Today is MsKathy's birthday. And in celebration of that, I decided a little more Rodeoward was needed. Enjoy and send her some birthday love!
Special thanks to mycrookedsmile and jadsmama for doing a quick preread at the eleventh hour!
There are pictures on the blog that helped shape some of this little futuretake.
http : / jessyptff . blogspot . com
19 Years Later
Liza sat waiting on the cool, brick steps that led up to her boyfriend, Gavin's house. He told her to meet him here, that he'd be back in time to pick her up, but he was late. Twenty minutes late. Again.
She stared at the yellow daisies in her hand, smiling softly at the delicate petals, before dropping her hand back to her lap. Today was their one-year anniversary, and they were planning to go to the big barn dance over at Peter Foster's house.
She sighed and was just about to stand up when she saw the beams of headlights slowly making their way toward Masen Ranch. As the truck got closer, she realized it was Gavin's mom, Bella.
When the truck pulled to a stop, she looked up, half hoping Gavin would be with her, but he wasn't. Tears pricked at her eyes, and she desperately tried to swallow them back. She didn't want to ruin her makeup… or let Mrs. Masen see her cry.
As Bella climbed out of the cab of the pickup, she was surprised to see Liza sitting on her front porch. The sun had just set, and the air was quite cool. Liza certainly wasn't dressed to be outside. Walking toward her, she took in the sight in front of her. Liza, looking utterly miserable, dejected almost, and all dressed up. She quickly wracked her brain trying to figure out why she was here and why Gavin wasn't.
"Liza, sweetheart, what are you doing on the porch?" Bella asked as she stopped in front of her.
Liza looked up, blinking back tears, and Bella knew Gavin had done it again. This pattern of behavior was getting out of hand, and he wasn't even out of high school yet.
"I'm waiting for Gavin," she said sadly.
Bella frowned. She had just spoken with Edward, and the two of them still had another round, maybe two, depending on how well Gavin rode, before they made it home. That would take at least another hour. Disappointment welled up inside her. After everything she and Edward had been through, she expected more from her son… and husband.
"Come inside. I'm afraid it's going to be a while." Bella attempted to smile to help temper the bad news she was about to deliver. She couldn't believe she was going to have to tell Liza that Gavin wasn't going to make it back in time to take her wherever they were going. She took a deep breath. Sometimes being a mother really sucked, and this was one of those times.
"He's not coming, is he?" Liza said, her voice flat and desperately sad. It was as if she been dipped in a vat of disappointment, and it permeated every part of her – the downward slant of her normally beautiful smile, the dark sapphire blue of her gorgeous eyes, and the slump of her shoulders as she learned forward to rest her elbows on her knees.
"I'm sorry, honey. He's going to be at least another hour, maybe more."
Bella looked at the flowers on the ground. Tears were billowing in her eyes, and without a thought, Bella pulled the young girl in her arms, knowing full well what that bitter sadness and let-down felt like.
Liza sniffled as her shoulders shook. "It's our anniversary," she whispered, as her tears fell.
Bella ran her hand through Liza's blonde waves, soothing and calming in the way only someone who'd been in those shoes could. She let her cry, and while she held her, she decided right then and there that history was not going to repeat itself. If Gavin wanted to ride, that was fine, but he wasn't going to string this beautiful girl along and let her play second fiddle. Liza deserved better.
The air in the arena was electric. Edward hovered above the chute. Gavin gripped the rigging and wrapped the strap tightly around his hand and wrist.
"You ready?" Edward asked.
Adjusting his hat with his free hand and shifting a bit on the saddle, Gavin nodded. With a deep breath he called out, "Now!"
The chute whipped open, and the horse tore out, bucking wildly. Edward watched his son in amazement and awe. Gavin's thighs gripped the horse's ribs tightly, and his arm waived easily in the air. He made it look so easy, but Edward knew how much effort Gavin was exerting, how much strength and concentration it took to ensure the horse didn't get the upper hand.
With every buck and turn, Edward felt his own body shift as if he were the one in the ring. It was surprising how much these events made him think about his own rodeo career. As he looked back, he had no regrets. Like he'd told Bella that weekend they were holed up together waiting for her car to be repaired, he had achieved what he'd set out to do.
A glance at the clock and the sound of the buzzer indicated the round was over. Gavin jumped off the horse, and it trotted away, happy to be free of the offending kid on its back.
Thundering applause sounded as the scores popped up on to the screen. Gavin looked over his shoulder at Edward and grinned. That ride had just secured him a place in the National High School Rodeo Finals. Elated, he jogged across the arena and was immediately enveloped in a tight hug.
