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Northern Cowboy

A Mitchell Lavender Series Book One

S. Willett

Copyright © 2018 by S. Willett

Createspace. 2018

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.

S. Willett

5816 N. Bailey

Coral, Michigan 49322

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

Book Layout © 2017

Northern Cowboy. 2018

ISBN – 13: 978-1721146406

ISBN – 10: 1721146407

In Memory of Chad Paepke


Barbara Wainright, Courtney Jensen

Frank, Jessie, and Haylee Dietz

Mike Jensen, Kelsey Tomasek


Logan Perkin, Logan Petty, Kolton Jensen


Mitchell Lavender


Honda Knot

Roping Lesson

The Accident




Join My Team



Bull on the Loose

A Jerk

River Water




Bad Day

The Dance



The Barn



Get Packing

The Editor


No Everglades



Rodeo Day

Chapter One

Mitchell Lavender

Have you ever wanted something so bad you could almost see dust fly as the horse galloped by, hear the clanging metal from the chutes, and smell the barbequed chicken?

When I was little my aunt took me to the rodeo. I’d never forgotten and longed to see the smiles and laughter from the crowded stands, to look on as the people entered, carrying their coolers of cold drinks and snacks, or to watch the crazy clown, with colorful hankies hanging from his cut-off jeans, dodge the raging bull…

I’ve wanted to see the cowboys. Not allowed, but this day I had a chance.

“Mitchell Lavender, I want you to write the rodeo article,” said Mr. Wright, our advisor, and English teacher.

Happiness threatened to break out all over my face, but I quelled it.

Mr. Wright continued, “You will be writing two articles about our summer cowboy event. The first is due the end of next week.”

Tom Budding stood, slammed a fist on the table, and pointed at me with the other hand. “Mitchell is hardly the rodeo type and is only a sophomore. A junior or senior should get the best assignment of the summer.”

Mr. Wright grinned at Tom and then answered, “I guess it’s a matter of opinion as to the best summer assignment. Is it his personality or youth that worries you? I hope you’re not questioning Mitchell’s work.”

“I don’t disagree with the way he works, but he’ll have to start from nothing, whereas I did last year’s rodeo. I know the ins and outs.”

“Tom, you did have that assignment last year. Weren’t you a sophomore?” Mr. Wright stood and walked around the room. “Anyway Tom, I’d like you to do a feature on the new downtown construction for May’s newspaper.

“If anyone would like to talk further please stay after the meeting.” Mr. Wright closed his laptop. “This meeting is adjourned.”

My relief at still having the assignment after Tom’s fight for it warmed me. I pushed away from the table, took a deep breath, stood, and straightened my tan pants. Mom hated wrinkles.

Belinda met my gaze, but we couldn’t talk now. I wanted to start researching rodeos, so I stepped out of the door and headed down the hall.

“Hey, Mitch, wait up.” Tom ran to catch me. “If you want help with the article, I’d be glad to do that with both of our names in the byline. In a few minutes, I’ll be headed to Landon’s place to watch some of the guys practice.”

I hated being called Mitch and gave him a look with raised eyebrows. “My name is Mitchell and seldom answer to Mitch. I appreciate the offer, but generally do my own thing.”

Ohhh, didn’t realize you were so formal.” Tom chuckled. “You’ll fit right in with our local cowboys.”

No sense responding to his sarcasm. I pulled out a small spiral notebook and with pen in hand asked, “Do you have the address and last name for Landon?”

“Not a chance, Buddy. Have fun with that article. I’m sure those guys won’t be much for giving out information to a kid as uptight as you are.” Tom laughed and walked back into the library.

On the way home, my smile grew. I loved horses but the closest I’ve come was my English riding classes. Now, I would get to work with real cowboys and see some action. My parents would not be happy about me working the rodeo.

I hurried home, raced upstairs, took a seat at my desk to search the file of the school’s newspapers from last year. The rodeo article gave me Landon’s last name. After making a few calls, I had the address.

