when they're a bit on the dirty side.
The more I talk to Edward, the more I like him and the more anxious I am about finding out exactly which of the two men in the picture he is. Both men are attractive, but there's just something about the one with the lighter eyes and hair. I can't stop looking at him, and I really, really hope he's Edward.
I was wondering if you might want to meet up some time… you know… in person. - CattleMan620
The message comes through on a Wednesday evening, and it makes me nervous. I know there's only so much online messaging we can do. It's been over six weeks, and we'll eventually have to meet in person, but am I ready for that? I'm not sure. It takes me a few hours, but I finally respond.
Yeah. Maybe. Did you have something in mind? - CountrySwan
You said your spring break's next week. Well, Sheridan has a farmers' market every Thursday afternoon. My mom takes her produce and preserves to sell, and I always go help her. Maybe we could meet there? There's good food, and we do have an ice cream parlor in town. Plus, it's a public place. You wouldn't have to worry about me dragging you off into the boondocks or anything. ;) - Cattleman620
I think over my plans for the week and figure it's now or never. Might as well take a chance. And, like he said, at least it's in a public place. If he's some horrible ogre with a broken-down station wagon, I can just chat for a few minutes, grab some ice cream, and hightail it back to Butte.
It's a date, cowboy. - CountrySwan
I send the message and close my laptop. I've got far too many butterflies fluttering through my stomach to sit and wait for his response. After pacing around my living room for twenty minutes, I call Alice.
"What are you doing next week?"
"Not much. Why?"
"You feel like going to Sheridan? I kinda have a date."
"Seriously? Get out! Hell yeah!" she yells into the phone.
She's excited when I tell her about Edward and the conversations we've had over the past month and a half. I gush more than I ever have before, which is a sure sign to her that I'm serious about this one.
"He sounds great, Bella. I can't wait to meet him."
I laugh. "Yeah. Me, too."
The drive to Sheridan's gorgeous, but then again, the whole state of Montana is breathtaking. It's what made me decide to stay after graduating from Montana State. Alice talks my ear off the whole time, filling me in on the wonderful details of newlywed life. I've had a few exclusive relationships but never anything that came close to a proposal. Edward's the first guy I've met that seems different, and the nervousness I still feel each time we message makes me think this could be something special. I've never regretted my move to Butte, even if the pickings are slim when it comes to men. Washington's pretty and I miss it, but Montana's everything I've ever wanted, including Edward.
The main drag in Sheridan isn't too busy when we pull up. The farmers' market started about fifteen minutes ago, but so far, it's a little sparse. Then again, only about 700 people live in Sheridan, so this might be it. We park and walk past a few booths, sampling and buying some of the baked goods people have. They're all friendly, and the nervousness I'm feeling begins to fade.
The booths wrap around a corner, and as we turn it, I see a banner hanging over the third one in line. It says Cullens' Creations. I know that's Edward's mother's booth, because he told me that's his last name. I might have written Bella Cullen a few times in big, swirly letters all over the top of my grade book. I really need to admit just how hard I'm crushing on this man.
The woman standing behind the table looks to be in her 50s, which would make sense since Edward's 29.
"That's it. That's Edward's mom."
Alice looks toward the booth. "She looks nice."
We both stand still for a few moments, just watching. I might not be breathing, but I'm not really sure.
"Let's go say hi," Alice says, nudging me toward the woman.
"I'm nervous." And I am. I'm terrified. What if she doesn't like me?
Alice laughs. "Oh, come on."
She drags me the rest of the way down the street until we're stopped in front of Cullens' Creations. Edward's mother smiles as she fills a basket with some jars of jelly or jam or something. "You two are new around here. I don't think we've met before. I'm Esme Cullen." She holds her hand out for us to shake, and I'm stuck, which makes Alice giggle.
"Hi. I'm Alice, and this is my cousin, Bella. We're from Butte. Just here for the day."