"I'm so proud of you, son," Edward said. When they pulled apart, Edward smacked his son's shoulder. "Nice ride. You looked great out there."
Gavin beamed. "Thanks, dad. I felt good. I could feel the horse's moves before it made them. It was just like we practiced."
Edward nodded. He knew exactly what Gavin was referring to; they'd spent weeks working on anticipating the horse's moves, "listening" to the way the subtle shifts in direction communicated exactly what the horse was going to do.
As they walked out of the arena and onto the main thoroughfare, a crowd of fellow riders and fans immediately surrounded him. Edward watched his son easily navigate the complex world of popularity and success. He was so proud of everything Gavin had accomplished. It was hard to believe his son was practically grown. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he'd be following his own son's rodeo career, and yet, it seemed it was destined to happen.
When Bella told him she was pregnant about a year after they got married, Edward had been surprised, elated, and scared shitless. But as her pregnancy wore on and her belly grew, Edward couldn't help but fall in love with the little guy he knew was in there. Gavin arrived, rearing to go, at 6:02 in the morning in late October. From the beginning, he was all boy. Rough and tumble, mud pies, and born to be outdoors.
He and Gavin spent a lot of time outside, especially after that first spring. Edward would strap him on his back and work in the barn or elsewhere on the ranch. Gavin loved the fresh air and playing with the animals. When he said the word horsey and pointed to Lady Grey, Edward knew it was time to test out his riding legs.
Bella was hesitant at first, but when she saw him pointing and saying horsey over and over, she couldn't resist. Edward rode with Gavin in front, his arm wrapped tightly around his son, as they slowly walked around the paddock. The entire experience was full of horsey and go and kicking legs and giggles, and it was clear at that moment his son was born to ride.
And Edward had been right. Gavin practically spent more time on the back of the pony they'd purchased for him than he did on his own two feet. When Ellie came along three years later, the amount of time he and Gavin spent together exponentially increased. What started as fun father-son bonding soon turned into a way of life. Gavin entered his first rodeo at the age of six, and they'd never looked back.
His phone beeped, and as he pulled it out of his pocket, two young girls pushed their way into the crowd, clearly trying to get closer to his son.
Damn bunnies are already after him, Edward thought as he walked away. He couldn't say he was surprised. Gavin had grown into quite the young man. Fortunately, Liza had Gavin wrapped around her finger, and he only had eyes for her.
Edward smiled at the thought. He knew what that was like.
Gavin missed his and Liza's anniversary tonight. She's in the living room crying, and I'm making tea. He needs to fix this. And you need to talk to him.
Edward reread the words on his screen two or three times before it really sank in. He watched as Gavin laughed with his friends and fortunately ignored the bunnies.
He pulled off his hat and scrubbed his hand through his hair. Much like Bella had done, Edward wracked his brain for some clue as to what had happened. The last he had heard, Gavin was over the moon about her, so he was at a complete loss for how this could have happened. Gavin knew he had a tournament that weekend. Hadn't he told Liza or made plans for another night? The more he thought about it, the more he knew there had to be some explanation. His son was too responsible for this.
But some explanation somehow didn't seem good enough when he reread Bella's text one more time. He could imagine the scene unfolding at his house – the heartbroken look on Liza's face… and worse, the disappointed look on Bella's. She hadn't said it outright, but he knew what she was thinking. He knew full well they would be having a conversation about this and how they were raising their son. He wasn't looking forward to rehashing the painful reminders of their past. It was a long time ago, but it still stung to think about how close he'd come to really losing Bella.
With a heavy sigh, Edward pushed his way through the crowd until he grabbed Gavin by the arm, leaned in, and said they needed to talk.
He didn't have a plan. He wasn't sure what he was going to say or how to confront his son, but in the minute it had taken him to walk over there, his own choices long ago came smashing down around him. He didn't want to overreact. Liza and Gavin were not he and Bella. The circumstances were different. Hell, they were younger and just about to start their lives. He had to keep that in perspective.
Gavin looked at him strangely, the look on his father's face unsettling. With a big smile, genuine to everyone's eyes except his father's, he excused himself and followed his dad.
"Dad, what's go-"
"Did you miss a date with Liza?" Edward asked abruptly, cutting his son off before he could even ask what was going on.
Caught off guard, Gavin just stared at him. "What?"
"You heard me. Your mom just sent me a text saying Liza's at our house crying."
He was still on cloud nine, basking in the glow of such a momentous win, and his dad's words didn't register.
Why was Liza at his house?
As he tried to piece it all together, his eyes landed on the large time clock.
Slowly, it dawned on him. Their anniversary. Their date. The dance.
