Aubrey’s cell phone rang and vibrated from the cup holder of her rented Mustang convertible. She cranked up the radio to blast the latest country song from Carrie Underwood. The ringing stopped but immediately started again, the annoying sound pushed on her last bit of patience. She checked the caller ID.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” she yelled in frustration, as she took the cell phone in her hand and tossed it out of the moving car. She couldn’t handle JT and his lies anymore. She left and she had no intentions of returning. Her heart had been broken, but if she was being honest with herself, she knew the marriage was over long ago. She just wanted to make it work and try to salvage what was left of her life. When she took her marriage vows, she believed without any hesitation that JT was the man for her. The man who could fill every gap that was left in her heart from the death of her parents. She was wrong. And now, she was going to stand on her own two feet without any reminders of her past life.
“What’s the point of a fresh start if everyone can still contact you, right?” she said surprised at how invigorated and free it felt to only think about herself for a change. She deserved to spend time finding her own happiness. As a Clinical Psychologist, she helped others work through their problems. But who stepped in when she needed someone to share her burdens? Her husband? Her friends?
Given that she hopped from foster home to foster home as a child, Aubrey was never the type of person who trusted easily. No one ever prioritized her needs. Until now. Now, she didn’t give a flying fuck about everyone else’s demands. She was claiming a new start, which was how she found herself driving through Silverton, Texas in a bright red convertible with the roof down, as her brown hair blew in the warm summer breeze. The feel of the sun beating down on her face was invigorating. It would take her some time to get used to the drastic weather change, but she believed it would be worth it. In Canada, she rocked her pasty, almost translucent skin year round. But just being in Texas for one day, she could already see the freckles on top of her nose.
She sang along to Redneck Woman on Route 86 when her convertible started to smoke. The smoke was so intense that Aubrey was forced to pull over on a long, secluded stretch of highway.
“You have got to be kidding me!” she said, as she lifted her face toward the sky.
“You couldn’t cut me some slack? Throw me a bone, God!”
Aubrey got out and walked around to the front of the car to open the hood. A cloud of smoke erupted in her face causing her eyes to water and tears to stream down her face. Well, that was fucking awesome. Stranded on a back road in Texas with a broken down car and no cell phone. It was a serial killer’s paradise and she was just sitting pretty, waiting to be hacked death or die of dehydration in the Texas heat. Why oh, why, did she decide on a fresh start in Texas in the middle of July?
“Because it’s as far away from Canada as possible,” she mumbled.
She slid down the side of the car and held her head in her hands. She couldn’t believe her luck. If she didn’t have bad luck, she wouldn’t have any. She gave into a short moment of self pity and frustration before she screamed out her anger and thought about how to solve the problem. Every problem had a solution, right? She told her clients that all the time. Now, she needed to take her own advice. She’d taken care of herself since she was a child. She was strong and she wasn’t going to let a string of bad luck stop her from her fresh start.
With a new perspective, Aubrey stood and moved towards the rear of her Mustang. She popped the trunk and grabbed her suitcase. Thank God, it had wheels. Last she checked, it was a couple miles straight on Route 86 to reach Silverton. Sure, she wasn’t exactly dressed to walk through the fucking Sahara, but she made it work. Her five inch stilettos and pant suit were her exceptionally well made coat of armour. She tackled some of her most intense clients in her outfit and it made her feel confident in herself.
She locked the convertible and left the emergency flashers blinking. She’d find a tow truck once she was in Silverton. With that decided, she clutched her purse and suitcase and strutted with her head held high. At least it was, until her left heel gave out and she fell face first on the hot blacktop.
“Mother fucker,” she bellowed, as she landed on her wrist in an attempt to break her fall.
She rolled onto her back and gazed up at the sky. She spotted a vulture over head circling not far from her. If that wasn’t an omen, she didn’t know what was. Aubrey laid there watching the clouds float by. It was a beautiful day in Texas. Warm as monkey balls, but beautiful. It’d been a long time since Aubrey had taken the time to breathe and enjoy her surroundings. No sounds of the 401 during rush hour or buildings as far as the eye could see. Silverton was a small town in the middle of the desert and was nothing like her hometown of Toronto. She wasn’t sure how long she spent on the black top, but eventually she got her shit together and made the step forward. She pushed herself up using her wrists and cried out in pain. She examined her left wrist only to see that it was swollen and possibly bruised.