I changed into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and carried my black riding boots downstairs. The rule of the house was to leave a note, so I wrote Landon’s name and address on a notepad.

No time to waste. Tom must be there by now talking crap about me.

Chapter Two


As my Moped sped toward the farm, I wondered if Tom might be right about not fitting in. Did it even matter? The information for my article was the goal, not to make friends.

Yet, deep in my heart, I wanted to be liked, but more than anything I wanted to be around horses and regular guys.

Everyone watched me drive up to the corral. Tom pointed at me and spoke to the guys seated around him on two-tiered wooden stands. The words were unheard, but I knew he’d just introduced me.

I expected it would be like that. Oh well.

The smell of the farm and the beautiful horse made the trip worthwhile. Living on the river in the city was good, but here in the country, everything felt so real.

Two kittens played on top of a hay bale. One lost its balance and tumbled off, the other jumped on top of the first, and then both scampered away. I shot a picture with my phone. Pictures like that would give a down-home feel to the article.

Near the barn, two guys practiced roping a fake cow. Each, in turn, put the rope in motion, twirled overhead, and then made the throw. They seldom threw short of getting the circle of rope completely around the horns or head. Over and over they threw and then coiled as they pulled the rope back to try again. More pictures.

Inside the corral, a beautiful brown horse, marked with white between its eyes and down its nose, pranced around.

Tom spoke to a tall, skinny guy, who then jumped off the back of the wooden stand and headed in my direction.

“Hey, I’m Joey Belcher.” He pointed at the others. “Want to join us?”

“Hi, Joey.” I got off the Moped. “Mitchell Lavender.” We walked around the corral toward the other guys. “I’m doing an article for Oakdale’s newspaper. Would you mind answering some questions?”

“We loved the piece Tom put in last year’s paper.”

“Tom does good work. I’m covering the rodeo this year and will try to do as good as he did.” I didn’t ask any other questions because Joey didn’t say if he would give an interview. After the way Tom talked about these guys, it might not work to push.

When we got closer Tom stood and, in a louder than normal voice, announced, “Here’s the kid I told you about. Gather around and meet Mitch.” Tom gave a huge smile, but the glint in his eye told his true intention.

The two cowboys who were roping only gave a quick glance. A big dude who stood near Tom in the stands shouted, “Nice boots, Mitch.”

Joey turned toward me, maybe to see my reaction, but when I didn’t respond, Joey said, “Tom told us you didn’t like being called Mitch, so just ignore the jerks. Nobody calls me by my real name, but so what.”

“Awww Burp, you had to go ruin everything,” Tom said.

Joey said to me, “See, I told you. They call me Burp because my last name is Belcher.” Joey pointed at the guys and said, “Mitchell, meet the loud mouth Andy Sweet. He’s the one who likes your boots. The guy next to him, Landon Goodrich, lives here.” Burp didn’t say anything about Tom.

I stepped up on the wood planks and shook hands with Landon. “I’d appreciate being able to watch and ask questions while I learn the basics of rodeo. Would it be all right to come to your practice meetings?”

Landon said, “That’s what Tom did, and he did an ace job. You’re more than welcome to join us on the condition that you try it.”

My heart skipped a beat. Could this really happen?

Tom stood and asked, “Why wasn’t I given that offer?”

“Can you even ride a horse?” Landon asked.

“What makes you think Mitchell can?”

“He has English riding boots on.” Landon turned to me. “Am I right?

I nodded. “Are you practicing tomorrow?”

Landon smiled. “We practice on most weekdays. We will start you on roping. Burp, why don’t you introduce him to Mateo and Greg?”

Yeah, sure.” Burp waited for me to get down. As we walked toward the barn and the ropers, Burp said, “Mateo even makes his own rosin.”

“What does he do with rosin?”

“He’s a bull rider. Rosin makes the rope sticky and easier to hold. Actually, he’s skilled at most everything related to the rodeo. His family has been active in the sport for generations.”

