Skyler Wesson was an only child, born and bred on the Texas plains. She lost her mother when she four and her earliest memory was sitting the saddle with her father, riding their ranch, herding cattle.
She was nurtured in the dusty magic of wrangling. A kerchief had been her bib, the lull of cows her lullaby, the Cimarron River her wash tub. She had cut her teeth on the gruff traits of hard-working ranch hands. And, she loved it; taking to it like boots to a stirrup.
Ranching was her life, it was in her blood. And eventually it became her inheritance when her father died. In the following five years of his death, she had grown his thousand acre spread to twice its size.
At thirty, time had been kind to Skyler; the prairie sun had faded her eyes to a soft denim and deepened her auburn hair to a burnished copper. Her skin, weathered from the elements, held a timeless beauty, as if nourished by the land itself.
She had known romantic love only once .Early on, his love had been as welcomed as rain to a parched field. Like succulence to a squash blossom, her heart had bloomed in his attention. Yet his affection had only been shallow pretense behind a handsome smile.
Brent had been a fraud, a seasonal tease, like a spring day in February. He promised the world behind painted props. A cad, married with children, running away, looking for the Golden Fleece, willing to slaughter any sensibility to possess it.
And so, Skyler’s heart hardened like dried leather. She retreated into her land. And this retreat soon became a secondary suitor, yet as grave as the former. This land, a jealous suitor - forever demanding.
This evening on an embankment of a steep arroyo that cut across her ranch, Skyler’s emotions grabbed her like a tenacious hound, gripping and shaking her in its maw. Awash in the deep reds and royal violets of the evening sky, her tears flowed unabashedly.
Earlier that day, Joe Stratton, her oldest, dearest friend had asked her to marry him. And she had said, no. Not because she didn’t love him, but more that she couldn’t. Her hurt was too deep to ever allow anyone into that part of her life again.
She lifted her hand to smell his cologne, still lingering from his touch. Being with Joe was the same as drawing close to an open fire on a cold, dark day. But her history with Brent kept her back just to the edge of the light and shadows of the flame – safe, but cold on the outer boundary.
Suddenly, Sassy, her mare, snorted and pinned back her ears. She pawed the fine silt above the arroyo as if grieving in her own way the death of another day and her mistress’ tears. Skyler petted her neck. “It’s okay,” she soothed. “We’ll be fine.”
But her voice belied her heart, the way a mirror reflects an image one would rather ignore. Exposing the truth of a life lived in regret. Revealing a soul unwilling to let go of a past; one only able to pull her deeper into a wintry darkness of despair.
Sassy’s ears pinned back again and she reared. A rattler, seeking the warmth of a nearby crop of rocks, slithered under her feet. Skyler leaned forward as a counter balance and grabbed her mane. “Sassy, no,” she screamed.
But it was too late. The dry earth beneath them gave way and they tumbled over the edge of the arroyo. Down, down, sliding, tumbling down. The skies under feet, prarie overhead - turning, somersaulting, tumbling down.
And finally, at the bottom of the embankment, they came to a halt. Sassy came up, shaking dirt, sand and rock from her coat. But Skyler lay still. Sassy walked over to nuzzle her.
Tears formed in Skyler’s eyes, the evening sky throbbing, blending as watercolors blend on parchment. “No, Sass,” she breathed. “I can’t. It’s too late.” Her words were labored and her mare stood back. A thin vale of darkness flickered over the horizon as a curtain flutters before an opened window.
Then, as the evening sky absorbed the light of day, so too the soil absorbed Skyler’s blood and life. Her land, the jealous suitor, drank it in with indifference.
Skyler uttered four last words. And then it was dark, winter’s despair renewed the fire's warmth lost and true love forever gone
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