Meg Tallmadge is a veterinarian at a clinic in Laramie, Wyoming. She’s got a great job, great friends, deep ties to the family ranch, and big plans for her vet future. Sure, there are bumps in the road, like her mom’s continued denial about who Meg is and her painful and infuriating attempts to make Meg a “proper” woman. Then there’s Meg’s recent breakup with a girlfriend, which has her wondering why she can’t seem to open up to relationships. But Meg knows that life is messy, and sometimes all you can do is get through and shake it off. What she can’t seem to shake off, however, is her past.
It’s been almost ten years to the day since she met the love of her life, and about eight since she let her go. Meg has a hard time admitting that maybe she didn’t really let go, and that maybe some things you never really get over, no matter how hard you try. But her past is half a world away, caught up in her own life, relationship, and journalism career, and Meg isn’t one to chase the ghosts of past relationships. Even if they send you a birthday card and nudge what you thought were the closed-off parts of your heart. After all, second chances are the stuff of fantasies and movies where the good guy always gets a happy ending. You can’t count on something like that.
Or can you?
From the Hat Down
Andi Marquette, © 2014
Meg sipped her coffee and stared at the three boxes stacked next to her front door, and guilt tugged her thoughts. They’d been there a couple of months now, reminders of her break-up with Kate. She’d called Kate last week, to set up a time to pick them up and Kate, ever the organized and conscientious type, had asked apologetically if she could collect the boxes later, as she was just starting a new job and trying to get settled in her own place in Fort Collins. Barely an hour south. But the distance between them was much more than that. Meg had agreed. The least she could do was give Kate the space to get her stuff when she could. Meg had offered to drive it down a few weeks ago, but Kate wouldn’t hear of it, though she said she appreciated that. Meg knew it was genuine. She’d been nice about it. She always was. It made Meg feel guilty for pushing her to pick the stuff up.
The boxes maintained their blank silence as she studied them. She had debated moving them into the bedroom she used as an office, but decided to just leave them by the door. Maybe they were penance, in some way. Reminders of a relationship gone sour, representatives of an ending.
She took another sip. Endings sucked. But in a weird way, they were pre-beginnings. You couldn’t have a beginning without an end, after all. She shifted her attention to the window, and the trees outside, past the covered front porch. Mid-May and many had finally leafed out, presaging summer. She looked at the boxes again and a wave of sadness washed through her chest. She swallowed it with a gulp of coffee just as her Blackberry rang with a particular tone. She smiled as she pulled it off her belt. “Hey, fellow vet person. What’s up?”
“Hi, Doctor Horse Chick,” came Sean’s goofy nickname for her. She had a way of stringing words together in unique combinations that somehow ended up making perfect sense. “Just checking to be sure you remember that I’ll be in your fabulous Laramie Tuesday doing a most awesome lecture on holistic approaches to large four-legged domestic animals.”
Meg almost snorted coffee through her nose. “Approaching, say, cows holistically? Like, with new-age lassos? Do you tie a crystal on the end?”
“No. Incense,” she retorted with a “duh” tone.
Meg laughed. “And what kind of incense might make a cow even more catatonic than some of them already are?”
“Sandalwood. Maybe jasmine. I haven’t tried that one yet. Patchouli makes them grow dreads and crave reggae.”
“Bob Moo-ley,” Meg said, trying not to giggle.
“Oh, hell no. I cannot believe you just said that.” Sean started laughing. “‘No woman, no cud’ is their fave tune.”
Meg grinned and set her nearly empty coffee cup on the topmost box. “Are you bringing one of these dreadlocked bovines to your lecture? I’m sure the students would appreciate it.”
“Whatever. They’re all serious cowboy-types up there. Maybe I could get a cow to wear a ten-gallon Stetson. Though you look better in Stetsons than any cow. Than any human-types, actually.”
“Well, it is the head covering of choice in this state.” She nudged a box with the toe of her boot. “So you still want to stop by when you’re done?”
“Is there wind in Wyoming? And that’s a rhetorical question, by the way,” Sean said with teasing warmth.
