My knee seemed to have a mind of its own, bouncing quickly up and down to the beat of its own making. The person next to me on the plane side-eyed me more than once, no doubt wishing my leg would cramp and be unable to bounce any longer.
I wanted to stop, wished I could stop, but my nerves got the best of me. My life was changing at breakneck speed and it was a lot to process. Of course, all the change was my own doing, but that didn’t make it any easier to deal with.
Being a bad flier didn’t help the situation either. I tried to watch Golden Girls, a show my mom and I always watched together when I was a kid, but my eyes kept wandering over to the window to my right. I should have just closed the shade, but I felt weirdly calmer being able to see the ground. It was less like I was venturing into the unknown even though it was exactly what I was doing.
I thought back on my old job at the animal clinic in Las Vegas. Because of the location, I mostly treated rich folks’ pets. The money was good, but the boredom was unbearable. There were only so many times that I could treat broken bones and help reassure pet-owners hairballs were normal before I lost my mind.
When I went to school, I’d envisioned myself truly helping animals, trying to save their lives after they were hit by cars or were sick. I wanted to make a difference in not only animals’ lives, but also in the lives of their owners. I wanted to be able to bring comfort to people during one of their best or worst days.
But after graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, it made sense to stay in the city. I was sure I’d easily find a fulfilling job in the city. After all, Vegas was home to the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino, SeaQuest, and the white tigers at the Mirage. I thought I’d surely find a job with one of them.
Except I hadn’t. After each interview, I was told they were looking for someone more experienced, someone with different credentials, or that they’d already hired someone. During some interviews, I saw the surprise on the interviewer’s face when a woman named Jada Hartville turned out to be a Black woman. Well, mixed, to be exact. I grew up with an African-American mother and a Canadian white-creole father. To be honest, it was hard not to wonder if my race played a part in their decision too, even subconsciously.
So I eventually had to settle, settle for a job I hated and coworkers I disliked in a city I loathed. I hated how the dry heat made my skin and natural curly hair dry out and I hated how my hair frizzed during monsoon season.
I hated having to wear tank tops and shorts or skirts every day to stay as cool as possible and I hated the way creepy men then stared at me because of it. I hated the cockroaches everywhere in Las Vegas and the roof rats that liked to chew through your wires. Look, I spent my childhood in the Louisiana bayous and New Orleans before my family moved to Las Vegas when I was a teenager. Louisiana was filled with bloodthirsty mosquitoes and rats that could squeeze under the crack under your door and humidity that made my corkscrew curls even curlier. But I was used to them. They were my pests, and completely normal to me. In my years living in Las Vegas, I’d never grown used to the pests. I hadn’t allowed myself to.
Las Vegas never felt like home and I desperately wanted to find one.
Finally, it all just became too much. I got home from work one night and scoured the country for veterinary jobs. I’d looked for jobs back home in Louisiana, wondering if the familiarity of it would be helpful to my mood. I still had some family there, so I’d at least know someone when I got there. But it hadn’t worked out that way. Just three weeks after my job search began, I was on my way to Montana where I would be the veterinarian for a ranch on the outskirts of Seeley Lake.
My mind drifted back to the Skype interview I had with the ranch’s owner. With a name like Hank Brekker and the fact that he was the CEO of a ranch, I’d expected him to be a lot older, in his fifties at least.
But instead, Hank was in his late twenties or early thirties. He was an incredibly handsome guy with emerald green eyes, sandy blonde hair, and one of those adorable chin dimples. A small white scar was visible on his left temple. He looked like a guy who worked outside a lot with his tanned skin, broad shoulders, and muscular arms. Despite the fact that he was sitting down during our interview, I imagined he was tall and couldn’t help but wonder if his thighs were just as muscular as his arms.