By Mary Claire Ekstrom
One day, not long after my fourth birthday, my dad told my two brothers and me that we were going to visit our family ranch. A rare treat. I had been a few times before, and I could hardly wait. The ranch meant adventures with – I took a deep, excited breath – kittens? Horses? Rabbits? Cows? The possibilities were endless.
It had been forever since I’d been.
Like… two months.
But, on the long-awaited day, looking out the window of our 1999 suburban, I sighed.
All I saw was rocks, tall grass and miles of barbed wire fences. Nothing I was allowed to play with.
I looked over at James, my eight-year-old brother, who sat across the back seat. “I bet we’ll see lots of cows.” He popped his eyebrows at me.
“Duh.” I replied. I had been to the ranch too, it’s not like I didn’t know that cows lived there.
“They’ll be really big now,” James said, starting to bounce in his seat.
My eldest brother, Pierce, broke in. “They aren’t going to be that big.”
Pierce was ten. I hated ten-year-olds. Always acting like they knew everything.
I kicked the back of his chair… when Dad wasn’t looking.
“Yeah… I guess not.” James leaned back. “I’ve seen ‘em so many times that I’m not scared of ‘em.”
I looked at Dad, driving. “When do we get to see the cows?”
Pierce replied for him. “They aren’t that cool Mary Claire, they don’t even moo.”
“They do too!” I kicked again. His punishment for acting like a dim-wit.
“They do moo, Pierce,” Dad said.
“Hah!” I yelled at Pierce.
“Mary Claire…” Dad growled.
I softened my tone. “Sorry, Pierce.” Then, zipped my mouth shut.
“It’s okay… just know they don’t moo much.” Pierce snorted.
Dad and I rolled our eyes at each other.
After about a minute, rocks crunched underneath the tires.
“We’re here guys,” Dad said, lowering all our windows.
I popped my head up to scour the land ahead.
“Drive to the cows, Dad!”
As soon as we passed the gates, I searched like crazy. For a cow. I wanted to see one. And, watch their tails whip around. And, see their blank stares.
“IS THAT A COW?”
In my window stood a massive cow. So big, my mouth hung open. “That’s a big cow!” I screamed.
I risked a look at Pierce. Even his eyes were big.
With the giant 20 yards away, Dad parked and turned to all of us. “He’s not a cow. He’s a bull. Bulls are huge. And mean. And tough. They’ll charge at you if you’re not careful.”
“Like if you’re mean to them?” I gulped.
“That’s right.” Dad assured me.
I leaned across the seat to James and whispered, “Do you think these ones are scary?”
His eyes shifted back and forth. Finally, he crossed his arms, stiffened, and said, “No.”
I slid back to my side, and suppressed a giggle.
He was soooo lying.
Dad winked at me.
I felt a thrill of excitement bounce in my stomach.
Then, Dad tilted his head toward James, “You’re not impressed with the bull, James?”
“Nope.” James sighed, looking straight ahead.
“Okay then.” Dad pulled the car around.
My stomach fizzed.
Scared, I held my breath, suppressing the twittering in my throat.
Dad parked the car where his and James’ side faced the bull. Then he yelled out, “Hey, Mr. Bull?”
The bull lifted his huge head. His face was brutish.
“James thinks you’re not so tough! Did you know that?”
I blinked. Then, looked at James. I couldn’t believe Dad had said that… grinning.
Pierce giggled, then leaned across Dad and yelled out the window, “Mr. Bull, we all like you… but…. well… James thinks you’re ugly.”
Both Pierce and Dad laughed, both in on the joke. I didn’t get it but I giggled. Just a little bit, wanting to fit in.
“Guys…” James said, gnawing on his finger. He was trying to act cool, but I knew he was nervous.
I swallowed the laughter down to join in. “Mr. Bull?” I yelled out James’s window, “James thinks you have cooties!”
James stared at me in horror, then turned to his window opening. “Uh… Mr. Bull… I do not have cooties.”
Pierce hollered out to the bull, “Yes he does! Don’t listen to what he says!”
He and I both let our laughter run loose. I thought for sure the bull would catch on, but he just stood there, staring us down.
“Now understand,” Dad broke in. “We didn’t tell you that to scare you Mr. Bull. James’ cooties aren’t THAT bad.”
The bull took a step forward and cocked his head.
James’ eyes jolted every direction. He shook Dad’s shoulder and hissed, “Stop, Dad! Stop!”
“I like you, Mr. Bull.” I added, all chipper and happy, because I didn’t want him to charge us and he probably wouldn’t, if he knew he had some fans in the car. “I don’t know why James thinks you’re so… so FAT!”
“I like you, too.” Pierce managed to sputter out. “Too bad James’ cooties are gonna get you.”
“Yeah, Mr. Bull,” Dad sighed. “You may not be around much longer after James’ cooties are on you.”
The bull took another step forward, whipping his tail from side to side, scattering the flies everywhere.
“Dad, we need to leave. He’s gonna get me!” James hunched down.
“Are you sure, James? I thought you said you weren’t scared of him.”
“Uhh…” His head faced forward, but his eyes peeked in my direction.
I watched James. Curious.
“James, bulls are scary, it’s okay to be afraid…”
“I’m not,” His eyes dashed away from me. “B-But we shouldn’t scare Mary Claire.”
“Well Mr. Bull, I guess James thinks you’re pretty tough, because he doesn’t want you near his little sister.” Dad said.
“Yea, we’ve got to protect Mary Claire.” James pushed on Dad’s shoulder.
“Well, if you think we should go.” Dad stuck his hand out the window and waved. “Have a nice day.”
Then, he drove out of the pasture.
James took a deep breath, exhaled, then looked at me, “You’re safe now, Mary Claire.”
Which I thought was weird.
I wasn’t scared. I thought the bull was kinda cute.
I wondered why James thought that I was scared of him.
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