"Oh, that's a beautiful drive. I hope you're enjoying our little market so far. Seen anything yet that's caught your eye?" Esme looks over to me, and Alice elbows me in the side.
"I'm Bella," I mumble. I'm officially an idiot.
Esme simply smiles back at me. "Well, are you two ladies interested in some jalapeño jelly? I make a mean batch of it, if I do say so myself," Esme says, pushing a plate filled with samples toward us.
"This looks good," Alice says, picking up a cracker and taking a bite.
"Hey, Mom!" yells a voice from behind the booth. My heart starts to pound at the thought of it being Edward, although the voice is deeper than I'd envisioned when talking to him. In my head, he was always more of a tenor, but this voice is lower and not quite what I imagined. Then a man walks around from behind the booth with a box in his arms. "Is this what you were looking for?"
My world stops, and not because it's love at first sight or because I'm nervous and excited. It stops because it's the wrong man. It's not the brother I was hoping for, and now I don't know what to do. His eyes meet mine and widen.
"Girls, this is my son," Esme says.
"Hi!" Alice bursts out, the tone of her voice too full of fake excitement.
"Hello," he says to both of us, smiling hesitantly. "You're Bella."
I nod. "Hi."
Esme watches us for a moment. "Do you two know each other?" she asks. Just as I say no, Edward says yes, and Esme's even more confused. "Honey?" she asks Edward.
"Oh. Uh, yes. Kind of. Um, can I talk to you?" he asks me, pointing to the side of the booth. I nod again, leaving Alice with a perplexed Esme and following Edward around the back wall of the booth. Once we're alone, we both stop and look at each other.
"Hi." I say again, rather sheepishly. It seems to be all I can say today.
"Oh, shit," he sighs, running his hand through his hair. "I'm so sorry. This isn't how it was supposed to go. Shit, shit, shit."
The way he's talking and acting convinces me something's definitely wrong, and I step away from him to give myself a little more space.
"What does that mean? Am I not what you thought I'd be?" My hands are twisting together in front of me as I try to close in on myself. All those old feelings of not being enough for Jake are flashing through my brain, and I start to wonder if I'll ever be enough for anyone.
His eyes quickly meet mine, and he pauses. "What? No. You're perfect. Trust me. You're great. This just... Um, see, I'm not actually Edward. I'm his brother, Emmett."
A sense of relief washes over me, and I relax a little. "Oh. Okay."
"Yeah. Um, Edward was supposed to be here, but he had an emergency, so I came instead."
"That's understandable. I hope everything's okay."
He nods. "Yeah, it's fine." He still looks nervous.
"What?" I ask, wondering how much more there is to this story. "Did he change his mind about meeting me?"
Emmett lets out a long breath. "No, he didn't, but that's the thing." He's quiet for a moment as he continues to watch me. "Edward doesn't actually know about you."
There's nothing but honesty in Emmett's eyes. I'm confused and uncertain about how that's even possible. I talked to him online. We've been texting for weeks. I don't understand what he's saying.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, shit. Okay. Um… See, I'm the one who set up the FarmersOnly account, and I'm the one you've been talking to. He doesn't know anything about it."
"What?" I ask in a whisper as my hopes come crashing down.
He starts pacing, gesturing wildly with his hands. "Well, he just never dates, you know? And he's such a good guy. He deserves to have someone perfect, so I figured if I could find someone online and then get her to meet him, they'd fall in love. Then I'd tell him what I did, and he'd laugh and think it was hilarious. You know?"
I'm shaking my head, because I don't know.
"So, I've been talking to you this whole time?"
"And Edward doesn't know anything about it?"
"Well, sort of. I mean, everything I typed in our messages came from him. I asked him your questions without him realizing what I was doing and then typed the answers to you."
"He has no idea I came here today?"
"No. But Bella, I know he'd love you. You're exactly what he wants."
Just then, a gorgeous blonde woman comes walking around the wall of the booth with her arms folded across her chest. "Emmett?" she asks, seeing the two of us. "What's going on?"
