by Alex de Cruz
After I discovered my hometown fiancee had been cheating on me, I’d been devastated, and grew weary of friends and relatives saying, “I heard your wedding was called off. What the heck happened?”
I’d mumble something like, “We both agreed; we just weren’t right for each other.”
I started to avoid people I knew, which was hard to do in a small town like Alamosa, Colorado. I needed a fresh start, so I jumped at a job offer from a big medical software company in Madison, Wisconsin.
In a university and high-tech town like Madison, a lot of people I met soon asked “Where’d you go to college?”
My answer, “Trinity Junior College in Alamosa, Colorado,” didn’t impress them.
Several said, “All you have is a junior college degree, and where the hell is Alamosa,” with a condescending tone in their voices. A few realized how obnoxious they sounded, and then apologized, “Oh, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded”.
I thought about saying, but never did, Hey, you conceited ass, I was the first one in my family to ever go to college, and learned how to write computer code through online courses and hard work, which I get paid very well doing.
Although I’d made some superficial acquaintances in Madison, I couldn’t call any of them real friends. I’d met a couple of women, who’s company I enjoyed, but didn’t foresee any becoming a serious relationship.
One day I was sitting at Starbucks, when a woman near me remarked, “Excuse me, but I just noticed you’re reading the same book as me.”
I turned my head to the left and saw a young woman about my age, who had a smile that just radiated warmth. She dressed conservatively, but was so pretty she stood out anyway. We started chatting and really hit it off.
Her name was Maria and before she left she gave me her phone number.
The next day I texted Maria about getting together for dinner, and was pleasantly surprised that almost immediately I received her response, “Sounds great.”
We went to Mollie’s Pizzeria for dinner. By the time her vegetarian lasagna and my Margherita pizza arrived, we were feeling very comfortable talking to each other.
As Maria was telling me more about herself, she confided, “I just moved here from Minneapolis. I’d been living with this guy for two years and we were talking about getting married.”
“I came home one day and all his stuff was moved out of our apartment. I was really hurt.”
Before I’d even thought about it, I said, “Well, he was a fool. Any guy would be lucky to be with someone so wonderful as you.”
After I said it, I realized I meant it though.
Maria blushed slightly, and then added, “Maybe his leaving me was for the best; who knows. He was charming and a great guy, as long as he got his way, and also somewhat of a showoff too.”
I went on to tell her how sorry I was, and then shared my own experience with my fiancee back in Alamosa with her. We obviously had a lot in common.
While I was walking Maria home, she mentioned that she worked at a riding stables while she was in high school, and said, “I’d love to find a good place around Madison to go horseback riding.”
“Gee, I know a great riding stables about an hour away that this old cowboy-type guy named Charlie owns,” I responded.
“I’ve gone there several times and gotten to know him. He’s got some good horses and there’re nice riding trails,” I added.
And again, Maria surprised me by right away saying, “Great, let’s go together this weekend.”
I’d grown up on a small cattle ranch in Southern Colorado near Alamosa and had ridden in junior rodeo for several years as a teenager. My ranch and rodeo history was something I tended to brag about too much and I wanted to avoid doing that with Maria.
It was getting late and I decided that rather than telling her then, I’d wait and just bring it up casually when we were riding.
When I phoned Charlie to make reservations, mentioning Maria’s riding
experience, he said in his usual drawl, “Yeh, I remember you, cause you’re a good rider. I get so damn many beginners here, who’re a pain in the ass. I’ll have a couple of my good horses ready for you on Saturday at ten o’clock, okay.”
When we arrived at the stables, two horses were saddled for us. Charlie walked over, his ever-present Stetson hat pulled low, looking like the Marlboro man, but one that didn’t smoke.
He remarked to me, “I’ve got Corky here for you. I ride him myself. The only thing is you’ve gotta make sure he knows you’re the boss. Do you think you can handle him?”
Corky was a beautiful chestnut-colored stallion and I eagerly replied, “Sure, no problem!”
He said to Maria, “Misty shouldn’t give you any trouble and be a nice ride, young lady.” Yes, Charlie was old fashion and used terms like “young lady.”
Maria reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a carrot she gave to Misty, a nice looking bay-colored mare. I could see they’d get along just fine.
Once we were mounted up and ready to go, Charlie said to me, “You know the trails and don’t need a guide. Just take it easy on the horses. Misty’s going out with other riders today and I’m riding Corky later.”