“Wind? Here?” Meg asked in a “what are you talking about?” tone.
“Exactly my point.”
“Cool. Just come by the house.” She picked up her cup.
“Will do. I’ll call you if anything changes. Oh, speaking of seeing you—your birthday’s coming up,” she said in a sing-song tone.
Meg grimaced. “Don’t remind me. I’m trying to be low-key about it.”
“Please. You’re always low-key. Why not have a party? Just to shake things up a bit?”
She glanced at the boxes, then back out the window. “You know I’m not really the party kind. Besides, I’m going to the ranch that weekend. You and Ted want to come up? I’d be okay with a birthday barbecue.” She walked into the kitchen and rinsed her cup out with one hand and set it in the drying rack.
“I’d love to, but Ted’s brother is supposed to be coming through then. Damn. We want to at least take you out for dinner, though.” Sean sighed plaintively. “Since you won’t let me throw a massive street party for you, with a DJ and Chinese acrobats, will a small, painfully intimate dinner with me and Ted suffice?”
“Always,” Meg said, smiling. “I’ll check my schedule and we’ll talk more when I see you tomorrow.”
“Sounds good. Catch you later.”
“Yep. Hi to Ted.” Meg hung up and slid the phone back into its holder on her belt. She gave the boxes another hard stare then turned and walked down the hallway toward the two bedrooms at the rear of the house. The one she used as her office was to the right, her bedroom to the left. She went into her office to her leather satchel, which rested on her desk chair, flap open. She rummaged through it to make sure she had everything she needed for the day.
Another damn birthday. At least she’d get to spend it with her dad at the ranch. Meg dug around in her satchel, looking for her appointment book. She preferred the old-fashioned approach to keeping track of her schedule, though she did enter her patient appointments into her Blackberry, as well.
Where had she put the book? It wasn’t in its usual place in the satchel. She stopped her search in the satchel and looked at her desk. Ah. There it was. She reached across her desk for her appointment book, partially hidden beneath a veterinary journal. She moved the journal and picked up the appointment book, and her gaze lingered on the small wooden carving of a horse that stood nearby, next to her computer monitor. It held its head high, and its right front leg was raised, as if it was preparing to tear off across a prairie. The unknown artist had captured the moment between stillness and motion, that second in which muscles bunch and adrenaline surges before the physical form follows the urge.
Meg set the datebook back down and picked up the horse. She ran her fingertips over the smooth chocolate brown wood. The carving fit perfectly in her palm and she remembered when it had arrived in the mail from Argentina six years ago, a gift for her graduation from vet school at Colorado State. She studied the detail on its face, and on its mane and tail. The horse’s surface felt warm, as if it was generating its own heat. She closed her hand around it, remembering the small box it had come in, and how she’d felt when she saw the handwriting on the address label. She smiled, because she felt a little bit of that now.
She returned the horse to its place on her desk, wondering how its sender was, and if she might be thinking about her. Maybe she was even writing a card, getting ready to mail it. She always sent Meg a birthday card. Every year since they first met ten years ago, a week before Meg turned twenty-five. She stared at the horse for a while, a strange combination of longing and regret coloring her thoughts before she picked her datebook up and tossed it into her satchel. She slung the bag over her shoulder and headed for the front door.
Andi Marquette is a native of New Mexico and Colorado and an award-winning mystery, science fiction, and romance writer. She also has the dubious good fortune to be an editor who spent 15 years working in publishing, a career track that sucked her in while she was completing a doctorate in history. She is co-editor of the forthcoming All You Can Eat: A Buffet of Lesbian Erotica and Romance. Her most recent novels are Day of the Dead, the Goldie-nominated finalist The Edge of Rebellion, and the romance From the Hat Down, a follow-up to the Rainbow Award-winning novella, From the Boots Up.
When she’s not writing novels, novellas, and stories or co-editing anthologies, she serves as both an editor for Luna Station Quarterly, an ezine that features speculative fiction written by women and as co-admin of the popular blogsite Women and Words. When she’s not doing that, well, hopefully she’s managing to get a bit of sleep.