The Bride

By: S Doyle

One





Ellie

January





My dad died. Wait. Wow. That was really intense. I should back up.

I’m Ellie Mason… and my dad was dead.

Here was the super bad part. My mom was dead, too. She’d died when I was nine of cervical cancer. She must have had a thought that she was going to die young, because she had planned ahead. She had worked for the National Park system in Montana for a bunch of years before meeting my dad. She’d had this life insurance policy that when she died my dad put in a trust for me for when I was twenty-one.

He’d said it was there to give me options. It wasn’t like millions or anything, but enough to set me up with a place and a car if I didn’t want to have to come back to the ranch after college.

Did I mention that my dad was a cattle rancher?

He was.

We were.

I was.

Over two thousand acres in western Montana. We ran about four to five hundred head a year. We had a barn, a chicken coop, some cattle-ready horses. A wide swath of grazing land and great irrigation. A full time employee plus my dad year round. For calving season and selling season we would bring in some extra hands: Javier and Gomez, two immigrant farm workers from south of the border.

They didn’t say much because they didn’t speak much English. But they worked eighteen-hour days. Never complained and took cash.

Our life was good. Sure, we were miles from everything. It took me over forty-five minutes to get to our nearest town to go to school every morning. Town was another three-hour drive from any city remotely resembling civilization. The nearest one being Missoula. Yep. To get to a Target was literally a four-hour drive there and back. I know because I did it once a month with my dad.

Except now my dad was dead.

Only that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was I was only sixteen years and eight months old. For those of you doing the math and need a calculator like me, that was one year and four months before I was considered a legal adult.

Which means I was an orphan. Like a for real orphan. I had this crazy urge to start asking for more and go looking for a dog named Sandy. It didn’t seem like it could be a real thing in the twenty-first century. But it was. If your mom dies and your dad dies, then you are an orphan.

There had been no way to plan for this. My dad had died suddenly of a heart attack. Some artery that shut down. They called it the widow maker, only in this case it was an orphan maker.

He’d been a smoker, but quit years ago. I made him eat mostly healthy food, but he liked burgers and fries like everyone else. He drank some but not a ton, and he was only fifty-seven, which didn’t even seem old anymore. Tom Cruise was in his fifties and he was still doing Mission Impossible movies.

My dad was not Tom Cruise.

My dad was not…

“Ellie.”

I looked over my shoulder and saw Jake. His name was short for Jackson, which was a really cool name, but everyone who knew him since he was a kid always called him Jake.

He was my dad’s foreman. The only full time employee who basically did everything my dad didn’t do on the ranch. He was probably worried, too. About what was going to happen.

He nodded his chin and looked down at the rose in my hand. I was supposed to drop it on the coffin. That’s what everybody was waiting for. Instead I was staring down at this hole in the ground, thinking…

That was it. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I wasn’t crying, which was weird. All my friends from high school were. There were fifteen of them here, not because I was so popular, but because we had a really small class and most of us were pretty tight because we had all grown up together.

Although I guess most people liked me. All of my classmates had said or done something. A lot of sorry texts. Even from Riley, who was a grade ahead of me.

My friends were crying, my neighbors were crying. Jake wasn’t crying, but he was a cowboy and cowboys didn’t cry. Also he was probably really worried about what was going to happen to his job, and fear had a way of distracting you from your grief.

I suppose I was numb. With my mom I remember being so sad, but that was after months of her being really really sick. This was like someone turned off a switch on Sam Mason.

“We’ve got people coming back to the house,” Jake said softly. “We’d best be getting back.”

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