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Lost Rider

By:Harper Sloan

1

MAVERICK

“Traveller” by Chris Stapleton

I wince as a sharp ray of sunlight strikes my windshield just so and beams into my eyes, making me curse and briefly swerve before course correcting and picking up speed again, my truck blazing a path down the 35. The highway is barren, no other cars to my left or right. It would feel lonely, but luckily I have a son-of-a-bitch hangover and a stinging sense of hurt pride to keep me company right on through.

It’s been eleven days since the doctor told me my career was over. Eleven days of pretty much drowning in the bottom of a bottle. I did the one thing that I swore I would never do—become the man that raised me.

Everything I’ve worked for, gone.

Everything I had ever dreamed of, vanished.

I had every single thing I ever wanted in the palm of my hand. Riding was all I ever needed, and now that it’s gone, the only thing I have left to show for my broken dreams is a fat bank account, buckles thrown carelessly in the backseat, a duffel bag of clothing, and one fucked-up body. Everything I own shoved into my truck, one measly cab’s worth of belongings.

Over.

Just like that, Maverick “The Unstoppable” Davis was, in fact, stopped, and every second that I’ve pushed myself to reach the top might as well have been for nothing. Ten years of living my dream, gone like it never existed.

You haven’t lost the only life you’ve ever wanted. The small voice in the back of my head just pisses me off even more. Like I need another reminder of what my chasing these now lost dreams cost me. That voice is right, though, riding isn’t the only life I wanted for myself . . . not that I have a chance at the other now though. Not after I made sure to destroy every chance for it.

My head starts pounding even harder. Adjusting my hold on the wheel, I grab my Stetson and place it beside me on the passenger seat, resting my head against the headrest as my mind starts to wander, again.

Bull riding is one of the two things in my life that bring peace. I was meant to ride just as I was meant to draw air in my lungs to live. The drive I felt to ride beat alongside my heart. Without it, I wouldn’t be me. Since I was old enough to walk, I would climb on the back of our ranch’s sheep and pretend I was fighting for that perfect eight seconds on the back of the biggest, baddest motherfucking bull on the circuit. The fearless streak has never left me, and it’s always been the driving force for me to take on any beast that was in the way of me claiming the championship.

I left home before the ink on my high school diploma was dry. All these years later, I’m not sure what pushed me to hightail it out of town: my need to chase my dream, or to escape the life I had that I was barely surviving. Deep down though, I knew I couldn’t stay, no matter how much I wish I could have. I had already burned the only bridge that meant something to me in that town, because I believed that I couldn’t have anything pulling me back, tying me down. I knew for certain that if I couldn’t have it all, at least I was going to make sure everything I gave up wasn’t for nothing. I vowed from that day on I would rule the world.

And I did.

For almost ten years I’ve been the biggest name in professional bull riding. There wasn’t a beast I couldn’t conquer.

Until I met Lucifer.

One hundred and four consecutive buck offs, and his hundred and fifth was the one that took everything away from me.

Too many head injuries, the doctor said, shaking his head at my scans. One more and I’ll be leaving the arena in a body bag, he warned. I would be a dead man riding if they cleared me, he promised.

So just like that . . . it was gone. That dream vanished right along with the only thing I had left in my life that didn’t cause me fucking pain.

I slam my palm down on the steering wheel as the doctor’s words come back to me again, running in the same continuous loop that I had been trying to drink out of my mind for days. Haunting my memories and reminding me that I’ll never be able to get back what I had.

My phone rings, breaking into my self-loathing thoughts, and I know without looking at the phone or my truck’s dashboard that it’s Clay, my older brother, probably calling to ask me—again—what time I’ll be in Pine Oak.

I press the hands-free button on my steering wheel.

“What?” I snap.

“Well, well . . . seems my always pleasant little brother is excited to be headed home,” Clay responds to my short-tempered greeting with sarcasm dripping from his words.

I reach over and pull a pack of smokes from my cup holder, putting off responding so I can light up and take a deep drag, blowing the smoke out audibly. My headache ramping up another notch at my brother’s annoyed, scornful tone.

“You smokin’ again, Mav? Thought you gave that shit up.”

“I’ve got a lot on my mind, Clay.”

“Yeah, you and me both, brother. What time are you gettin’ here? Quinn’s wantin’ to wait for you before we leave for the church, but if you’re not close, we’re going to have to just head on over.”

“Don’t wait for me, Clay. I’m not really sure I want to go.”

“What?” His voice is hard, unforgiving, and it fucking kills me that I’m letting him down. Again.

“You heard me, Clay. What’s the point? The old man didn’t want me around ten years ago, so makes sense he wouldn’t want me there now either.”

“Roll your goddamn window up so I can hear somethin’ other than your fuckin’ tires,” Clay demands.

I take another long drag before flicking my cigarette out the window and rolling it up, switching the AC on before the thick Texas heat kills me.

Clay’s silent for a beat. I hear his boots striking the ground through our connection, the heavy tread his tell that he’s pissed. “Here, asshole. You’re thinkin’ of not comin’, tell Quinn that, and I’ll talk to you later.”

He says a few words that I can’t make out before my little sister’s voices takes his place, coming through

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