“Good evening my name is Mr Charles Winston from Winston lawyers, am I speaking with Cora Braelynn?”
I remember the day the call came…
I remember every word spoken…
I remember everything so clearly…
I remember, because that call changed my life.
“Yes, this is she,” my heart began to pump fiercely in my throat, why would a lawyer’s office be calling me? Unless my arsehole ex-husband was at it again.
Not only had he been caught with his face between his secretary’s legs but he had raped me of everything we had accumulated together. I should have known better than to shack up with a greasy, good for nothing, sweet talking, prenup fudging, shady lawyer, the thought of him makes my blood boil and all common sense fall’s out the window.
“Miss Braelynn, I’m sorry to inform you but your father, Gregory Austin, has passed away. As the executor of his estate, it is my duty to inform you of the assets left behind in his country home and have you sign off on the paperwork to allow you full control over his ranch and stock he left…”
“Whoa - I’m sorry but I barely knew the man, are you telling me he lived in the middle of bum fuck nowhere with cows and shit?” My mind was reeling, I hadn’t heard squat from this arsewipe since my year 12 prom at 17 years old. Now that I remember that night, he’d shown up out the front of our hotel, drunk and trying to ‘reconnect’ with his only child.
Mr Charles Winston had the audacity to laugh over the phone that was attached to my ear. “Yes, Miss Braelynn and might I say, you definitely resemble your father and his colourful use of the English language.”
This motherfucker. The one thing I’d learnt in my 27 years on this planet, is to call a spade, a spade and you don’t deal with bullshit, but then, you also don’t accumulate a lot of friends either, just a few solid true ones. “Yeah, well, I don’t know what you want from me?”
“We’d like you to travel to Cedar Ranch, your father’s property and we can sign over the deeds to you, along with other things.”
So here am I, taking six weeks off work in the city and heading for the middle of bum fuck nowhere, Flake Wood Falls, population of 1223 people and a total of 12 hours and 17 minutes’ drive from my home - according to the GPS.
With all that had happened over the last few days, I had, one - refused to tell my mother what I was up to… her hate for my father was something she could never keep hidden. And two - I had not cried. I had not shed one single tear over his passing. I mean how could I? like I said, I barely knew the man, he’d shown up randomly at different stages in my life and that was about it. My mother had remarried my stepfather, Mathew and he had been my substitute.
I was into the last hour of my journey, my tank was getting dangerously low and I had not seen any form of life for the past three hours, just mainly dirt with grassy patches. I began conjuring up a scenario in which Mr Charles Winston had lured me out under false pretences and was about to murder my well curvy arse. Not even the smooth sounds of my ‘road trip’ playlist - which mainly consisted of songs I pretended were my own voice - could soothe my anxiety.
Finally, after driving for what seemed like forever, my eyes spotted the sign I was looking for.
My midnight black, XR6 Turbo Ute, enjoying the long drive, pulls off the road and down into a long dusty driveway. Who I presumed, was Mr Winston, stood against his fancy Chrysler looking suspiciously like he should be nowhere near the outdoors, with folders in his hand.
I pull up eying the rather tall, grey-haired man, who’s steel gaze was fixed on me. “Miss Braelynn I presume?” He stepped forward with his hand outstretched.
“Your presumption is correct,” I nonchalantly replied.
“Yes, well, if you would like to accompany me inside? We can get the proceedings underway.” I followed his footsteps up the front of the small, modest, three bedroom wood cabin.
It was quaint, not overstated or too masculine, which I actually thought I’d be faced with several beheaded animals hanging on the walls but I wasn’t. The inside was modern, large comfortable looking, white sofa’s, brown and white cow skin rugs littered the floor, the view from the windows was breathtaking but the biggest surprise was two border collies that sat at the glass sliding back door.
“Who are they?” I nodded towards them.
“Oh, they are your new dogs Miss Braelynn, Cain and Dell, though, they have barely moved since your father passed, I guess they miss him.” The dogs tilted their heads in my direction to see what was happening, but when they realised I wasn’t their owner and they curled back into each other.
“You gotta be shittin’ me?” My mouth opened and the words tumbled out before I could think.
“I understand this may take some getting used too but your father has left specific instructions on how to take care of his legacy.”
“Legacy?” I flabbergasted, “is that what we are calling it these days?”
“Miss Braelynn, you are required to stay here for a period of twelve months. After one full year here, with no extended periods of absence, you will legally own everything outright and are entitled to sell or keep. However, the rules state that I am to visit every few weeks until the year has been completed, to see if you are following through with taking care of the Ranch.”
His words annoyed the Jesus hellfire out of me. How can he really expect me to look after this place for twelve months when I knew nothing about cattle, farming and horses, in fact, this is the closest I’d ever been to an animal other than Mr Puss, I owned when I was little. I was sure that cat hated me, half cause I called it a Mr when it was a girl and half because it wasn’t cuddly and I’d force it to be my dolly.
“Outright? As in?”
“Your father paid all his debts well before he found out he was sick. There is no mortgage or any loans against these assets, in fact, this allows you to be an exceedingly wealthy woman.”
