Billy chuckled, “A true survivor. I’d like to see what I can do with him.”
Camp chores got Billy up early and to bed late. He enjoyed his days of riding with the tourists into the mountains early in the morning and then leading them back safely in the evening. After the day’s ride Blake would regale his clients with stories of his life as a wrangler and cowboy. Billy always got a kick out of his uncle telling stories as an “Indian” cowboy. While Blake’s audience listened intently Billy would cook the evening meal. The people had a healthy appetite at the end of a long day’s ride. Billy cooked up hearty camp food: steaks, potatoes, beans and his specialty peach cobbler. All of the cooking except the steaks was done in Dutch ovens which the guests always seemed to enjoy. After a hearty meal the tourists were happy to sleep under the stars.
Days passed each one similar to the last. Billy worked hard and enjoyed the challenges his job threw at him. He especially appreciated getting to know Samson. Billy came to regard him as, “The Little Horse that Could.” At the beginning of each day as the other horses with their riders left, the little horse would become very agitated. He whinnied and circled restlessly around the corral until finally one day Blake relented and let him follow the pack string. Without a load Sam pranced alongside the other horses thrilling the tourists with his antics.
Finally one day after three weeks without a break Blake pulled Billy aside. “Well nephew, it looks and smells to me like you could use a day off. I want you to take the truck and horse trailer into town and have the vet give Samson’s leg a final check- up.”
Billy greeted this news with great enthusiasm. In no time he loaded Samson up and started out of the camp. The season was changing from summer to fall. Billy took his time easing down the rutted road and marveling at the changing color of the trees. The aspens were starting to turn their golden color which always reminded him of gigantic cornflakes fluttering in the wind.
It would be hunting season soon and a new type of client would be coming into camp. These clients were more serious than the tourists. Blake would guide them into the hills seeking elk and deer. They would not care how a horse looked as long as it could pack venison. Billy grinned and figured Samson would be up to the task.
Several hours and many bumps later Billy arrived at the town’s veterinarian clinic. He led Sam out of the trailer and tied him to a rail in the back. He sauntered into the main office. Looking for Dr. Bradley, he reached the waiting room and was surprised by what he smelled. Instead of the usual sharp smell of liniments and medicine, his nose detected the pleasant smell of perfume. When he got to the desk he was even more surprised to see a pretty young girl who definitely was not Dr. Bradley.
A cheerful voice answered Billy’s question before he even asked it. “Dr. Bradley is out on a call, I’m Carolyn, his assistant”. Billy’s watchful eyes carefully studied the pretty brunette. She had long wavy hair and a pretty nose that upturned slightly at its end when she smiled. Billy stammered out his introduction and asked Carolyn if she would come out and have a look at Sam’s healing leg. “Sure, a sick horse always interests me,” she replied. She told Billy that she had been hired to work the summer in her uncle’s vet office. She’d fallen in love with the town and her job. She intended to stay as long as she could.
Samson whinnied as she approached him. It was his way of saying he approved of her examination. She studied his leg from all angles then lifted it gently probing around his wound. “I’d say whoever has been tending him has done a wonderful job of getting this leg to heal.”
Billy smiled shyly, “My Uncle Blake knows which wild plants and herbs help in healing. His grandfather taught him and now he is teaching me.”
Carolyn beamed, “I thought you might be a member of the Colville tribe. They have ways of healing animals that few white people could ever know.” Suddenly a frown clouded her flawless face, “Billy Frank? Are you related to Burt Frank who cost Stew Coley the win in the Suicide Race?” Billy’s smile immediately turned into grimace; here we go again he thought.
Carolyn sensed by Billy’s grimace that she must have hit a raw nerve. She decided to explain, “Dr. Bradley is in charge of checking the health of all of the horses prior to and at the end of the race. This year I helped him. I overheard a native rider talking about it to his friend. I didn’t know if the story was true or not but it stuck in my mind because I was so shocked at how something like that could cause people so much anger for such a long time.”
Carolyn’s face softened and her bright blue eyes sparked with compassion for Billy. “I never had any idea.” She said nothing more as they led Samson back to the horse trailer. As Billy was buckling up his seatbelt Carolyn leaned forward with her face framed in the truck’s window. “That horse of yours is as cured as I can get him. The only thing he needs now is a regular exercise routine and you can do that on your own. I don’t need to see Samson again, but I sure would like to see you again!” She handed him a piece of paper with her phone number on it. Billy looked at it and frowned while shoving it into his pocket.
“There’s no phone where I’m at,” he said dejectedly.
Carolyn winked mischievously at him and said, “I am sure you’ll think of something!”
When he got back to camp Billy decided to tell Blake nothing about the day’s events. Instead he asked Blake if he could have the next day off. He’d need the day to go back to his dad’s trailer and get rid of several weeks’ worth of grime. Blake seemed puzzled with the request but agreed to let Billy have the day off since they were at the end of the tourist season.