He felt sick. He pulled his hat off his head and ran his fingers through his hair.
He looked at his dad's expectant face.
"I missed our one-year anniversary."
After she pressed send, Bella filled two mugs full of steaming water, dropped in a chamomile tea bag, and carried them out to the living room. Liza was where she'd left her - curled up on the couch, covered in the purple cashmere blanket she'd taken a liking to the first time she came over almost a year ago, holding a framed picture of Gavin at the High School Finals the year before. Bella could see the confusion and sadness on her face. So forlorn and lost. It was a look she recognized as one she'd worn many years ago. Her heart ached for that sweet girl. She knew what it was like to sit waiting, and she wasn't sure what to say.
After being a big part of Gavin's life for the past year, she and Liza were fairly close. She hated seeing her upset, and the fact it was over the rodeo did nothing to ease the already burgeoning tension she felt. Gavin potentially had a professional riding career in front of him. He loved being on the back of a horse, just like his father. The two of them were naturals when it came to feeling and anticipating the horse's moves, but Gavin hadn't talked much about whether he wanted to keep riding in college or even beyond. He and Liza were still so young - close to graduating from high school - with their whole lives ahead of them.
Even in the midst of all that uncertainly, Bella knew one thing for certain – Gavin and Liza were in love. Gavin adored her and practically worshipped the ground she walked on, and it had been like that long before they ever got together. She was the one girl he'd crushed on – for years – before he finally, with a lot prodding, asked her out. They'd been inseparable ever since. The path before them certainly wasn't clear, and it definitely wasn't going to be easy.
"Here you go," Bella said, interrupting Liza's thoughts.
Liza smiled sadly and reached for the mug. "Thanks."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Liza brought the mug to her lips and blew, attempting to cool it and stall all at once. Did she want to talk about it? She knew she was confused. Her feelings were all muddled. She was trying to rationalize Gavin's promise to be there, to celebrate, and his failure to show up.
She would have understood if he had said he might be late, even called at the last minute. She knew he had a tournament, but he hadn't said anything like that. She was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt without second guessing his feelings for her, but it was hard.
Bella waited. She could see the wheels turning in Liza's head, and she knew what was going on in there. She knew what kind of rationalizing Liza was trying to think through and decided it was time to say something. With a small sip of her tea, she set the mug down, and moved over to the couch.
Surprised, Liza looked up and then started fiddling with tassels on the blanket.
"You know," Bella said as she grabbed a pillow and got comfortable. "Edward and I weren't always together. We met in college and dated pretty much the entire time. He was... everything. At least I thought he was at the time. "
Liza's fingers stopped fidgeting, and she sat up, her curiosity piqued. "What happened?"
"The rodeo." Bella let that sink in for effect. And then with a deep breath offered words that still stung. "He was in love with the rodeo, and in the end that's the life he chose."
"He broke up with you? Over the rodeo?" Liza looked horrified.
Bella smiled. She was used to that kind of reaction from people when they heard how things had gone down all those years ago.
"It wasn't that black and white. He was amazing. A natural, really. Watching him ride was so exhilarating. You could the adrenaline practically pouring out of him whenever he was on the back of a horse. Gavin's got a lot of that in him, as well," Bella said as she picked up her tea and took another sip. "I was his biggest fan; I practically went to every competition. I loved him, would have done anything for him... I did. But after a while, it became too much. I got resentful, and when, at the last minute, he told me he couldn't make this big dance that I'd planned and told him about well in advance, it was the last straw. I told him to choose between the rodeo and me. At the time, I didn't feel like I had a choice, but that ultimatum and the subsequent choices we both made altered the course of our relationship for years."
"But you got back together," Liza said, more statement than question.
"Years later. While he went on the professional circuit, I traveled and then moved back to Green River and met my first husband, Riley. We were married five years before he was killed in a car accident."
Liza gasped. "Oh gosh."
"It was a long time ago, and I still miss Riley. He was an amazing man. After he died, I never expected to fall in love again, but when Edward and I met again by chance..." Bella smiled that happy-in-love smile Liza wanted for herself. "The rest is history."
Liza laughed. "Wow. That's such a great story."
"It didn't always feel that way, Liza, but things worked themselves out. I'm grateful for the second chance Edward and I were given."
They both sat there, silent and in thought – Bella reflecting on the last nineteen years, and Liza on the one year she and Gavin had together.
"I love him. Gavin. But sometimes, like tonight, I'm not sure if that's enough." Liza bit her lip, as if nervous she'd spoken the unthinkable out loud.