“Fuck,” she hissed.
Aubrey had a couple cuts on her palms where she fell and she suspected she had sprained her wrist. The sharp pain radiated through her arm when she applied pressure on her hand. She grimaced through the pain and held her wrist close to her body as she rose. She used her right hand to snatch her suitcase and her purse before she limped toward her destination.
By the time she reached the first sign of civilization, her wrist throbbed and the blisters on her feet had multiplied. Her shoes were hosting a family reunion of fucking blisters that rubbed against each other with every step. She believed her luck was finally changing when the first building she spotted was a bar called the Barn House.
Maybe there was a light at the end of her horrid day.
Alcohol always helped.
Life lessons from dear old mother-in-law.
The local watering hole looked more like a dilapidated shack that could use some lysol wipes and maybe a bulldozer. The sign that hung over the door was missing letters, spelling “Bar Hoe”. Charming. Aubrey didn’t care as long as it served alcohol and she could sit her ass down and rub her aching feet. She swung open the door to the bar and the stench of bodies, alcohol and smoke smacked her in the face and was absorbed into her pores.
Aubrey grimaced and crinkled her nose as she moved further into the bar. She already knew she was going to spend some quality time in a shower just to get the stench off her skin. The bar was your traditional country bar with a dance floor and a small stage at the back. A curved bar was placed in the centre of the open space, where whiskey, rum and gin bottles were on display. The stools around the bar held a couple of patrons, one was face down on the bar. Clearly, he started early that day and was already passed out, leaving a puddle of drool on the bar top.
It was fucking four o’clock in the day.
There was a woman behind the bar with long black hair that looked like silk and was the colour of a raven’s coat. She was tall and had some serious tattoos up her left arm that Aubrey admired, as she cleaned glasses behind the bar.
Aubrey stumbled on her broken heels toward the bar and sat down. The bartender moved towards her with suspicion etched on her face.
“What can I get ya?” She drawled.
“A shot of whiskey please, and directions to a hotel.”
The bartender whipped out some whiskey and poured her shot.
“You’re clearly not from around here. What brings you to our neck of the woods… Miss…?”
“Fox, Aubrey Fox. And no, I’m not even from this country. Canadian. And before you ask, I don’t say, “Eh” or live in an igloo,” she sarcastically offered.
The bartender’s perfectly shaped eyebrow rose and she smirked.
“Okay, Miss Aubrey,” she said slowly.
“I’m Daisy and I own this classy establishment. The only bed and breakfast in town is Halley’s and from what I know she’s booked up right now. The next county over is Happy and they may have something there, but I doubt it since the rodeo circuit is in town. Places book up pretty quickly around this time of the year.”
Aubrey downed her shot of whiskey and took pleasure in the burn it sent down her throat. Hopefully that would take the edge off the pain in her feet and wrist.
She slammed the empty shot glass on the bar.
“Isn’t that just peachy! What about the local doctor?”
“Doctor McGuire. What'd you need the doc for?” Daisy asked, as she peered over the bar to assess Aubrey’s physical state.
“I fell and I believe I sprained my wrist.”
“Ahh, well the doc is good at what she does. She should be in her clinic this afternoon. Its just down the street a bit, right next to the feed store. Can’t miss it,” Daisy smiled.
“Great… thanks,” Aubrey laid a twenty dollar bill on the bar and hopped off the stool, forgetting her broken heel and almost stumbling to the floor. A floor that was undoubtably sticky and she probably wouldn’t get unstuck from without serious effort.
“Nice to meet you Aubrey. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around. If you need anything let us know, ya hear?”
“Yeah… thanks,” she mumbled, as she scurried to the exit.
Aubrey made her way down the road towards the feed store sign. She ignored the subtle stares from people as she limped down the sidewalk. She was aware she didn’t look like a human in her current state. Small towns were always looking for something to gossip about.
Let’s give ‘em something to talk about after church on Sunday, shall I?
