Step One: You meet him when you're seventeen and shy.
He helps break the wild colt in under saddle, since the owner
has already broken her neck and a fall will kill her. You've
been around horses since you were three, but a stallion that
has bred already is not a kitten; he's already a tiger. The
Appaloosa's eyes roll wild in his head when he smells a mare
in heat, and his one thousand pounds of bone and muscle
would crush you.
The cowboy is nineteen and muscular, his blond hair
constantly covered by a cowboy hat. While you are cleaning
your mare's stall, you sneak glances at the way sweat
trickles down his back in the July heat.
In the end you are too quiet and too gangly and too chaste,
so he dates your friend. Your friend is too loud and too busty
and too loose. You don't ask about their sex life, even though
you know they have one, because you don't want to know
what his face looks like while she is on top of him. Before
you know it, the end of summer arrives and he is leaving for
college, taking the stallion with him. The stallion comes back
two weeks later, crazier than ever and breaks through two
electric fences to breed your mare. The cowboy doesn't
Step Two: You almost forget about the cowboy. You go on
with your life and have different loves, different men,
different women. You shape yourself into the young woman
you wish to be. You graduate with a bachelor’s, and then a
master’s in quick succession. You move on to jumping your
mare, and you excel at it, constantly winning ribbons.
Step Three: You are single for the first time in four years,
and you relish every second of being on your own. Word
comes from the barn owner that the cowboy who once
helped break the now gelded stallion is back in town for his
brother's memorial. The funeral was held in Ohio, but the
family knew everyone in this small Pennsylvania town. The
night before the memorial, they will be stopping up at the
annual Kentucky Derby party. You bake raspberry
cheesecake and Brie and help set up. You bring your
oversized sun hat to wear for the race.
The cowboy is nothing like you remember him. The only
distinguishing feature is his blond hair, still covered by a
cowboy hat. He has been away in Oklahoma training cutting
horses. His Wrangler jeans wrap around his bow legs and his
face is more round than you remember. All the married
women at the party stare at him: he isn't the nineteen year
old they remember. You almost need to wipe the drool off
their chins with a napkin. To them he is an attractive man.
They all come over and whisper in your ear that you should
hit on him because you're single.
He doesn't talk much at the party, although you try to pull
conversation out of him. It doesn't matter to you anymore—
you no longer chase people. If he is more content sitting in
silence, then that is what you'll do. When you are leaving for
the night, when everyone is too drunk and you are too tired,
he asks you out for drinks. You don't agree at first. He takes
your number, and you tell him next time he’s in town.
Step Four: This cowboy is very persistent. Message after
message until you are worn down, and you drag yourself out
of bed to meet him for drinks at a local bar. You fluff your
hair and check your makeup before heading out. The night is
cold even though it's May, and you wish you had worn a
jacket over your lace shirt and tank top. The bar is not
crowded, and you nurse the drink you didn't really want in
the first place. Maybe it's a rum and coke, pineapple upside
cake, vodka and cranberry. You tap your wedge-clad feet on
the sticky floor while he attempts to make small talk.
Just recently you have realized that you don't need people to
like you, so you say what you want, even if you sound like a
sailor. The cowboy doesn't swear and looks into his drink
when you do, which is frequently. Talk for an hour, nurse
your drink. He brings up the fact that he should have went
for you all those years ago. You remind him that he barely
looked at your skinny arms and legs that moved like a
newborn horse. Plus, your acne and unruly blonde hair that
you didn't know how to control did nothing to make you look
beautiful. You smirk and know that you have filled out since
then, you know good brands of face wash and makeup, and
the value of a good bra.
Step Five: At last call, you both head to your vehicles. You
try to get into your car, but he pulls you over to his truck.
Hesitantly, you get in. A Horseman's magazine sits on the
bench seat and you flip through it. You weren't highly
stimulated through conversation and, despite what the other
women think, he isn't that easy on the eyes anymore. Time
rounded out those hard muscles and tight stomach. He leans
towards you awkwardly, and you feel yourself pulling away,
but he catches you on the back of the neck and puts his lips
It feels like you're kissing a fish. Those cold, flat lips. He's
pressing you back into the seat like he's trying to smother
you. Your neck can only bend so far backwards. Push on his
shoulder to get him to let up a little. He stops and asks if
you're okay. You nod through a tight-lipped smile. He goes
back in for the kill, but this time you stop him, pull gently on
his hair like it's supposed to be enjoyable, but it's really to
save your face.