We walked to the open barn. Burp sat on a stack of hay bales just inside the large doorway. I zoomed my phone in on the dark-haired Mateo for a picture. He coiled his rope, swung the lasso over his head twisting his wrist to make that rope whirl, then released the lasso with his right hand while holding a portion of the rope in his left hand.

The lasso fell perfectly over the horns of the imitation cow. He pulled the rope tight. A smile or some sort of winning expression would be expected, but a stone-faced Mateo walked to the dummy pulled his rope off to recoil and throw again.

Greg seemed to pose for his picture with a smile while the rope encircled his head. He released the rope to land and tighten for the catch.

I sat next to Burp and said, “They are good at this.”

“They are, and they know it. Mateo is all business and doesn’t say much. Greg is the roper and anchorman in the Wild Cow Milking event. His step-dad and step-brother are also on the team.”

“So, Greg’s tight with his family.”

“No, he hates them. Greg’s a little weird sometimes, but he would be the easiest to work with, even though Mateo is the better roper.”

After the two cowboys walked away, I wandered over, picked up Greg’s rope and studied the knot at the base of the lasso, and then threw the rope out and pulled it back in, coiling as I pulled. The rope twisted and didn’t lay right, so I put it back.

Experience would help. I stared at my polished riding boots and imagined them dirty.

Burp picked the rope up that I had just laid down and threw it out. When he pulled the rope back to coil, he gave a twist to the remaining rope before making the next coil. He used the same technique on each pull. “This is the tail of the rope, and this is called the Honda. There’s your first lesson.”

“Do you think I could borrow a rope to take home? I’ll bring it back tomorrow.”

Sure, you can use mine. I won’t need to lasso anything until tomorrow.” His laugh became contagious. The sound of a horse’s whinny came from inside the barn.

Then the horse made a sound like a scream.

“Should we go see what’s wrong?”

“Naw, it’s a Bronco. That’s a horse that hasn’t been broken. But this bronc is crazy.” Burp’s face lost some color and he jammed his hands into his armpits like he was shielding himself. “Nobody has the nerve to get on that horse.”

Chapter Three

Honda Knot

Back home, the second I opened the door the smell of meat made me instantly hungry, but I ran upstairs to put my boots and the lasso away. Then I joined Mom and Dad at the dining room table.

Mom worked at the hospital part-time and on her way home shopped to find the freshest meat and vegetables for the evening meal.

I sat, piled potatoes on my plate, and covered them with strips of beef in a brown gravy sauce. “We had a meeting after school to find out what our assignments are for the May issue and what we’ll work on for the summer.”

Dad leaned forward. “Well, what is your summer assignment?”

“The cafeteria menu for May and…”

Dad’s anger flared. “What? A writer with your skills gets the school food menu?”

A smile covered my face. “I also got the most prized assignment for May and for the summer. I got the rodeo.”

Mom’s face scrunched up and she stared at me apparently waiting for more of an explanation.

Dad asked the big question I know Mom was thinking, “And why is the rodeo a prized assignment?”

“A rodeo is excitement and adventure. There’s danger and action. What more could a writer want? After school, I went to a practice at Landon Goodrich’s farm just outside of town. They want me to learn how to use a lasso.”

Mom continued her astounded gaze.

“Well, you will certainly find danger and action if you hang with cowboys.” Dad picked up his plate and headed toward the kitchen. At the doorway, he stopped and said, “Please be careful.”

Mom finally spoke, “Be sure to take measure of how they treat those poor animals and, in all fairness, add that to your article. You know I don’t like this sort of thing.”

She must have wanted a baby girl but got me instead.

After clearing the table, I raced upstairs, picked up the rope and ran my hand over its scratchy surface. The knot was too tight to untie. I Googled how to make a Honda and found out that a Honda loop and a Honda knot are two different things on the same rope.

It would be bad to mess up Burp’s rope, so I searched the garage to find a hunk of rope and came up with a short piece. Back in my room, I followed the directions and then held the knot out and admired my work.