The next morning Billy headed the truck down the road and called the vet’s office from the first gas station he came to. Carolyn answered the phone on the second ring. After he identified himself, she said, “Billy! I don’t know any Billy, but I do remember a dusty cowboy who came in here yesterday and stole my number!” Carolyn teased. Billy grinned and asked her if she’d like to go out to eat that night. Carolyn quickly agreed and Billy promised to pick her up when she got off work at six.
Billy continued on into town and finally turned onto a long dirt lane. As he coasted to a stop in front of his father’s trailer, he was not surprised to notice that his father’s big rig was parked in the driveway. Lately his dad’s drinking kept him off the road more often than not. In a way that was a good thing thought Billy.
He pushed the unlocked door open and let himself in. Somewhere in the back a radio was blaring a talk radio show. His father was nowhere to be seen. Billy stepped through the small living room to the back bedroom. He peeked in the room and saw his father sleeping soundly in his bed in spite of the loud radio. Billy reached over and switched off the annoying sound. “Dad,” he said, “Wake up!”
His dad slowly opened one eye and grunted, “Boy, get me some coffee!”
Billy did as he was told. He edged back into the kitchen and found the pot amongst the clean but cluttered pile of dishes. He opened a few cupboards until he found the big red can of coffee and heaped several large spoonfuls into the pot. He filled it nearly to the top with water, started the stove, and then sat back to await its boiling.
As he waited he studied his surroundings and meditated about his many years spent in this very trailer. He’d b
een born and raised here. William Wayne Frank was the only child born to Ruth and Burt Frank. He’d had a good childhood. His parents had managed to avoid the problems of alcoholism and apathy that had plagued many of his people. His mother worked at the clinic in town as a physician’s assistant. It was perfect work for her as she was a kind and compassionate woman. Both father and son thought the world of Ruth. Unfortunately tragedy struck when Billy was in junior high. One evening as his mother was emptying some trash, a hypodermic needle pricked her hand. The needle had been contaminated with the AIDS virus. Little was known about the disease then and the clinic had immediately forced her to quit her job. Things had gone downhill for her after that. Billy had always regretted that there had been no “cocktail” drug for her at that time. If there had been then maybe her death could have been postponed for many more years. As it was, she fought and lasted about a year before she succumbed. His mother had drawn her last breath on the very couch that he was now sitting on.
Things had moved in a downward spiral after that. His father, who had formerly been a light social drinker, now began to drink heavily. Before his wife’s death Burt spent most of his days driving truck or working with his brother in the hills. Now except for brief stints on rare trucking jobs he spent his days sitting on a bar stool.
Billy, who had been an excellent athlete and student, began to act out. He got to know the inside of the principal’s office very well that year. He fought for no reason at all. He had little or no respect for his teachers. Although his teachers and friends sympathized with his plight, most of them came to realize that the only person who could help Billy was Billy himself.
Unfortunately, although he knew it too, Billy did little to help himself. His grades slipped, he was kicked off both the football and track team. Luckily, because he knew it would hurt Blake terribly, he had never tried drugs as a way of coping with his depression. His anger became his drug. Some days it seemed the person he hated the most was himself.
As he sat thinking, he heard his father get up and begin moving around the bathroom. Billy got up and poured his father a cup of coffee. He set it on the small table beside his father’s bed. After a quick shower he quickly gathered up a set of clean clothes and slipped out the door. A hung over grouchy father was not the father he wanted to deal with today. He’d try to see his father some other time he thought. He hurriedly changed into his clean clothes in the truck and then started off.
Gravel spattered against the old truck’s fender wells as it eased into the clinic’s parking lot. Billy shifted the truck into low gear and crept into an empty parking space. No need to kick up a cloud of dust to announce his eager arrival. He had finally admitted to himself on the drive over that he hadn’t been this excited about anything in a long time.
He checked himself one last time in the mirror before stepping out of the truck. He liked what he saw. Staring back at him was a handsome, well groomed young man. For the “date” he chose a button down denim shirt that seemed to say cowboy, not tourist. His shirt was tucked into a new pair of Levis. To top off his “going to town duds” he wore a pair of shiny black cowboy boots. It was a neat but low key outfit.
Before he even had a chance to knock, Carolyn met him at the door. He was struck by how great she looked. Her brown hair, with wavy curls was pulled back into a pony-tail. She had on a pair of dark jeans and a white buttoned blouse. Her face radiated natural beauty. She’d added just a touch of makeup to her eyes and lips.
Since the weather was getting cooler in the evenings, they spent no time talking. Instead they quickly jumped into Blake’s truck which Billy had kept running with the heater on. Billy was embarrassed about how dirty and full of clutter the truck was. Fortunately he had remembered to lay a clean blanket on the seat so Carolyn wouldn’t get quite so dusty.
Since it was Friday night Billy had decided to take Carolyn to the high school football game before dinner. The Omak Pioneers were taking on their fiercest rivals, The Okanogan Bulldogs. It should prove to be an exciting game. Since Billy had relatives on both teams it would be hard to cheer too loudly for either team.
It had been a year since he graduated, and the sights and even the smells jogged Billy’s brain with memories; some good and some bad. He had played football on this very field himself.