He rubs the inside of your thigh with his grubby hand, and
you inwardly cringe. You ask yourself why you're here.
He says, Let's go get a hotel room.
You say, What? as if you haven't quite heard him.
You know, he says, a room.
No, you say. What kind of girl do you think I am? You think
to yourself, if he had a tighter stomach you would have
agreed. You shake your head and slowly back away from
him into the corner of the seat.
We could just talk, he suggests.
No, sorry. You say goodnight and get out of the truck. Get in
your car and go home.
Step Six: He texts you the next day continuously, begging
to hang out. You're busy with friends, and you refuse to
cancel plans for a boy. He's leaving the next day and he
wants to see you. You don't care to see him. Make all the
excuses possible, and finally, stop answering.
After the weekend, he messages you constantly. He tells you
everything he's doing at work. Since he's a cowboy it sounds
much more interesting than your desk job. You wish you had
that kind of job. One where you can work with young horses
You answer. Don't deny it, the attention is nice. You
constantly rib him about how he thought your friend was a
better catch. It's funny. At night he requests pictures of your
body, and those requests get more and more frequent and
demanding. You make excuses and avoid him. The day of
your friend's wedding he begs for pictures. You send him one
in your bridesmaid dress. He asks for more. Tells you to lift
up the dress. You slide your phone inside your purse and
help the bride get ready for her wedding and don't answer
him for the rest of the night. You have no contact with him
for three days.
When he does text you it's later at night and he is pestering
you for naked pictures again. Now, you're not a prude,
you've sent them before, but you don't really think you want
to send your toned bikini body to this cowboy who is round
like the gaming barrels he used to gallop around. Instead of
giving in you ask him what you will get in return. Your phone
is dark and silent for ten minutes.
The pictures he sends you are shirtless, with his jeans
unbuttoned. His soft body takes up most of the screen and
his farmer's tan is glaringly obvious. You close the picture
quickly and crawl into bed. He asks, Do you like what you
see? The answer is you don't, but while you are looser, you
are not rude. You send back Yes, hoping the one word
answer will deter him. He asks again for a picture, and you
dig through the archive in your phone memory and send him
an old picture of your stomach. Your face is not included;
your shoulder is. If he looks hard enough, he will realize that
the tattoo you just added to your shoulder is missing, but
you don't think he will notice. You close your eyes and go to
Step Seven: The next day you tell the barn owner how
persistent he is, how chubby he has become, and how
unattracted to him you are. She asks, How does he text you
so much with his girlfriend?
Your jaw drops. What? Girlfriend? you stutter.
Yeah, he lives with her, she says.
You don't say anything. You were never the other woman.
You don’t plan to start filling that role.
I feel bad, you say.
You just kissed him. It's not like he's married, she says. That
doesn't matter to you. You might as well have ripped the
girl's heart out. You don't say anything, just give your mare's
neck a pat.
He messages you later that night. You ask, Do you have a
He says, Maybe. Maybe is a definite yes. You feel stupid.
Don't answer. Be thankful that you didn't sleep with him. Be
ashamed that you didn't take the time to creep on his
Weeks pass and you don't hear from him. You find the girl on
her social media, and you feel sorry for kissing him. Feel
sorry for her because she doesn't know. She's beautiful and
looks happy with him.
Step Eight: You get a message from him one day. It says,
What's cookin’ good lookin’? You delete it and put it out of
He isn't the right cowboy to love.
Melissa Esposito graduated from Chatham University with an MFA in 2014.
Her work has appeared in the online literary journal Dialogual and was a
finalist in the 2014 Writer Advice contest. Melissa still lives in Pittsburgh
where she dotes on her seriously spoiled horse and finds time to write
outside of her banker’s hours.