I made the Honda again and again until the video wasn’t necessary. When the knot and loop resembled Burp’s, I stopped.

Outside, with Burp’s longer rope in hand, I threw it and recoiled doing the twist before making each round, remembering Burp’s technique.

Learning something new and getting good, made me smile. I can do this.

At my desk, I wrote about the day, the conversation with my parents, and getting good with the rope. No question in my mind, I would learn not only how to rope, but anything else they’d be willing to teach me.

Chapter Four

Roping Lesson

On the morning ride to Landon’s, I froze. Everyone yearned for sun and to be outdoors, but instead, we had a late Spring snow. Not even that could stop me from joining the cowboys today. Wait until they see me tie a Honda knot.

Two girls were near a big van, one in a wheelchair. All the guys surrounded them, so I stood unnoticed just behind Burp. He would be a good friend. Andy, the loud mouth, and Tom, the guy from my school, were probably enemies. The rest I wasn’t sure about.

They called the girl in the wheelchair Lorraine. She smiled and laughed a lot as they all reminisced about her barrel racing escapades. From the sounds of it, she had been a powerhouse in the arena. The other girl, Haylee, stood beside Lorraine while they all shared stories. She had dark blonde hair pulled back in a braid that hung halfway down her back. I took a couple of pictures of the group.

Lorraine pointed at me and asked, “Who’s the new guy?”

Loud enough for the neighbors to hear, Andy answered, “This here’s Mitchell. He’s a reporter that don’t know a thing about being a cowboy, so we’ll teach him.”

I don’t know what came over me at that moment, but I said, “Somebody get me a rope. Just a straight piece of rope to make a lasso.”

Landon sauntered into the barn.

Burp scowled and whispered, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I got this. Don’t worry. You’ll be so surprised.”

Landon came out of the barn with some rope. “If you want to keep this you’ll have to settle up with my dad, but you can use it right now. This piece will measure out about twenty-eight feet long.” He handed me the rope.

I pulled the rope through my hand until I came to an end. The majority of the rope flopped to the ground. There were murmurs in the background while I made an overhand knot then took my time finishing the Honda knot.

All were silent. I held up the knot. A horse whinnied in the distance, and then Haylee said, “So what’s the big deal?”

Mateo stepped forward and took the knot from my hand, looked it over, and then handed the whole thing back. “She’s right. What’s the big deal? So, you can learn how to tie a knot overnight. You’re not one of us, but if you want a lesson in roping, let’s go.”

What was I thinking? Now, everyone watched and waited. I followed Mateo toward the practice dummy. The fake bull’s horns seemed to have grown overnight.

“Come on over here and rope this bull. You don’t have to ride a horse or anything. Just get the rope over those horns.” Mateo smirked at the group that crowded in. “That’s pretty easy.”

I stood next to him and tried to remember what stance they used. It would seem right to have my feet shoulder width apart for balance, and then I pulled the loop much wider and started to twirl the rope.

I’d never done this part, and it wasn’t easy.

Mateo must have had mercy on me because he pulled out his rope, and then brought the twirling loop overhead. He threw the rope toward the dummy. The rope slid over the horns. “Now I’ll draw in the slack making the rope tighten.”

He retrieved his rope from the cow head and came back next to me. “Don’t stand right behind go off to the left a little.”

I twirled the rope again and then raised the lasso overhead, but my method wasn’t working the same as Mateo’s. The rope went out of control and slapped me in the back of the head. The force of the blow almost knocked me over. I stumbled and a roar of laughter filled the early evening air.

I thought about a circus clown that had been shot out of a cannon and missed the net. That’s the kind of disappointment that washed over me.

Haylee, still laughing, lent an arm to steady me. “Looks like you need a little practice. We’ll be back soon to check on your progress.” She walked toward Lorraine and then stopped, turned, and said, “I’ll be riding tomorrow in the Speed Show at the County Fairgrounds if you’d like to come.”

