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The Cowboy's Virgin by Emerson Rose (1)

Chapter One

We don’t have tornados in Montana.

Charlotte

My home is gone. The ranch I grew up on, the place where all of my childhood memories were made... disintegrated in a matter of seconds. That’s what my mom is trying to tell me on the phone but I’m pretty sure I checked out as soon as she said everything is gone.

I can’t focus, I’m unglued, traumatized, lost in la la land, but she’s still talking.

“Charlotte… Charlotte, are you listening to me? I know you’re busy, what with it being the last semester of school, but we really need you to come home. I don’t know where we’re going to go, there’s no house, no barn, the animals are all gone…” She’s crying, sobbing into the phone and I can’t make words come out of my mouth.

I want to ask if everyone is okay, I assume they are. I think she would have lead with that kind of information. I want to ask her to send me pictures of the ranch and whether or not the insurance plan will cover everything but I can’t.

“Mom…” My voice croaks past a lump forming in my throat. Hot tears well in my eyes threatening to spill onto the term paper I just took off the printer. Bowing my head they fall and ruin the fresh ink, smudging and smearing the words into circles that spread out and soak the fibers of the page.

“Can you come? Do you have enough money for a plane ticket?” she asks in a shaky voice. Where is my dad? Why isn’t he handling things and making these kind of phone calls? Where is my stupid good for nothing brother Jake Jr. or my sister Stella?

I don’t have enough money to eat dinner, let alone buy a plane ticket from Iowa to Montana. I’m a broke college student living on Ramon noodles and fruit snacks. But since it sounds like nobody else is stepping up I’ll have to figure something out.

“Yes.” There. Audible, understandable, communication, the initial shock is wearing off.

“Oh, thank God in heaven. I’m so glad Charlotte, you have no idea… you just can’t imagine.”

She’s right. I don’t, I can’t and I don’t want to. I can feel bile rising up in my throat and a burning in my chest. My body is begging to release some of the insane anxiety this news is causing me via vomit.

Puking on the floor is not an option, I’d die of embarrassment and my family needs me right now. I cover my mouth and shoot out of my seat bolting for the nearest bathroom. I’ve spent countless hours in the university library studying over the past four years and I know where every bathroom, broom closet, storage room and hiding spot is located.

I smash the door to the bathroom open and then bang the closest stall door open too. Dropping to my knees on the cool tile floor, I literally hug the toilet and lose what’s left of the small lunch I ate two hours ago. A thin sheen of sweat covers my body and my head is pounding like the heavy base of a techno track.

I gasp and spit the bitterness into the bowl and grip its sides waiting for the end. There’s no food left but my body is still purging the news that my dreams of becoming a veterinarian on my family ranch are over.

Four years of slaving over books and studying until my eyes bleed - for nothing. A freak natural disaster has stolen it away in one foul sweep. Montana doesn’t usually have tornadoes. Especially not the kind we experience here in Iowa, the F4 and F5’s that uproot hundred-year-old trees and suck ten-ton tractors into the sky like play things.

We have downpours and wind sheers, but I think I’ve only heard about four or five tornadoes in Montana in my whole life. It’s like the state of Iowa decided to share it’s popular weather phenomenon with my home state in my absence.

A shadow moves to block the fluorescent lighting of the small bathroom, “You okay?” I wipe my mouth on the sleeve of my red and black flannel plaid shirt and turn my head to the side not looking at whoever was speaking to me.

“Yeah, must be the flu, I’m good.”

“You dropped this,” the stranger’s soft voice says. A delicate hand comes into view holding my phone. She opens her pale fingers offering it to me and I snatch it up. My mom, she’s probably freaking out. I mumble a quick thanks and punch the redial button hard and wait, not for long of course, she picks up on the first ring.

“Charlotte? Are you okay?” she asks, in a full blown panic mode that only my mother knows how to do.

“Yes, sorry I dropped my phone… and then the battery died. I had to find a charger before I could call you back.” I’m always surprised at how easily a lie develops in my mind and tumbles out of my mouth without effort.

“Oh, thank the good Lord you’re okay, I was worried.”

“Don’t worry, Mom. Everything is going to be all right. I’ll catch a flight tomorrow and we will get this all straightened out.”

Lies. There they are again. Nothing is going to be all right ever again. I’ve suspected that our family ranch hasn’t been doing well these past four years that I’ve been gone. My parents owe a lot of money and I was almost ready to help them. Two months, that’s all I need to graduate with honors from Iowa State University and take the veterinarian license exam.

It’s been my dream to be the Rose Deardon Ranch’s veterinarian since I could stand and stroke the scratchy fur of a baby goat in the barn down the trail from our house.

I loved animals before I loved people. I understood them and they seemed to understand me. When I gazed into the eye of a beautiful, powerful, Palomino I could see it reading my mind. My favorite miniature fainting goat knew to crawl into my lap and give me warmth and comfort when I was sad or angry.

And the peculiar ability to communicate went both ways. I felt when a horse was in pain or discouraged or depressed. I knew how to get the best out of our animals with a trusted touch or a smile. Dad accused my mom of having an affair with the horse whisperer when he first saw me calm a wild mare that was found wandering on our land.

It was like I could speak telepathically to animals and they to me, like a gift from Mother Nature. I loved that gift enough to make a career out of it and now that bitch has ruined my dream by turning my home into dust. Dust in the wind.

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