She approached the feed store but came to an abrupt stop when a cowboy barrelled through the door and rushed past her, bumping her shoulder and knocking her off balance. With a yelp of surprise she fell roughly on her ass. The cowboy, who clearly didn’t get the memo on southern hospitality or common decency, greeted a couple other cowboys getting out of a red Dodge in the parking lot. He’d completely ignored her.
Oh, hell no…
“HEY!” she screamed.
The flock of cowboys turned around to see her sat on the ground. And wow, what a sight to behold. Standing before her were three of the best specimens of male hotness that she’d ever seen. The one who knocked her down wore a white cowboy hat, some well-worn Levi’s and a blue plaid button down shirt. He was the youngest looking with his baby face features that were soft and undeveloped. He didn’t look older than eighteen or nineteen, if she had to guess. The other two men who stood with him were a different story. Wearing similarly well-worn faded Levi’s and matching cowboy hats in black. There was no doubt that they were related because they had similar features. One was taller and broader, wore a black t-shirt that clung to his broad shoulders. He had longer dark brown locks that flowed under his hat and a strong chiseled jawline with bright green eyes. Eyes the colour of a forest after a summer rain. The other man, was similar in appearance, but his hair was shorter and lighter and he wasn’t as broad as his counterpart. Blondie looked mischievous, like he knew everyone’s secrets. He grinned widely at Aubrey’s outburst.
Black shirt hot cowboy didn’t look impressed and his lips pulled shut in a firm straight line. Aubrey speculated that if he smiled, his face would crack into a million pieces. Blondie had an amused grin on his face and the young dumb ass appeared shocked.
“Now that I have your attention, cowboys,” she lifted herself upright.
“How about an apology for knocking me over in your rush to get out of the store. I thought that Texas cowboys had manners!” she continued, as she approached the trio with her finger raised in their direction.
“M-Ma’am,” the young buck stuttered, but Aubrey didn’t give him the chance to finish.
“Ma’am? MA’AM?” she said, sternly. For whatever reason the poor boy was about to be the scapegoat for her bad mood but there was little she could do to control it. It'd been festering for a while and now it was a runaway train speeding towards disaster. Who did he think he was? Ma’am? She was certain that she didn’t look older than fifty, so why was anyone calling her ma’am?
“Now you decide to use manners. Let me tell you something… cowboy. I’ve had a really bad day. My car broke down three miles from town. I walked in heels… well in one heel because the other cracked off and I landed on my wrist. Which fucking kills right now… AND I’ve been informed that the B & B has no vacancy! So, to recap, I’ve no car and no lodgings and I am to start a new job Monday. Then… you knock into me without even a glance in my direction or an apology,” she screamed.
“Now, wait just a second ma’am,” hot black shirt cowboy came forward. Damn, what do they feed the men down here? Fucking miracle grow?
“I’m sure my brother is very sorry for not apologizing but your bad day is not his fault. How’s about you calm down,” he said, placing his hands on his hips. And what fine, fine hips they were! Damn it, stay on task! The young buck was embarrassed and his face flushed to the colour of a ripe tomato.
“Calm down!” Aubrey interrupted.
“Haven’t you ever been taught that the way to calm a distressed lady down is not to tell her to calm down. It doesn’t work. It pisses her off more,” she said, as she pointed her index finger into the cowboy’s chest with every word.
Frustrated the cowboy rubbed the bridge of his nose with his index and thumb as he exhaled a deep breath.
“With all due respect ma’am, you don’t seem like the usual type of woman one of us would piss off,” he said.
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” Aubrey huffed, placing her hands on her hips and slid hot cowboy her meanest look. Her RBF usually caused flowers to wilt.
“It appears to me, ma’am, that you’re a bit uptight. Maybe your time here in our humble little county will assist you in removing the stick that is firmly lodged up your ass. If not, I know the name of a great surgeon who can help ya out,” he said with a cocky smirk.
Frustrated and unsure how to respond, Aubrey huffed and threw her hands in the air and began to walk away but caught a muffled laugh from one of the cowboys. She glared over her shoulder to see blondie smirking. She rolled her eyes and kept walking, not looking back despite all the flutters in her belly the hot cowboy gave her. She spotted the local clinic and walked in. She was greeted by a little old lady with bouncy white hair and glasses who sat at the front desk.
“Hi, I’d like to see the doctor. I believe I have sprained my wrist,” she said politely.
