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Authors: Rita Hestand

Tags: #cattle drive, #cowboy, #historical, #old west, #rita hestand, #romance, #western

Jodi's Journey

BOOK: Jodi's Journey
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Jodi’s Journey

Rita Hestand

Smashwords
Edition
March 2010

Jodi’s Journey
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and
incidents are the products of the author’s imagination and are
either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

No part of this book may be
reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means,
including information storage and retrieval systems, without prior
written permission from the copyright holder and the publisher of
this book, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a
review.
For information, please contact the
publisher.

This e-book is
licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be
re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share
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the hard work of this author.

Copyright © 2010 by Rita Hestand

All rights reserved

Published by

Whimsical Publications, LLC

Florida

Available in print at
http://www.whimsicalpublications.com

ISBN-13 for print: 978-1-936167-08-1

ISBN-13 for e-book: 978-1-936167-28-9

Cover art by Traci Markou

Edited by Brieanna Robertson

---------------

Dedication

I'd like to dedicate this book to the
Cattlemen of Texas who endured the many dangers and hardships of
driving a herd north to the rails, and to the modern day cattlemen
who struggle to survive in this long-honored tradition of raising
cattle.

May God go with you!

---------------

CHAPTER ONE

Early Spring 1869

Esser Crossing, Texas

“Your anger is like a dirty quilt, smothering
you. It's time to get out from under it and get on with the living
again, girl,” the old man muttered with sad regret as he tried
uselessly to move something other than his head against the
creaking bunk. “The war's been over nearly four years. You have to
get over the hurt it has caused; you have to let it go, in order to
heal.”

“Somewhere….deep down inside me,” Jodi said
fervently, “I know you're right, Clem. I don't want to grow bitter
and hard from it.” She glanced his way, then hung her head. “But
I'm not alone with how I feel about the war, or even Hunter Johnson
for that matter. As for my brother dying and maybe my father too,
it only adds to the misery of it. The entire town has been
devastated. I mean, look at them. They all left so proud.” She
choked on her own words. “So full of spirit and hope, but now, look
at them. Even the ones who did come back, they aren't the same.
It's like…they died a little, too.” Jodi looked over at her foreman
on the bunk.

“That's a fact.” He tried to nod, but didn't
quite make it. The pained expression he wore was like a slow
glacier moving over his face. He swallowed hard. “We got a heap of
regrets and unfulfilled dreams to overcome, and now is the time for
healing. But before you can heal, you have to forget and forgive.
Even the good book tells you that,” Clem muttered thickly, his
voice raw with a monstrous pain. A pain they were both trying to
ignore, him because it was his body, her because she emotionally
felt it too. “Not just you, but everybody else. The whole town has
to forget and go on. Otherwise, they shrivel up and die. That’s
what life is, going on. Somebody knocks you down, and what do you
do? You get back up, that's what you do.

“And you have to remember that nothing is
going to bring them back. Nothing is going to wipe it out. War
isn't something that will leave us, girl. There'll be more wars,
like the Bible says. And sometimes, I think the leavings of war are
far worse than the war itself. We can look back and see we had too
much pride…now. It's a little easier to see that now. So, we were
wrong…about a lot of things. We were going to give them 'what for'.
Instead, it was the other way around.

“It wasn't just about the slaves—it was much
more than that. That's the brunt of acceptance right there. The
slaves were merely a reason to go to war. The men didn't come back
full of pride, riding on their fancy horses and parading down the
streets like they were heroes. Instead, it took all the dignity and
brought back the broken spirit. Broken men. That's what losing a
war does. But people got choices, Jodi. They can get up off their
butts, and dust themselves off, and go on, or they can lie down and
die. Ole Har with one arm, young Jesse with no legs, and then
there's men like Phillip who run off to the west. Nobody's seen him
since. Women left their husbands, husbands left their wives,
children got left altogether.

“Okay, so we lost the war, so what? We was
alive before the war. We will be alive now. It's a fact we have to
face up to, and the dignity we lost comes with facing the facts,
and admitting we lost. It is the first step to healing. We lost our
pride in ourselves, which is a sad thing to see. Hunter Johnson
didn't come back a hero, or anyone else in this sad little
community. War destroys even the ones untouched. Your brother died,
that's a fact. Your daddy? Well, we don't know what happened to
him. And sometimes, that's best, girl, the not knowing.”

“And that's why I can't forget, Clem. I
won't.” Jody Parker cried, a tear slipping down her pale cheek.
“Maybe he's out there somewhere, broken, alone…”

“And maybe he's dead.” Clem shook his head.
“If he's out there, there's a reason he ain't here. Think about
that, Jodi. And….we should face facts; he's probably dead by now.
If he was coming home, he'd have been here by now.”

“I won't believe that. Not until I see his
body,” she refuted.

“Now, Jodi! Pick up your feet, girl, throw
back your shoulders, and lift that chin. God made you a beautiful
young lady. You carry the hate around in you and it will eat you
up. You can't end a war unless you let go of it. You didn't fight
in it, you don't know. You weren't there, you didn't suffer,” Clem
declared. “Ain't anything you can do to change what's happened.”
Clem sighed heavily. “You ain't got any choice now, Jodi; you got
to wipe it out of your mind. I've seen what hate does to
people.”

“I don't hate, Clem…just people like…Hunter
Johnson.”

“You don't even know the man. How can you
hate what you don't know? Besides, those cattle got to be moved and
Hunter Johnson is the only man who can do it,” Clem Morton
declared, wincing, disgusted with his own pain.

