“Sometimes things are beyond our control,” he said, finally looking up at me.

“I know.” I released a long breath. “No, believe me, I’m not upset with you. You did the right thing. That steer was going to die no matter what I did and you made sure it didn’t suffer longer than it needed to.”

“It isn’t the first animal I’ve had to put down, but I haven’t found it to get any easier over time either,” Ace replied, shrugging his shoulders.

“I know what you mean. I had to put down people’s pets when I worked at the clinic. It was devastating every single time.”

We chatted for a few more minutes before he took his leave. But right before he left, Ace kissed the back of my hand. My skin tingled in the place where his lips touched long after he was gone. My head spinning.

Seki

The next morning, I could tell Jada still wasn’t herself. The death of the steer still plagued her. I knew firsthand that, as a veterinarian, it was hard to lose an animal like that. You feel responsible, like you could have found a way to do more for the animal, like you should have found a way. It was also the first death she’d experienced at the ranch, so that had to make the loss particularly hard.

As I watched Jada despondently work, merely going through the motions, I wracked my brain about what I could do to help her.

Though I’d lost animals before, last summer I still fell into a depression when I lost three cattle in a short amount of time. It made me feel like a failure at my job, like Hank should never have trusted me with the health and well-being of the animals on his ranch. One night, the guys surprised me with a night out at the bar where we played pool and darts and ate great good and it had really helped. It was their way of letting me know that they didn’t fault me for not saving the cattle’s lives, that they still respected me and cared about me.

I wondered if something like that would make Jada feel better. I didn’t know if a night out at a bar would be her style, but I thought I knew what she would enjoy.

She may have been from a big city, but Jada had told me herself that she never felt at home there. She was always much more comfortable in her small hometown in Louisiana than she ever was in Las Vegas.

I could definitely find a small-town way to help cheer her up.

Jada and I were taking a short break when I turned on her and asked, “Jada?”

She didn’t appear to have heard me, so I stepped toward her and tapped on her shoulder. Jada jumped, her face turning to me. Her eyes looked so sad that I just wanted to scoop her up and comfort her, but we didn’t have that sort of relationship.

I hoped we would someday though.

“Sorry,” she apologized, grabbing her chest. “I was spacing out there.”

“It’s okay,” I replied, sitting next to her on the bench and folding my arms as I looked out at the pasture. “I know you’re having a tough time right now.”

She sighed and looked out into the pasture too. “Yeah, I am. I know you’re all worried about me, but don’t worry, I’ll be back to normal soon.”

“Hey, no,” I began. “You’re allowed to take your time with this. None of us fault you for your reaction. We’ve all done the same thing.”

“Yeah?” she asked, looking at me again.

Nodding, I said, “Of course. It’s hard whenever this happens. We’re with these animals day in and day out. I know you’ve worked with animals for a long time now, but in the past, you probably never got the chance to spend time with the animal for long before it passed. Here, we spend a lot of one-on-one time with the cattle. We get attached.”

Jada’s eyes widened. “Wow,” she murmured, “I haven’t thought of it like that. I think you’re right, Seki. I think that’s part of the reason why I’m struggling with this.”

“Take as much time as you need, Jada,” I said. “We’re here for you.”

She gave me a small smile. “Thank you, Seki,” she said, giving my hand a squeeze.

I smiled back.

Then I remembered why I sat down next to her in the first place. “So, I had an idea.”

She gave me a puzzled look. “An idea?”

“Yep, an idea. One that I think might help take your mind off of everything for a while.”

One of Jada’s eyebrows rose up high on her forehead. “Okay, color me intrigued,” she replied.

I don’t know why I hesitated. Even if she said no, it wasn’t like Jada was the type of person to be cruel. It was in her.

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