His eyes widen even more, and I can tell he's in panic mode. "Oh, shit. Nothing."
"Who's this?" she asks, staring me down. I can't even speak. I don't know what I'd say.
"This is Bella. I've been talking to her online an−"
"What?!" she yells at him. "In case you forgot, you're a married man, Emmett."
Boy, this just gets better and better, and my head is spinning faster and faster, and my heart is dropping lower and lower.
"I know! Rosie, I wasn't talking to her for me. I was talking to her for Edward. I'm trying to set her and Edward up. I swear!"
"Why can't Edward just talk to her?" his wife asks. Unfortunately, that's one question I do know the answer to.
"He doesn't know about me," I offer up with a shrug of my shoulders and a flatness in my voice.
She stares at him for a moment before squinting her eyes and stepping toward him. "What did you do?"
"I was trying to help! We're so happy, and he's alone. I know he wants someone to be with. He just can't figure it out for himself. I thought if I could find someone for him, then they could meet and he'd be happy. I swear that's all it is."
I take several deep breaths and feel my eyes begin to sting with tears. I'm humiliated and hurt, and I have to get out of here.
I shake my head. "I can't believe you did this. I really felt something for him. Or for you. Oh, shit. I don't even know who I was falling for!"
Even though he's calling out for me to wait, I turn and walk away from them.
"Bella?" Alice asks as I rush toward her.
"Let's go," I whisper.
"What's wrong?" Esme says behind me. "Emmett, what's going on?"
"Emmett? I thought you said his name was Edward," Alice asks as I try to pull her along with me.
"Edward's my other son. This is Emmett and his wife, Rosalie," I hear Esme say before she again asks Emmett to explain what's happening.
"Bella, please," Emmett pleads.
"You're not Edward?" Alice asks as she pulls her arm out of my hand. "What the hell, dude?"
"It's just a misunderstanding. I'm trying to explain," Emmett tells her.
"Well, tell me and I'll decide," Alice says as she blocks his view of me. I stop and wait, because she's worked up and we're not going anywhere until this is done. Emmett rushes through his explanation and once he's come clean, I hear Rosalie and Esme chastising him, asking how he could have come up with such a ridiculous scheme. Next thing I know, Alice has punched him square in the nose and is yelling at him, calling him every name in the book. Before we cause too much more commotion, I grab her arm and pull her toward my car. She comes along, even though she wants to keep yelling at Emmett.
We're both quiet most of the way home, because I refuse to talk about it, no matter how hard Alice tries to get me to open up. She offers to stay the night with me, but I want to be alone. If I fall apart like I think I might, I don't want anyone around to see it. Once I walk through the door of my apartment, I can't keep it in any longer. The dam bursts and tears roll down my cheeks before I can even get the deadbolt locked. Why would he do this? I understand he was trying to help his brother, but doesn't he realize he just broke my heart? All the hope I was feeling this morning is gone, and I'm once again left with the aftermath of being let down. For some reason, it hurts so much more this time than it ever did before. I don't even change my clothes before I lay down on my bed and cry myself to sleep.
The next day, there's a text from FarmersOnly letting me know I have a message from CattleMan620. I don't open it until late that night. I can't bring myself to read what I know it'll say. When I finally do, I see it's an apology from Emmett. He explains all of his reasons to me and asks me to please understand. I know he was just trying to do a nice thing, but I can't let it go.
I'm sorry, Emmett. I can't. - CountrySwan
I close my FarmersOnly account, delete the app from my phone, and try my hardest to forget about Emmett, Edward, and those loopy swirls in my grade book that say Bella Cullen.
It's Memorial Day, and I've just come home from being at Alice's all day. Jasper wanted to barbecue and introduce me to his cousin, Liam. He's nice, but I'm not interested in him or moving to Texas. Plus, I'm still hung up on a certain cattle man I'll most likely never meet. I've tried to forget him, but it's not possible. Every time I hear a cheesy pick-up line, I think of Edward. Every time I drive past the cows at the dairy farm on my way to work, I think of Edward. When Alice pulled out that damn jalapeño jelly at the barbecue today, I thought of Edward. He just won't go away, and it's driving me crazy. And he's making me want to drive back to Sheridan, which is ridiculous. Right?
