You can do this.
I pushed my chair back and stood. “If I could have everyone’s attention for a few minutes.”
My pulse raced as they all looked at me. “I guess you’ve probably heard that my dad is going to make a full recovery. He’ll need weeks of rehab, though, so he won’t be back here for a while. Blake won’t be back either, so we’ve got to get through these next few weeks without them. Angelo, I know my dad asked you to take over as foreman in the interim, so tell me if any of this is out of line, but knowing your expertise lies with the cattle, I was thinking you could make sure calving is running as smoothly as it can, and since Blake taught me how to keep up with the office work, I’ll take care of that as well as assigning other chores.”
Angelo smiled. “I wasn’t sure about you when you first got here, but you’ve proven you know how to work. I’m happy to share the running of things with you.”
The other men nodded, and Casey grinned. Whew! With the crew on my side, I really could do this, couldn’t I?
Once everyone had rinsed their plates and Maryellen had shooed us out, Casey clapped me on the shoulder. “Remember when you thought you couldn’t learn how to manage everything?”
“Wait until you see how things go before you congratulate me.”
“You’re going to do great,” he assured me.
As the last of the calves hit the ground over the next few weeks, I felt like I was living in the center of a whirlwind. I often didn’t know what day it was or even what time of day, but somehow we all got through it.
There were some dicey moments, like when I almost forgot to run payroll and when the air conditioner went out in the bunkhouse again, and the HVAC company told me it would be two days before they could send someone. Fortunately, Rusty, Ken’s nephew who’d been sent to help us, was handy with all things mechanical. Despite knowing absolutely nothing about how an air- conditioning unit worked, I helped him by holding parts and doing exactly what he told me. The wires he instructed me to reconnect might as well have been connected to a bomb, I handled them so carefully, but the two of us got it working again. I wasn’t sure how long it would last, but it was holding for now.
My biggest trial came when there was a cow in trouble. Everyone else was busy, so I put my hand right up inside her, turned her calf, and helped her bring that little baby into the world. I hadn’t even felt sick afterward, but I sure as hell wished Blake had been there to see me. I’d been so busy, I hadn’t texted him for a few days, but that night—after almost falling asleep in my dinner—I took the time to share my story.
Finally, after what seemed like an endless stretch of sore muscles, gallons of sweat, and very little sleep, Angelo announced that the last calf had been born. We had a record number of healthy babies, and we were more than ready to celebrate. Maryellen made her award-winning chili that night, and I made sure there was plenty of beer and had a cake delivered from a local bakery. I’d never thought I’d feel like I belonged on the ranch the way I had when I’d been a little kid spending time there with my mom, but that night I felt the kind of camaraderie I’d only ever dreamed about.
Casey found me after I cut the cake and served it to everyone. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me into a sideways hug. “You did it. There’s no way in hell your father or anyone else could deny that you can run this ranch now. You’ve been doing it for two weeks.”
I had. I really had.
“So what are you going to do now?” Casey asked.
I hadn’t thought about that in days. “I don’t know.”
“We’ll all miss you here. That’s for sure.”
“Yeah, I’m going to miss you too.” I’d have to go see my dad the next day. I needed to tell him what I’d accomplished and give him the figures I’d worked up since profit was all he really cared about. Casey was right, though. He couldn’t deny that I could run the ranch, and while he might be an asshole in many ways, I didn’t think he’d try to go back on our bargain, though I was glad I had it in writing.
I should be thrilled. That was what I wanted, wasn’t it? My freedom from my dad, money to strike out on my own, a chance to do whatever the hell I wanted. So why did I feel let down?