I didn’t find my voice to answer, just watched while she and the rest helped Lorraine back in the van. Everyone that had been so eager to see my roping had now dispersed, and I stood all alone. Burp shot me an ‘I told you so’ look, shook his head, and joined Mateo, Greg, and Andy at the corner of the barn.

The girls drove away.

Landon, will you find out how much I owe your dad for the rope?”

He nodded looking toward his house.

“I’ll pay you on Monday at practice.”

“You’ll be back?”

I nodded and walked toward my Moped, rope in hand. That night I wrote the first draft of my article for the school newspaper.

Chapter Five

The Accident

I jerked to a sitting position in bed to check the time, and then relaxed and lay back. Still too early. Last night I’d checked the Internet for the time of today’s speed show.

It might be best to leave soon because even though the event was just off the expressway, I’d have to take back roads on my Moped.

Thoughts of hitting myself in the head with the rope replayed over and over. They’re probably still laughing. No way would a little thing like that stop me from getting these articles written and be able to learn new skills.

My parents must have left early, so after eating breakfast I left a note and headed to the county fairgrounds.

When I arrived, there was only one truck hauling a horse trailer. Perfect. I’d be able to watch the routine of each group to see how they set up and prepared for this event. As they filed in, I took notes and pictures. Ninety-nine percent of them took the horses out first, gave them water and hung feed bags on the trailers. I’d have to remember to tell my mom that the animals came first.

Some groups were whole families while others were just father and daughter or a couple of women, but all wore smiles while they prepared. Andy came alone.

Two little kids led their horse out into a nearby field. In the distance, you could see the expressway. A lady near them walked her Jack Russell dog.

Andy Sweet, aka loud mouth, rode up to me on horseback.

“You got a sore spot on your head?” he asked.

“I’m okay. Can’t lie, it did hurt.”

“Embarrassing too, I’ll bet.”

While talking with Andy, the two little boys and their horse played in the field just behind him. One boy held his hands out, fingers laced, to help his buddy up on the horse. That made for a good picture. The other kid got on the horse bareback and no bridle. The boy that helped his friend up, walked along beside.

Yes, it embarrassed me, Andy. Are you barrel racing today?”

“Nah, I came to watch.”

The dog had run away from the lady and appeared to be on the trail of something. It probably saw a mouse or chipmunk and ran toward the horse and children. Jack Russell dogs were bred to be hunters.

The horse got spooked by the barking dog and lady chasing it and took off toward the freeway with the little kid still on its back.

I pointed and hollered, “Somebody help that kid.”

Andy, still on his horse, galloped after them. He reached back and came up whirling a lasso.

At first, the kid bounced on the back of that horse, and then he lay over the horse’s neck, more than likely, holding onto the mane for dear life. They were getting closer to the freeway.

Andy let the rope fly. He tightened the noose around the horse’s neck and it slowed.

They call him a loudmouth, but he had my respect especially when he grabbed the crying kid and held him close. The kid rode back with Andy leading the runaway horse. The lady carried the dog that had caused so much trouble, giving her pup a good talking to.

Haylee and Lorraine cheered as Andy came close. He dismounted and gave the little guy to the mother.

“That was some fancy roping, Cowboy,” Lorraine praised.

After closing my mouth, I said, “You didn’t waste a second in saving that kid. I didn’t know you were good at roping.”

He just grinned and strolled off.

I turned my attention to the girls and said, “That was great. I’m so surprised.”

Haylee said, “He’s a big mouth, but he’s also all cowboy. I gotta get ready. Would you help Lorraine over to the bleachers?” She didn’t wait for an answer, just left without even looking back.

The bleachers stood three tiers high. I parked Lorraine’s chair in front of the stands near the fence. Lorraine thanked me for helping her.

“No problem. Maybe you’ll answer the thousands of questions that I will be sure to ask while we watch the show.” Her laugh made me laugh, too.

She was easy to talk to, so I asked my first question, “Do you miss riding?”

“Of course. At first, it seemed that I’d never ride again, but now there’s hope that not only will I ride, but I’ll walk, too.”