Bella simply nodded. She knew exactly what Liza meant. She had wondered that in the early years of her relationship with Edward, especially toward the end when the answer became clear. Love wasn't always enough. As she stared at Liza, she was proud that even at such a young age, this beautiful young woman realized there was more to the equation than roses and teddy bears.
"If you want my honest opinion, I'm not sure it is either. Relationships take work, and they take two. Gavin messed up tonight. I'm not going to defend his actions, but with that said, situations like this are a reality if the rodeo is a life he chooses.
"And you have to decide if you can live with it. It means you aren't always number one, that things will pop up and plans have to change. It's not easier, but I know other couples who have successfully made it.
"Bottom line: You two need to talk this out," Bella said.
"I know… I just… I don't want to lose him," Liza said quietly.
Bella reached over and laid her hand on top of Liza's. She gave it a squeeze.
"Just talk to him, sweetie. You guys will figure this out."
"I can't believe I forgot to call her," Gavin said as he ran his hand through his still-sweaty hair. "I promised her I'd take her to that barn dance at Peter's."
Edward watched his son grapple with the gravity of his mistake. He wanted to tell him it would be okay, that these kinds of things happen, but he knew better. He'd made a mistake like that once, and it had cost him dearly.
"Son, I'm going to give you a piece of unsolicited advice."
Edward looked at his son waiting for pushback but got none.
"When we get home, don't make excuses. Just apologize, be honest about forgetting, and let her lead the way. You can't talk your way out of this. You messed up, badly I might add."
Gavin rolled his eyes. "I know I did, but it's not like she didn't know I was riding today. She knows things run late sometimes."
Edward looked at his son incredulously, surprised how blasé he was being about this.
"What?" Gavin asked, seeing the disbelieving look on his father's face.
"Forgive me, but you act like you don't care how she feels. That's not like you, especially given the conversation we had last week about you two going to college together."
Gavin backpedaled. "We are, but sometimes the rodeo comes first. You know what I mean, dad. You lived it."
Edward did know. He knew what it was like to have adrenaline coursing through his body, the crowd cheering and chanting his name, and to feel the way his body moved with and gripped the horse's body. It was addicting and indescribable, but so was the pain of living without the love of his life. He felt that same warmth spread over him whenever he thought about how lucky he'd been when Bella knocked on his front door nineteen years ago.
Bella was right. He needed to have this talk with his son.
"You're right, Gavin. I do know what it's like. And there's nothing like the thrill, the rush, but I can also tell you how devastating it is to lose the one person you love more than anything. There are no words for how much that sucks, how no high, no crowd, no ride can fill that kind of void."
"Dad, come on. You act like mom hasn't always been there for you."
He knew Gavin was aware Bella had been married before, but it was becoming increasingly clear that he hadn't put all the pieces or the timeline together.
"She wasn't." Edward said grimly.
Gavin looked surprised. "What do you mean?"
Edward proceeded to tell him their story - how the rodeo was everything to him. How Bella had stood by his side unconditionally, even sacrificing her feelings... until she couldn't take being second any longer. How he'd lived without her for eight years and then, for a long time, felt like he had to compete with Riley's memory. And thankfully, how lucky he was fate had given them another chance, blessed them with two kids, and a beautiful life.
As he relived the good and the bad of those memories, he prayed his son would figure things out without repeating his same mistakes.
Gavin listened intently, his eyes never leaving the shadowy landscape that passed by as they drove home.
"Look, I'm not telling you to make some kind of life altering decision tonight or tomorrow or even next week. You will have to make some choices at some point, and some of them may involve sacrifice and compromise. I promise, if it's for the right girl, it'll be worth it."
Gavin sat, silent, pondering what his dad had told him. He hadn't realized how different his dad's life – and by default his own – could have been.
He thought about Liza. He loved her, of that he had no doubt. He couldn't imagine being away from her much less losing her completely. She was everything to him.
But then he thought about riding. He loved it, too. He'd always dreamed of following in his dad's footsteps, a path he thought was a lot clearer than it really was.
He felt so confused, and the closer they got to the ranch, the more nervous he became. What if she wouldn't talk to him? Had he really messed things up so badly she wouldn't give him a chance to apologize?
"I'm not sure what to say," Gavin finally said.
Edward looked at his son, compassion and love overflowing. "You don't have to say anything, Gav. There's no pressure to make a decision about this now, but I wanted you to have some perspective. You have to be fair to Liza. You can't string her along. You have to give and take. She can't do it all."
"That not what I mean. I'm not sure what to say when I see her," he said, his voice tapering off.
They briefly made eye contact before Edward reached over and patted his son on the shoulder. "Just follow her lead."