Many people from his tribe were in the stands that night. Some of the young men carried the grudge of his father’s shameful race. Some of the young women were jealous that Billy was at the game with a white woman. As they took their seats in the stands both of them could feel hard eyes upon them.
Perhaps a football game of such intense rivalries was not the place to take Carolyn, thought Billy. After the rival Bulldogs scored on the opening kickoff, the home fans had become more boisterous. Billy’s cousin Ethan had run the kickoff back 93 yards untouched. Billy cheered loudly for his cousin. That was not the wisest thing to do considering the circumstances. The thought that he could no more stop himself from cheering for his cousin than stop himself from liking Carolyn made him grin. The crowd noise turned into a drowning roar of pandemonium. Omak had been forced to punt after its first possession, and Okanogan had quickly scored a touchdown as soon as they got the ball back. The home team was getting trounced by their arch rivals. By this time the crowd’s mood had turned ugly. It seemed as if the home crowd’s anger towards the game’s negative result turned them rabidly hostile. Some of that hostility was now clearly being directed towards Billy and Carolyn. The catcalls aimed at the young couple began. Most of the crowd did not participate but enough did so that it became extremely difficult for Billy to bear. It seemed as if all of his old demons had come back to visit him during such a significant night.
The already volatile crowd was whipped into frenzy when one of the Okanogan players delivered a hit to an Omak player who was clearly out of bounds. It was an obvious cheap shot. To add insult to injury, no penalty flag was thrown. The player lay there not moving. The mood of the crowd was evenly split with those who were outraged at the outcome of the play and those who were concerned about the motionless player. The coach knelt beside the fallen player and looked helplessly at the unmoving body. It was obvious to everyone that he was unsure of what to do. Normally the volunteer ambulance and EMT personal attended every game, but on this night they had flashed by Billy’s truck just as he pulled into the stadium. They had gotten a call to go to some other emergency.
The crowd became increasingly agitated at the lack of care available for their star player. Billy’s dream date was turning into a nightmare. Suddenly he felt a body brush past him. It was Carolyn and she was heading down to the field. As she hustled past him she yelled to him, “I was trained to work on people before I got to work on animals.” Perhaps sensing the gravity of the situation the crowd parted and let Carolyn through. Billy, although unsure of what was going to happen, decided to follow Carolyn.
They made their way onto the field. Carolyn nudged the onlookers aside. When they got to the injured player a circle of coaches and players blocked the view. Carolyn pushed through to the middle of the circle. Although it had been a while since he’d played for the team, the coach recognized Billy. He shot him a quizzical look. Billy said, “Coach, she knows what she is doing!”
The coach instantly reacted and yelled, “Everyone back!”
With a quick look, it was obvious that the player was unconscious and having trouble breathing. Carolyn carefully inserted two fingers into the prostrate figure’s mouth. She gently probed into his mouth as spasms wracked his body. Suddenly her body stiffened and her arms tightened. She drew her arm back and held up a mouth guard.
Immediately the quarterback’s labored breathing became easier, and color returned to his face. Carolyn flipped the mouth guard to the coach and said, “Due to the severity of the hit, this was jarred and lodged partially down his throat. He was choking on it.” By now the injured player was coming around and trying to get back up. Carolyn allowed him to sit up but advised the coach to let
him take it easy for a few minutes before he should stand. Two players grabbed him under his arms and helped him to the bench. When the audience saw their star player was up they broke into a loud applause. Billy grinned and indicated to Carolyn, “That is as much for you as it is for him!”
Carolyn smiled, “I think it’s time to go home now. That was too much excitement for one night.”
When they got back to Carolyn’s house she gave him a big hug and said, “I had an interesting, but great time tonight. Can we go out tomorrow for the dinner we missed tonight?”
Billy almost shouted, “That sounds fantastic!”
“Getting a little bold, aren’t you?” She replied. This time they both laughed. It was the laugh of two people who cared very much for each other.
On the drive back to camp, Billy did a lot of thinking. The day had gone very well. Samson was on the mend and he had found a girl that he had been able to talk with and share his most personal thoughts. He felt an almost euphoric level of comfort. That hadn’t happened in a long time.
He got back to camp just about dark. Blake was thrilling the last group of this year’s tourists with his humorous tales. As Billy listened to Blake’s final tale of the night he recognized it as an old Indian legend. It was a tale of a young brave who stole the heart of a princess from another tribe. Eventually they married. Was this some sort of omen about his future? Billy liked that thought and a tiny smile appeared on his face. Future omen or not, Billy always admired how Blake could captivate his audience with those stories. Blake’s knowledge of his heritage was well known and respected in the tribe.
After the last story was told, and the campers had bedded down, Blake called Billy over to a log. They both sat silently gazing into the fire. Finally Blake asked Billy how his trip into town was. Billy laughed and said “I met a girl…” His voice trailed off. Blake smiled knowingly and nodded his head for Billy to go on. “She works for Dr. Bradley and her name is Carolyn.”