“No one told me what happened to you.”

Lorraine turned her face away; silent for a few minutes. “This is painful to tell, and there might be a meltdown.” She motioned for me to sit next to her. “But today’s a good day, and I feel pretty strong, so I’ll tell you.

“My horse came up lame at a show this past winter. I needed the points, so I borrowed a horse from a friend. They warned that the horse could be skittish, but I’m a great rider, so that didn’t scare me.” She did an eye roll. “Someone let off a firecracker or something just as I rounded the first barrel.

“The horse braced his front legs to stop, which threw me forward onto the ground. The horse’s right front leg snapped and the momentum of our speed threw him forward to land on top of me. The impact drove me into the dirt, and his weight on my chest stole my breath.”

Lorraine stopped, took a deep breath, and then continued, “I could hear my dad hollering for people to get out of his way. Seconds later, he crouched beside me screaming for help. I looked beyond the people and horse into the sky.” She turned to gaze into my eyes. It seemed that she struggled with reliving the memory.

“A brilliant blue sky with wispy clouds soared above. A calm feeling overtook me. I don’t remember passing out just like you never remember the second you fall asleep.” Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she appeared physically distressed.

I laid my hand on her shoulder. Her body trembled. At that moment, the announcer introduced our friend. We turned our attention to the race.

Haylee entered the arena. She sat tall and proud dressed in jeans and a fancy blue shirt that seemed to shimmer in the sunlight. She glowed with the sparkle of a multitude of sequins. Her white horse had a brown tail and mane and appeared as proud as Haylee. I took several pictures.

The barrels were set in a wide triangle. The buzzer started the race against time. Haylee galloped in and the horse rounded the first barrel with inches to spare, then straight across the arena to the second barrel making what looked to me like a perfect curve around it. Haylee made a yipping sound as she came to each barrel. She headed to the farthest barrel and after another close exchange, used her legs and voice to spur the animal into a hard gallop.

Time 15.5. People cheered. Lorraine faced me and with tears in her eyes said, “She’s incredible.”

I had seen some of the other races and their times weren’t as good. But my mind went back to Lorraine. “Will you finish telling me your story?”

She said, “I can only tell you what they told me. After they moved the horse, the paramedics got me breathing, put me on a board, and sped me to the hospital. Because I’m getting feeling back I might have a chance of walking again.” She fought back the tears. “I’d like to believe that, but I’m afraid it might be too late.”

She couldn’t lose hope, so I said, “Never give up.” Such a weak thing to say, but she needed to know that I truly cared.

She stared into my eyes and flipped back the blanket that covered her legs. I instinctively looked. She wore a skirt that revealed her thin legs. You could easily see the muscle tone was severely diminished.

Her face exposed a rebellious, but broken young lady barely keeping herself in check. A tear slipped down her cheek. I replaced the blanket over her legs and brought my face very close, uncomfortably close to her face. I laid my cheek against hers and whispered, “Don’t lose faith. Don’t stop trying.”

Chapter Six


That evening I rewrote my upcoming article, and then watched and replayed videos of different people showing their roping techniques. I turned on the floodlights in the backyard to practice without anyone watching.

Our long yard ended at the river. I had plenty of room to throw the rope, practice twirling it in front of me and above. I was careful not to crack myself in the head again, but after an hour, still no good at it.

Flames from the fireplace crackled and Dad sat in his overstuffed chair. The warmth felt good, so I sat in the recliner near Dad. “Did you see me practicing?”

I feared he’d tell me no, or worse, how stupid it was to waste my time on something I’d never fully develop. Something that would not enrich my life nor future.

Dad said, “You have to make every move count. Focus on the smallest of details and practice to get each detail perfect. Don’t worry about speed or even the action as a whole. Details. Success is in the smallest of details.”

His answer astounded and pleased me. “Thank you.” And then we both stared at the fire for a while. A good night’s sleep would help to prepare me for more practice tomorrow.

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