The day was perfect for horseback riding, sunny, but not too warm, with a light breeze rustling the vibrant-green spring leaves. The air felt alive with a symphony of chirping birds, although you frequently couldn’t spot them hidden in the new foliage.
Maria enthused at one point, “Isn’t it just gorgeous? Look at that pretty carpet of little purple wildflowers over there. Do you know what they are?”
“Yeh, I think they’re crocuses,” I replied. I took a deep breath, inhaling the wonderful fresh scents of spring.
We walked or trotted the horses on the trails through the woods and galloped across several open fields, giving Corky and Misty quite a workout. Corky and I were getting along like old friends and Maria seemed to be very happy with Misty.
As we entered a broad meadow, I lightheartedly challenged Maria, “I’ll race you to that old oak tree on the other side.” Without saying a word, Maria kicked Misty and took off like a flash. I had to really push Corky to catch up. We finished neck and neck; Maria rode very well.
When we reached Miller’s Creek, which bordered Charlie’s property, I suggested, “How about taking a break here.”
Mostly we just sat soaking in the moment, feeling the warmth of the spring sun on our skin and listening to the sound of a natural world alive with new life. The horses were standing in the shallow water, noisily lapping it up.
Maria looked wonderful. She was just glowing.
We were almost across the final pasture and nearing the corrals and barn. You could sense the horses’ anticipation of getting the riders off their back. Maria sighed, “This has been terrific. Too bad it’s over.”
I chimed back, “Let’s have one last gallop across the pasture.”
Maria frowned and replied, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. The horses need a rest, you know. Remember what Charlie said.”
I noticed an old oil drum at the far end of the field. Since I still hadn’t told Maria about my ranch and rodeo-riding background, the idea occurred to me to put on a little rodeo-riding show for her. I’d then tell her my story on the drive back to town.
I told Maria, “Watch this,” and gave Corky a firm tap with my heels and slap with the end of the reins, combined with a couple of loud clicks of my tongue.
Corky dug in his heels, kicking up some dirt, and we were off like a rocket.
We raced down to the barrel, did a nice tight turn around it, and started galloping back. We were really flying, when Corky decided he’d had enough.
Without any warning, Corky virtually did a ninety-degree turn in mid-stride. One instant I was sitting on a saddle with a horse under me, and the next I was soaring through the air.
I hit the ground with a heavy thud.
I was lying flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me, and somewhat dazed. I lay there for more than a ten count, while I caught my breath and tried to figure out how badly hurt I was.
As I raised my head up, there was Corky standing off to the side.
At least I’d been lucky in my choice of a landing pad. Since it was a pasture, there was a thick mat of grass. The outcome could have been very different, if I’d come down on something hard.
When I finally stood up, I glanced toward the stables. Not only had Maria been watching, but Charlie and a couple of the stable hands had caught the show also. I’d made quite a fool of myself.
I climbed back in the saddle and walked Corky to the stables.
After getting there and dismounting, Charlie walked over. He didn’t look pleased and snapped, “Hey cowboy, that was quite the stunt. Don’t you recall my saying, take it easy on the horses? The young woman seemed to understand.”
As soon as we got in the car, I turned to Maria and said, “I apologize. I should have listened to you. It was a dumb thing to do.”
She replied, “I’m really glad you didn’t get hurt, but what you did reminded me of my old boyfriend.”
I didn’t know what to say beyond, “Maria, I’m really sorry.”
To relieve the silence in the car as we drove back to Madison, I turned on the radio to my favorite classical music station. Maria spent most of the time watching the scenery.
When we got to her apartment, she opened the car door and hopped out before I could get out to open it for her. She leaned her head back in and said, “Thanks very much.” then turned and walked to her front door.
I’d really screwed up, but hoped she’d get over it.
After a few days, I texted Maria about getting together after work at the same Starbuck’s we’d originally met at.
I got this text back, “N/A.” She was also “not available” for anything else I invited her to do over the next several days.
When I phoned her, the call went to voicemail and she never called back.
About the author
Alex has had a passion for fiction and writing since reading Hemingway as a teenager. Recently, he's become a devotee of flash fiction, short story, and creative nonfiction writing. Alex has stories in Potato Soup Journal and Down in the Dirt, as well as flash fiction pieces forthcoming in Scarlet Leaf Review and Flash Fiction Magazine. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.