After I was read the will in its entirety, it began to whey on me just how much I was being forced to sacrifice and I couldn’t figure out why? I didn’t care for the man or particularly know him - I had inherited his sparkling dark green eyes and his charcoal coloured hair but beyond that, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you anything about this man. His favourite food or beer? All a mystery, other than of course, he got scared when mum told him she was pregnant and he ran away like a terrified little bitch - her words not mine. I’ve always suspected she still loved him, you can’t hate someone that much without love, I find it impossible.
So now, I was looking down the barrel of a twelve month shotgun with bullets in the form of cattle, horses, sheep, chickens and two highly depressed working dogs named Cain and Dell.
I said my goodbyes to Mr Charles Winston - who insisted he be called by his full title and not be subjected to the shorter version Mr Winston. Lord, give me strength when dealing with this pompous, arrogant, son of a monkey’s uncle.
I watched him as he drove out of the long, dirt driveway as I pulled my bag from the car. This was going to be a weird couple of weeks, stuck in the middle of country hick hell.
The lawyer had mentioned something about his property being bordered by green barbed wire fences and so, the only logical thing was to explore. What I didn’t count on was how extensive his acreage was and how severely unfit city life and divorce had left me. Divorce… I internally groaned, why had I even married that rotten son of a bitch in the first place? Our relationship breakdown had left me somewhat - full of hatred for men in general and having had a father I didn’t know, just die and rope me into being here for twelve months - left more than a bitter taste in my mouth.
What was it with men in my life? Mathew, my stepfather, had become the only constant and reliable masculine figure but he wasn’t my father and boy did his kids remind me just how much he was not my relation. Thank god, I had successfully avoided those wankers the older I got. My mother, unfortunately, wore the brunt of their mother's hatred and so, you can see just how normally fucked up my upbringing was, but she and Mathew at least loved each other and weathered the shit storm together.
“Well howdy, Cora… isn’t it? Your Greg’s daughter aren’t you?” A middle-aged woman with brown and grey hair and light brown eyes on a grey and white splotchy horse, stood in front of me.
“Yes, have we met?” I puffed out.
“No,” she laughed, “you just look like him. I’ve seen photos of when you were younger, ain’t you just the spittin’ image.”
“Photos?” My curiosity piqued.
“Yes ma’am, the ones in his bedroom,” she slid down from her horse.
“Bedroom?” I almost squealed, “were you fucking my Dad?”
This time she almost keeled over in hysterics, “No way girly, just a mate - we were only ever mates.”
“Is there something I can help you with?” I raised an eyebrow at her amused behaviour.
“Nah, not really, you don’t hold back on the punches. Just thought I’d introduce myself since Greg had me work the stables for him, speaking of which, why are you bloody walking? A steed will get yer round quicker.”
“I can’t ride, walking’s fine. So, who are you? How much does he pay you?” Always one for not fucking around.
“Oh, hell girl, you are ya fathers daughter. I’m Ronnie, Ronnie Afram, I live a couple of ranches down, I’m here six days a week and he’s paid me enough to keep me going for the next twelve months, so ya don’t needs to worry,” she nodded her head with a smile.
“Did you know I was coming?”
“We expected as much. When your Daddy got sick, he began to tie up loose ends, Hael took over the cattle, so you wouldn’t need to worry about it, he’s been paid out too, will teach you from scratch, for at least the next twelve months and Geoff has been paid to shear your sheep herds…”
“Let me guess?” I interrupted, “for the next twelve months.”
She smirked, “at least ye catch on quick city slicker. Anyway, thought you’d be here earlier - to send off ya old man?”
“He is nothing to me, I literally didn’t even know the bastard,” I flippantly replied.
“Well, now that’s a shame. He had such a… warm personality,” the way she said that made me frown.
“So he was a bastard then?” I threw out.
“Hard, not a bastard, just a pain in the ass with a heart of gold,” she chuckled to herself, “much like you, I suspect.” She mounted the horse again, “well lass, you ever wanna learn to ride? Just come on over to the stables,” and with a cluck of her tongue and a heel to the horse's side, Ronnie trotted off.
It was quickly becoming clear the old coot had pre-planned this all, did he want to eventually lure me here to the Ranch in some grand plan of igniting a father/daughter relationship long since burned out? I couldn’t tell you, I was just as lost and overwhelmed. What I needed was a good stiff drink and a long, long, very extremely long nap - after all, driving through the night had taken its toll on me.
I looked around once more and sighed, this was absolutely beautiful, a life out in this much land? How could anyone want for anymore?
Giving up on my exploration escapade, I headed back to the house to find two border collies still wrapped up in each other, desperately seeking comfort.
I opened and closed every single cupboard in the house and there was no liquor to be found. Jesus, for a drunk you’d think he’d have a secret stash somewhere? I remember seeing a sign for the ‘Dusk Bar’ a little ways back. Looks like tonight, I was going to meet some locals and find out just what a population of 1223, do in a town with only one main street?