Liza heard the crunch of gravel and felt her stomach twist nervously. She had thought about going home, but the longer she stayed and talked with Bella the more she wanted to see Gavin. She needed to see him.
The front door opened and she jumped up, the blanket spilling to the floor.
Edward walked in, followed closely by a dejected looking Gavin. He looked tired, and she immediately wished she had acted on her earlier thought of going home. It was clear he wasn't in the right place to actually talk through anything, and she didn't want to make things worse than they already were.
The air in the room seemed to thicken almost instantaneously. Bella and Edward glanced at each other, before she moved to pull her son into a hug, congratulating him and whispering something else in his ear. He looked right at his mom, his eyes serious, and nodded before looking down... and then at Liza.
He gave her a small smile, and Liza felt her heart crack a little. She looked down, afraid the tears she'd been able to contain for the last few hours might break free.
"Liza," Gavin whispered as he slowly walked toward her. She barely noticed Edward and Bella leaving the room or that the butterflies in her stomach hand turned into a herd of thundering horses. All she saw when she finally lifted her eyes was the sorrow and regret in Gavin's gorgeous hazel eyes.
His eyes never left hers or maybe hers didn't leave his. Either way, it didn't matter as insecurity and doubt, flooded every part of him.
He had no idea if she would be open to his apology, if she'd let him touch her, kiss her, but damn her wanted to. He needed to feel her in his arms, just to know things were okay.
He reached for her hand, and the second it took her to respond felt like a thousand. Finally, her fingers tangled with his. Warmth and a sense of rightness mixed with the river of negativity that had left him feeling breathless, and suddenly he felt like he could breathe.
"I'm sorry, Liza. I know there's nothing I can say to change what happened here tonight. I screwed up. I'm so sorry. I-"
"Just kiss me."
He stared at her in disbelief – partly because he couldn't believe she wanted him to touch her much less kiss her, and partly because she was never that vocal about what she wanted.
When he didn't move, Liza pulled her fingers from his, frustrated. "Look, Gavin, we're not going to solve everything tonight. Yes, I'm hurt. Yes, it sucks that you missed our anniversary. And yes, we need to talk. But right now, I just… right now, I just need us to be on the same page. Please," she whispered, her voice tapering off at the end.
Her eyes pleaded with his, and he didn't think twice. He reached up and cupped her beautiful face in the palms of his hands, his fingers lightly brushing across her cheeks.
He felt such a rush of emotion – gratitude, hope, happiness… love. He knew his dad was right. At some point things would probably get complicated, and he and Liza would have to make some tough choices. For now, though, he just wanted to be with her, to feel her, to know she was his.
"I love you, baby. So much," he said as he dipped down and brought his lips to hers. It was slow and tender, and then intense and needy. Their lips and tongues glided against each other in apology and acceptance.
When they broke apart, he rested his forehead against hers, silently thanking her for giving him a reprieve and a chance to make things right.
"Happy anniversary, Liza."
She smiled that perfect smile he loved, the one where her gorgeous blue eyes lit up and every part of her glowed.
"Do you want to go get some ice cream with me?" he asked.
She smiled. "Yes."
Edward and Bella waved goodbye as they watched them pull out of the driveway.
"What did you tell him?" Bella asked.
Edward smiled. He knew she was going to ask, and he had already decided he wasn't going to repeat his conversation. It was between him and Gavin.
"Exactly what he needed to hear."
Bella narrowed her eyes at him and huffed. "You really aren't going to tell me?" she asked in that voice she used when she really wanted something.
He brushed the backs of his fingers across her cheekbone and smiled. "That's not going to work on me this time, Bunny."
She grinned, playfully patted his shoulder, and changed tactics. "Okay. Okay. I'll let it go, but you better make it up to me." This time the look on her face was sassy and sweet.
Edward took the hint. After nineteen years of marriage, he knew exactly what that look meant, and he wasn't about to let a chance to make love to his wife get away from him.
After a rough kiss, he practically dragged her to their bedroom and spent the rest of the evening relishing in his own good fortune and ravishing his wife.
Fully sated, they lay together, legs and sheets tangled, when he whispered, "I told him our story and reminded him that it's not all about him, that he had choices to make… but that he also had time."
Bella rolled over and stared at her husband's face. "Thank you."
And they both knew it was for more than just telling her what he'd told Gavin. It was about trying to protect their son and a sweet young girl from going through the pain they'd both gone through so long ago. She knew Edward rarely spoke about their past. He didn't want to drudge old, painful memories, but it was clear their story was meant to be told, that it could make a difference in their son's life.
She brushed her lips against his jaw and lips, and then settled back into his warm embrace, grateful once again, that fate had smiled on and blessed them so richly.