I'm only home a few minutes when there's a knock on my door. I'm not expecting anyone, so when I look through the peephole, I about fall over from shock. My heart starts racing, and I have to breathe deeply and count to ten before I'm calm enough to open the door. When I finally do, I find Edward Cullen standing on my doorstep, holding a pint of ice cream in his hands. The look on his face tells me he's just as nervous as I am. We stare at each other for what seems like five minutes. Maybe it's not quite that long, but it is a long time. I know that much. Finally, he clears his throat, and I see his Adam's apple bob when he swallows.
"Hello. I'm Edward Cullen."
"I know," I manage to squeak out.
"You're Bella Swan, right?"
I nod. And yeah, he's a tenor.
"Um, first of all, I'd like to apologize for my brother. He means well, but he's not the brightest bulb in the box, if you know what I mean."
I nod again, because I do know what he means. I press my teeth into my bottom lip to keep my mouth from hanging open as I watch him fidget. The way my hands are gripping onto the door probably makes it clear how nervous I am, but he doesn't say anything. He just nods in response and continues speaking.
"Second, I brought this ice cream as a peace offering. I really hope you'll hear me out before you slam the door in my face."
I look down and wonder how he knew what to get. It's the perfect choice. "It looks like Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie, so..." I can't say no to that. I just shrug my shoulder and look back up into his pretty green eyes.
He smiles, and I swear I think the sun just got brighter.
"I got your address from Alice. She called my mom about her jalapeño jelly. My mom begged her for it," he says, shaking his head. "I think she offered up a free case or two of the jelly, so please don't be upset. I'm sorry I didn't come here sooner. I thought you probably wouldn't want to talk to me." There's a little sadness in his eyes when he says that, and it hurts my heart that he thinks my ending things was about him. "Emmett's an idiot, but he really did have good intentions."
"Yeah, I guess."
He half-laughs, and it's the sweetest sound I've ever heard.
"I read through all of your messages with Emmett, and they really are my words. Bella, it's up to you, and if you say no, I'll completely understand, but I'd love to take you out sometime. Maybe now, if you'd like. I wanna get to know you for real. I think maybe this could be something, if I'm not too late." He's anxious, shifting his weight from one denim-clad leg to the next. Then I notice the brown cowboy boots. Oh, the boots...
My heart's thumping so loudly in my chest that I'm shocked Edward can't hear it. It's practically screaming out to him. Honestly, it's belonged to him ever since that first message. I know as I look at Edward that I'll never get it back, and I don't want to. I want whatever might happen between us, and I need to give it a chance to be real, to last.
I smile, wondering how I can show him in more than just words that I want exactly what he's asking for. A thought crosses my mind, and I have to hold back a laugh. Reaching for the carton of ice cream, I bat my lashes at him and cock my head to the side. "Are you from Tennessee? 'Cause you're the only ten I see."
His smile widens, and his fingers touch mine as we hold the little frozen tub between us, neither of us wanting to let go. He laughs a rich, hearty laugh before taking a step toward me and flashing me the most indecent, crooked smile I've ever seen. And when he speaks, his tenor voice is dripping with a sexiness I don't think I've ever heard before.
"Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?"
A/N: If you read this in the contest, thank you. All the lovely and sweet reviews made my heart happy. I really kinda love this little story, so thank you for assuring me that I wasn't the only one. :)
And for those of you hoping it would continue, I'm so sorry, and to be honest pretty sad about it, but there won't be any more of this. :( I should only be allowed to inflict small amounts of mediocrity on the world. I'm sure you can imagine a much better future for these two than I can, so I'll leave it to your imagination... :)
Until next time... thank you. :)