Rawley Harrington
thirty-one
male
he/him/his
heterosexual
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that's why god loves cowboys i believe there's a place in his heart
The wind whooshes around the corral, diverted from its course by the nearly solid wood panels. It whispers softly, while inside a tornado unfolds. The little boy clings to the railing, bright eyed and awestruck. The colt is furious. He snorts and screams and squeals, bucking and diving like his wild ancestors while the boy's father holds on for dear life. Somewhere, one of the hands is whooping and hollering. The little boy is mesmerized. It is like a dance, but a wild one, barely controlled. When the colt finally settles, falling into a steady lope, his sides heaving with exertion, nostrils flared wide to show pink, his father leans down, pats the colt's neck, murmuring soothingly, words of encouragement and consolation, telling him what a good boy he is and what a fine horse he'll make. When the pair finally stops in the middle, and his father swings down to pet the colt's sweaty chest, the boy becomes aware of the fact that something has changed in the horse. He is not broken; if anything, he has been made whole, somehow complete in his understanding that he came through the fire and was not burned. Innately, six year old Rawley Harrington knows that his father and that colt are partners now. It is the only thing he dreams about from that moment on.

I was born on a ranch in Eastern Montana. That's a damn long way from here, right? Yeah, I know it is. Anyway, my dad owned, well, owns, a huge ranch. Some six hundred cattle and a hundred head of pureblooded American Quarter Horses. You want to meet a tough son of a bitch, you meet my old man. You just have to shake hands with him to know that he's not somebody you want to cross. I grew up in his pocket. Probably gave my mother gray hairs, the things my old man let me do. I followed him everywhere, idolized him from the time I was a kid. He's still the handiest cowboy I know; ride any colt or outlaw you want, rope any snorty cow or mean bull, and not only will he live to tell about it, he'll make it look easy. Yeah, you're damn right I wanted to be my old man when I grew up. I guess things don't always work out that way.

Beneath him, the colt trembles. His father has the colt's ear folded over, his head pulled around, looking up at his son. At only eleven, and small for his age, he looks fragile, up there on that big stout colt. Although he'd never say so, Crockett Harington is worried for his boy. But this is the colt the damned fool kid picked out, and it'll be a cold day in Hell before old CR Harrington goes back on his word. He gives his boy one final look, arching an eyebrow in question. The kid swallows, pauses, then nods, solemn as any seasoned bronc stomper. CR lets go the ear and scurries back for the fence. The colt stands, his legs splayed, sides heaving nervously like he's already bucked himself out, momentarily flummoxed, not sure what to make of this situation. He takes a step, experimenting, testing the waters, and Rawley tenses, pulling up on the rope tied to the colt's halter. That's all it takes for the brown gelding to come unwound. He makes that honking sound rodeo broncs make, takes one jump straight up in the air, and then is gone, a tornado whirling about the round pen. Rawley bears down, his feet forward, pulling his nightlatch toward his chin, trying to keep his butt as deep in the saddle as he can. He does everything right, and he does his old man proud, but that damned colt is just too strong, and after the first full circuit, he shakes Rawley loose, and then straight out the side door, into the center of the pen. Rawley lays for a moment, stunned, then jumps up before his father can reach him. His hands are raw from clinging to his riggin', and he'll surely be bruised and battered tomorrow, but he looks none the worse for the wear. They watch from the center of the ring while the colt bucks himself out, and then Rawley grabs the colt's rein and is wriggling himself back on before his father can even grab an ear for him. This time, when Rawley bears down, he outlasts the colt. When he slides to the ground to land on trembling knees, and reaches up to whisper in the colt's ear, he knows he's just made a dream come true, and he knows he'll do it again.

That colt ended up being a life long partner. After that, I was pretty much dad's right hand. I went wherever he went, rode wherever he rode. I skipped school to help him brand or gather cattle or geld colts. My life was that ranch. Mom died when I was fourteen, and Dad took it hard. I pretty much ran the place for the better part of a year while Dad got over it, or as over it as he ever got. By the time I was eighteen, he had stepped back into the role of owner and operator. It was good timing, too, because after high school graduation, which I did manage to graduate, though barely, my best friend, Gentry decided he ought to become a Marine. We'd been thick as thieves from the first day of school, helped out on each other's places, watched out for each other, fought a few bar fights together. So when he decided to go join the fucking Marines, well, I couldn't let him go alone. Somebody had to have that stupid shit's back. So I enlisted, too. You want to talk about Hell on earth, but for some reason we went back. You know how they say the third time's the charm? Yeah, well, for us, the third time was the Devil.

You might think that after one regular tour of duty, a second as special ops snipers, the third time ought to somehow get easier. It never does. The sight of children starving in the streets or clinging to the bodies of their dead mothers never gets easier. It really doesn't get easier, especially when bullets start raining down. Gentry, in front, takes the worst of it, probably dead before he even hits the ground. Rawley is fighting to get to him, but he takes a bullet to the shoulder and one to the leg. He runs for cover, tripping and stumbling as blood pours from his body. He groans and things go black.

When I woke up, I was in intensive care. They saved the leg, thank God, and eventually shipped me home, but nothing was the same. I couldn't stand to be back home without Gentry, my best man, my best friend; it just wasn't right. Dad was bummed when I packed up and moved to Florida, somewhere where the grass was green and the weather always fair, but he understood. I still feel a little bad about leaving him there alone, but I just couldn't do it. So I bought some land in Wellington, started up a barn to train cow horses, because it was what I was good at, specifically cutting horses; even though I had never competed, I certainly had enough real world experience, and I guess I've done alright for myself, competing in the AQHA national show and the like. I'm pretty happy here, but I guess there will always be a part of me that misses Montana.
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