“You ask too much…I can't do it. You can't
ask it of me!” Jodi sighed heavily, her mind working furiously as
her foreman groaned. The bunk creaked as he tried to move, and he
winced once more. The pain was unthinkable. Jodi watched as a slow
trickle of sweat rolled down his cheek, unchecked. Or were they
tears?

“What if I made you a board to fit your back
and tied you in the saddle? Wouldn't that work?”

“Dad-blame it, girl!” Clem's eyes flared with
anger, as his body kept him at bay. “Ain't you got any eyes? Can't
you see? I'm done in. I can't get in no saddle with a broke back. I
can't even get out of bed.” This time, a real tear rolled from the
corner of his gray eyes, eyes that raked her with frustration and
anger.

The catch in his throat made Jodi realize
that he was in a desperate position. She knew he couldn't before
she’d asked, but she had to ask. She needed him so. She'd always
had Clem to count on, always.

Jodi shook her head and squeezed her eyes
closed. She couldn't look at his pain any longer. It was too
unbearable. “This is more intolerable than anything I've ever done.
I can't ask him, Clem. You and I both know what kind of man he is.
He's a no good coward.”

“Oh, Jodi.” Clem sighed again, a little too
weakly, and his words seemed pulled from his helpless body.
Determination and grit seemed to prod him onward. “That's just
gossip, girl. I thought you knew better than to listen to the town
gossips. We don't know what really happened. War ain't got any
rules. Remember that. You never been in a war, you wouldn't know.
But I do. It ain't fair to judge a man on hearsay, neither. You and
I, we weren't there. We don't know what happened. A decent man
probably wouldn't tell it. And it ain't our place to decide if he's
a coward or not. Besides, we have to face facts, Jodi. We need
help. And we can't be too picky when we're in this kind of
predicament.”

“Don't you go preaching the good book to me
now.” Jodi frowned down at her foreman, seeing the dismay in his
eyes and wanting to wipe it away, wanting to wipe away the
nightmare of the last few days. She loved this old man more than
she could say, and to see him this way, all broken up, was
unbearably hard, but at least he wasn't dead.

“The truth is—somebody's got to do it. I'm as
good as any. You don't have any ma or pa now. So you listen to me,
and you listen well, girl. If you don't want to lose everything,
you've got to get those cattle moved to the railroad.” Clem tried
to relax a little, but his facial expression mirrored his success.
“It's a chance, a chance for a lot of people around here. And there
ain't anyone around these parts, except Hunter, who is able to help
you. So just bite the bullet and go ask the man.”

“But Clem, the man is such a no-good. My
brother lost his life in this danged bloody war, maybe my daddy
too, and you want me to go groveling to that coward for help?” Jodi
couldn't believe Clem's hard-headedness. She'd get those cattle
moved—somehow.

Clem leaned his head back on his pillow, his
eyes staring up at the ceiling, glassy-eyed. It scared Jodi. Her
breath caught in her throat. Was Clem dying on her too? She hated
that lifeless, glassy-eyed dead look.

“Your pa isn't dead. Least ways they didn't
send us a body. So there's hope on that one. I'll give you that
much. But you have to get what that high falootin' cousin of yours
from New York thinks about people out here off your mind. That girl
ain't seen anything of life. She's just a little snot-nosed kid who
thinks she's better than everyone else. She can't even wash her own
clothes, and you listen to her. How could she know what Hunter
Johnson is like? You think she's actually met the man? Why, she
wouldn't be caught dead near him.”

Clem was angry and Jodi hadn't meant to make
him so. Perhaps some of what he said was the truth, but everyone
knew Hunter Johnson was a no-good.

Clem's eyes followed her, and the pain etched
on his face was enough to make Jodi cry. She didn't want to stand
here arguing with him about the war. She wanted to make him better
so they could take care of the cattle together, as they'd always
done. But the look on his face told her that wouldn't be
happening.

“I'm done in, Jodi!” he said with tired
exasperation. “And the only way to help you now is to steer you
right. So I'm steering you to Hunt Johnson. Ah, give the man a
chance, for my sake, give him a chance. There isn't a soul on this
earth who doesn't deserve a second chance.” Clem strained to look
at her, masking the monster riding his back as best he could from
her. He strained to get the words out. His body shook, but he
endured while his tongue lashed at her like a leather whip.

“The men folk around these parts are scarce.
We not only lost the war, we lost the will to go on, girl. A lot of
men that had backbone when they left came back with none. You've
seen them. Are they so grand? Men came back from the war, broken,
beat, with no will to carry on. Some lost their kin, and some their
homes, and even more—their lives. We didn't just lose a war, Jodi
girl. Take a look around town. There isn't a choice of prime men to
move those cattle. Esser Crossing is a bend in the road, not even a
town. The bank shut down, the mill is gone. Old man Esser, he
tries, and keeps on trying to get a town established. At least the
man tries. He doesn't give up. They mock him too, but at least he's
trying to do something. It's more than a lot can say. They can't
even decide on a name for the place for some reason. Look at the
people here. Old Minnie, Doc Fargate, Jude, and Wes are all
counting on you to take that herd north. You, a woman…barely. It's
the only chance this town has to survive. But you can't do it
alone. Heck fire, even I couldn't do it alone.”

“Who says?” Jodi rocked on her booted heels,
determined she could do the impossible, her thick blonde hair
falling in a wave down her back as she yanked the string from
it.

“I say! Now stop stalling and get on over
there and ask him.” Clem's voice held no humor. She saw his face
contort, and she eased up a little on her own pride.

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