The woman looked up and her eyes widened when she took in the state of Aubrey’s appearance. Her hair had slipped out of the tightly wound bun on top of her head. There was blood on her white chiffon shirt from her palms and in addition to the broken heel she held, she had a gaping hole in the knees of her dress pants.
“My word, darlin’. Are you sure you only need a doctor? Come, sit down in here and I’ll get Dr. McGuire right away,” the woman, rounded the desk with her hand on her chest in awe. She escorted Aubrey towards an examination room, where she had her fill out some basic paperwork before leaving her to sit on the examination table.
A light knock came at the door and Dr. McGuire entered. She appeared to be in her mid thirties with long straight hair the colour of honey. She had the facial features of an angel and when she spoke, her voice was soft and comforting. No wonder the woman was a doctor. Everything about her was soothing.
“Miss Fox?” she asked.
“In the flesh…”
“What brings you in today? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you around our small little town,” Dr. McGuire sat on a rolling chair in front of the examination table.
“I’m new to town. I fell and believe I may have sprained my wrist.”
“Alright, let’s take a look.”
Dr. McGuire laid down her chart and moved to examine Aubrey’s left wrist. Aubrey winced when she tried to move the wrist.
“There’s definitely some swelling and bruising. But nothing appears to be broken. I’d like for you to ice it and reduce movement. You can use this compression wrap in the meantime and it will help. For the pain you can take some OTC pain reliever. That should be sufficient. If the swelling persists or the pain increases, come on back and I’ll take another look.”
“Thank you,” Aubrey said, as she stood with Dr. McGuire.
“What brings you to town, Miss Fox?” the good doctor asked.
“Needing a fresh start. Saw an advertisement for a child psychologist and thought, why the heck not,” she shrugged her shoulders casually.
“So, you’re a psychologist?” Dr. McGuire asked surprised. Although, given her state of distress she probably looked like she needed to be assessed by a psychologist.
“Yes, I am. I’ll be working privately as I’ll be taking over a counselling practice from the previous psychologist who plans to retire. However, I still haven’t figured out where I’m going to stay. Any suggestions?” she asked, shyly.
“Please, call me Jordan. It seems we’ll be working closely together. I may be able to help you out with some accommodations until you get yourself on your feet. My family owns a ranch just on the outskirts of town. I don’t live in the ranch house anymore, but my brother is still there and I know he would be fine with you staying there if I ask.”
“Really?” She was surprised by her eagerness to offer help.
“Absolutely! Us professionals got to stick together, right? I’ll just give Remi a call to confirm. You go settle things up with Geraldine, the receptionist, and I’ll let ya know, okay?” Jordan said.
Aubrey was baffled and stumbled to Geraldine’s desk. The receptionist was face and eyes into an old quilting magazine that appeared to be from the early 80s. Aubrey coughed to get her attention.
“All right darlin’. You feeling a bit better?” she asked brightly.
“Yes, much better. Thank you,” she said.
“Now, I just had one question before you leave. You didn’t put a phone number on your demographics and we’ll need one for you in case the doctor needs to get in touch with ya.”
“Oh! Sorry, I just lost my phone. How about I give you my office number since I’m due to start there Monday.”
Aubrey provided her with the contact information for the counselling office. As she did this, Jordan returned from her office and walked toward Aubrey.
“My brother said that he has room there for you. If you want directions I can give them to you,” Jordan said, smiling innocently.
“Umm, actually… my rental broke down on the outskirts of town,” She sighed. “It's been a really bad day.”
“Oh, okay… Well, I finish up here in about an hour and I can bring you there. How about you go across the street to Dolly’s Diner? Dolly has the best apple pie in the whole state and she’ll love to see a new face,” Jordan said, while she walked with Aubrey toward the door. Aubrey agreed and strode out of the clinic. She heard a gasp from behind her and turned quickly to see Jordan’s eyebrows rise into her hairline.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I hate to add insult to injury Aubrey. But I think you may have sat in some dog…excrement,” she pulled her lips together, clearly trying to hold back a laugh.
Aubrey turned and looked to the sky, took a deep breath in attempt to calm her emotions. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at how horrible the day had gone.
“Of course I have,” she said sarcastically, as she walked towards the diner.