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 "Lucy's Chance" by Brittney Joy

by Brittney Joy

IT WAS FOUR minutes past noon and I was chasing a two hundred pound steer down the barn aisle. At three minutes past the hour I had my butt planted on the long wooden bench in the tack room and was halfway through my turkey-mayo sandwich. My first swig of Dr. Pepper fizzled down my throat and I closed my eyes, reveling in the cold, wet gulp. The cool air in the tack room reeked of worn leather and dirt.

Amidst my gulping, I’m not sure which came first: the frustrated hollers from Marilynn or a chocolate-brown blaze of fur and hooves flying past the open door. Either way, I dropped my pop can and scrambled out into the barn aisle, looking from one end to the other. Marilynn stood with her hands on her hips in the barn doorway. Her five foot, petite frame didn’t make much of a silhouette against the sun, but her voice made up for it. She pointed at the steer trotting down the aisle. “Get that little bugger,” she yelled, and I turned, racing straight for him.

I ran like I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. I pumped my arms and tried to lengthen my stride, but cowboy boots do not make great running shoes. Their slick leather soles slid against the concrete floor instead of gripping it. Trying not to twist an ankle, I steadied my long legs into a safer speed, but the steer didn’t slow a bit. In fact, he picked up his pace. With his tail flagged high over his back, his hooves clipped against the floor as he darted out the opposite end of the barn. Marilynn had spent the morning showing me the ropes. Mucking stalls, grooming horses, packing hay bales around—those were all going to be part of my job. I didn’t recall her saying anything about tackling cattle, but I didn’t want to let her down. Not on my first day. So I ran.

I burst out into the sunshine and gained speed on the gravel road leading to the pastures. The weathered fencing ahead stretched out for miles, dotted with horses and cattle, and the steer had already stopped, grazing on the lush grass like he was supposed to be there. A few of the ranch horses poked their heads over the fence, extending their necks out to sniff the visitor, and I slowed to a jog as I approached him. He picked up his head and stopped chewing, looking straight through me. “Easy, buddy,” I said through heavy breaths. I raised my arms as I stepped closer, showing him that he needed to stay put.

In all the years I had worked with horses, I had never been around cattle. I assumed they were similar to horses. They were about the same size and they had the same gentle brown eyes. I would have called the animal in front of me a cow, but I was informed earlier that day that he was actually “a steer.” And, the steer in front of me had long black eyelashes and a baby pink nose. His brown coat looked slick as silk and I felt the need to touch his big floppy ears. He reminded me of our neighbor’s golden retriever, Bart, who wandered over to our house whenever I was outside, wiggling his whole body in happiness. Seeing no immediate threat, I dropped my arms to my sides and headed straight for the steer’s shoulders. I didn’t have a halter, but I could put my hand under his throat latch and lead him back, just like I would with a horse.

Wrong. Very wrong.

He was standing there, so sweet and quiet, like a little puppy waiting to have his head scratched. I didn’t expect him to lurch forward like a shot cannon. And, upon this rash reaction, in instinct I jumped in front of him, trying to stop him from running past me. This brilliant idea only gave him nowhere to go but up. I watched it happen in slow motion and couldn’t do a thing about it. In a split second, two hundred solid pounds lifted off the ground in an attempt to jump over my head. I don’t know where that cow wanted to go, but he made it very clear that I was not going to be giving him any directions.

A month ago, I squealed like a cut pig when I got the job. I hung up the phone after talking to Mr. Owens, the ranch’s owner, and jumped around the kitchen for fifteen minutes. I would be spending my freshman summer as a stable hand at the Red Rock Ranch. What could be better? Now, I heard a different type of squeal and I was certain it was also coming out of my mouth. I threw my arms in front of my face and just had time to brace myself for the hit. The steer didn’t quite make it over my head. Instead, his chest slammed into my shoulder, spun me around, and put me face first into the grass.

Lucky for me, all four of his hooves missed my body as they found the ground. I picked my head up, thankful I didn’t get stomped, and watched the steer run off along the fence line, holding his head high in the air flaunting his escape. Mental note: Cows are not like horses. Do not let the big brown eyes fool you.

Then, I watched the brown steer trot straight towards a boy with a bucket in his hand. The boy shook the bucket as he opened the pasture gate and that dang steer trotted in right after him, following the sound of grain rattling against metal. He didn’t give that kid any lip or try to knock off his head. The boy overturned the bucket and grain piled onto the ground. The steer dug his nose right into the trap, licking up the goodness, and the boy walked away, untouched, shutting the gate behind him. I rested my cheek on the grass, trying to make my head stop spinning. Maybe cows were more like horses than I thought.

Marilynn’s boots crunched through the lawn as she jogged over and then stood, looking down at me. “I didn’t mean you had to wrestle with the steer.” She shook her head and tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back a grin. “They don’t usually take kindly to that.”

Brittney Joy and Stella
Brittney Joy and Stella

I rolled over onto my back. “I’ll remember that for next time.”

To further emphasize my over-dramatic attempt at catching a cow, a second body came into my vision. “A little grain in a bucket is usually enough to get their attention,” the ball-capped cow-whisperer noted with a wink. “You must be the new girl.”

Marilynn assisted with the introduction when she realized I wasn’t going to respond. “Lucy Rose, this is Casey. He’s the other stable hand.” I stared at their faces, assessing the situation. It was my first day at work and I had been football-tackled by a mere baby cow. I was now lying on the ground, surrounded by my two co-workers. I probably had dirt on my face and grass stains on my shirt. I reached out my hand. “Hi, I’m Lucy. Nice to meet you.”

About the author: Author of young adult equestrian-fiction series, Red Rock Ranch, and young adult fantasy series, OverRuled. Brittney and her family live in their own piece of heaven in the Oregon countryside. They stay busy with their menagerie of silly horses, cackling chickens, wooly sheep, and two very naughty goats. When Brittney isn't writing, she's riding or reading. And she wishes she could do all three at the same time.

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