Nine years later, I was having breakfast with my family and checking the clock excitedly every five minutes. Two of my three older brothers, Austin and Caleb, were reading a letter from our oldest brother, Charlie, with our parents.
"He says he might get to come home for Thanksgiving!" said Austin.
"Really?" said Caleb, snatching the letter from Austin. "Hey look, he sent a picture!"
Caleb held up a picture of Charlie and two other SEAL's standing in the middle of an Afghanistan street. They were smiling and making the "hang loose" sign like JB Mauney does. They had on sunglasses and were holding big guns. Charlie looked like he was laughing. While Austin and Caleb had stayed to work the ranch, Charlie had joined the Navy. He loved every minute of being on the elite SEAL Team Six.
I heard the sound of a truck and horse trailer coming up our driveway.
"They're here!" I said, jumping up from the table.
I ran outside and waved to my two best friends, Alison and Raylee. They waved back and got out of the truck.
"Just let me go get Chisum! I'll be right back!" I told them.
I ran to the barn as fast as I could. Chisum, my sorrel-colored gelding, was standing in his stall with a mouthful of hay. I slipped the halter onto his head and lead him out of the barn. Austin was putting my saddle in Alison and Raylee's trailer.
I was almost shaking with excitement as I lead Chisum up the trailer's ramp. Alison, Raylee, and I had just bought our Women's Professional Rodeo Association permits. We were all $1000 prize dollars away from getting our cards and becoming professionals. We had been dreaming of this day since we were kids.
I went back to the front porch to say goodbye. My mom handed me my bags. When I finally walked across the yard to leave, Dad stopped me one last time.
"Miranda... I think you should take this with you," he said, handing me the picture Charlie had sent.
"Thank you, Daddy," I said. I gave him a big hug and got in the back seat of Alison and Raylee's truck.
Raylee put the truck in drive, turned up the radio, and pulled out of my driveway.
And we were gone. We were heading for San Angelo, Texas, then on to other big rodeos across the country. Places like Reno, Cheyenne, and Pendleton danced through my mind. We were heading for wide open spaces.
I had known Alison and Raylee since we were seven years old. They were blonde-haired, blue-eyed twins. They weren't exactly what you'd call identical, although they did somewhat resemble each other. Raylee was more talkative while Alison was a bit more reserved until you got to know her. They were both a few inches taller than me. The three of us were partners in crime. We were like the three musketeers. If it wasn't for my brown hair and green eyes, I'm sure people would have mistaken all three of us for sisters. We practically were sisters!
"Next up is Miranda Taylor from Kiowa, Oklahoma," the announcer's voice boomed over the speakers. "She's coming in fast riding a big sorrel horse! Tight turn around the first barrel, now she's hauling the mail to turn two! Sorrel makes another quick turn! One more barrel, folks... They nudge it but leave it standing! Bring her on home, ladies and gents! This should be fast- 15.25 seconds! We have a new leader! Now let's see if our next barrel racer can top that. Here comes Alison McCross, also from Kiowa..."
I took off my black Resistol cowboy hat, bowed my head, and thanked the Lord for keeping me safe and for riding with me. I hadn't even gotten to amen when I heard the announcer say, "There must be something in the water in Kiowa, Oklahoma! Alison McCross turns in a time of 15.28 seconds!"
When the dust had settled, Raylee was first with 15.19 seconds. Alison and I ended up second and third. Raylee won $1000, enough to fill her permit and upgrade to a WPRA card. I won $850, and Alison won $700. By the time we got the horses settled into their stalls, it was almost midnight. We would leave for Arapaho, Texas, the next morning and do it all again.
We hadn't planned on going out that night until we heard some cowboys talking about an 18 and over bar on the outskirts of town.
"That sounds fun!" Raylee said. "I think we should go!"
"Yeah! A few hours wouldn't hurt anybody!"
They both looked at me, waiting for my opinion. It was late, and we had a lot of driving to do the next day, but still, it did sound fun...
"Let's go!" I said.