March 2, 1924

Mrs. Jake Moser.

     Nettie drew a heart around "Jake" and doodled flowers in the margin of the first entry in her new journal.
I’m married to my cowboy and we’re going to rodeo together. Rodeo. My dream is coming true.
Nettie brushed the dust from her shiny black boots, stretched her shoulders in the unusually warm early spring sunshine, and breathed in the familiar animal sweat aroma. I’ll ride this steer, show Mama how good I am. She could already hear the crowd’s cheers in her head and saw herself accepting a Top Cowgirl trophy. I will be a star, maybe even the next Marie Gibson.

     She turned to Jake. “Well, Mr. Moser, how about giving your bride a hand?”
     Jake grinned. “Well, Mrs. Moser, I’d be delighted.” He helped Nettie steady herself as she climbed down from the top of the chute onto the bare back of the big red steer. She snugged her hand under the surcingle rope, feeling the animal’s muscles tense beneath her as it kicked against the fence.
     Jake squeezed her shoulder. “Ready?”
     Nettie took a deep breath. She tightened her knees and nodded. Here you go, Mrs. Moser. She almost giggled. Funny how she still couldn’t get used to her new name even after three months.

     The steer crashed through the gate, bellowing a protest at its burden. Nettie leaned back as the big animal kicked its hind legs toward the sky. Gotta find the rhythm. The steer twisted and leapt. Nettie’s body snapped forward and back and flopped side to side. Every jump jolted her from her tailbone to her teeth. She fought to gain her seat on the back of this nearly half-ton of muscle and bone, hearing yells from the Model Ts parked around the corral. Where is my rhythm? The arena whirled around her. Choking dust rose from the ground.
     Nettie opened her eyes and saw nothing but blue sky.
     Jake leaned over her. “Honey, talk to me. You all right?”
     She blinked, wiggled her toes, clenched and unclenched her fingers. “Uh, yeah. How’d I get here?”
     Jake smoothed hair back from her face. “Well, little gal, I’m sorry to say, you got bucked off.”
     “Oh, fiddlesticks.” Nettie let out an exasperated sigh. She accepted a hand up, dusted herself off, and retrieved her hat. Why did she have to fail today, of all days, when her mother was here watching? Nettie gave herself a mental slap. I was daydreaming. I wasn’t focused on the ride. She tried not to limp as she exited the corral, rubbing her bruised hip and bemoaning her bruised ego.

     Mama and Papa met them outside the corral. “Oh honey, are you hurt?” Her mother reached out to gather Nettie in a hug. “That scared me.” Nettie looked over Mama’s shoulder to see concern etched in Papa’s weathered face. “No, no. I’m not hurt. This sort of thing happens.” She shook her head and made a wry smile. “I wanted to show you how well I could ride. But I just couldn’t find my rhythm. Sorry I scared everybody.”
     Mama sighed. “I know you’re a good rider, honey, but I still think rodeo is far too dangerous for women.”
     Biting her lip, Nettie glanced at Jake. Oh great. This is exactly what she’s been against ever since I was fourteen years old.
     “But you’re a married woman now.” Nettie’s mother gave her a wan smile. “And I know you’re following your dream.” She squeezed Nettie’s shoulder. “Just be careful, okay?”
     “All right, Mama, I will.” Nettie laughed. “See you later.” She and Jake walked back toward the chutes.
     “Hey there, Mr. and MISSUS Moser,” came a familiar voice.

     Nettie turned to see Marie Gibson and her husband, Tom. “Marie! Where’d you come from? I wasn’t expecting to see you today.” With a chortle of delight, she ran forward and embraced her friend. “I’m so glad to see you. Did you just get here?”
     Tom chuckled. “Just in time to see your spectacular spill.” He clapped Jake on the back. “How’re you doin’, old chap? Heard about you two eloping.”
     Nettie hung her head. “Oh dear. I’m sorry you had to see that. It wasn’t one of my better days.”
     Marie laughed and shook her brown curls under her tall-crowned hat. “Oh pshaw! If that’s the worst spill you ever take, you’ve got it made, girl. I could tell you stories all night long about my falls. Remember when I dislocated my knee at Madison Square Garden?” She tucked her hand under Nettie’s arm. “C’mon, let’s you and I go over to the cook tent and get us some coffee. I have something to tell you. See you guys later.” They left the men talking about the early warm spell and making plans for the rodeo season.
     Nettie glanced at the champion cowgirl from the corner of one eye. What kind of news could Marie possibly have that they would drive 150 miles from Havre to tell her? A baby? No, Marie’s kids were nearly grown and she still looked slim. Besides, they wouldn’t make that drive to a little informal neighborhood rodeo for that.

     At the tent, they poured themselves cups of steaming coffee. Nettie turned to her friend. “Well?”
     "I've been invited to go to London with Tex Austin's International Rodeo this spring." Marie blurted. Her face shone.
     For just a moment Nettie was filled with a great rush of longing. Oh, why couldn’t it be me? It was every rider's dream to go to the Invitational in Europe. Then delight for her friend replaced the envy. She turned to give her a hug. "Oh Marie, that’s so wonderful."
     Marie took Nettie by the shoulders. "And, there's more." She paused. "Tex heard something about this young woman rider from Montana and told me I could invite her to go.”
     Nettie tried to process the words, but they bounced, all jumbled, inside her head. Who would that be? She couldn’t think of anyone. Gosh, how lucky for whoever—
     “And,” Marie looked directly into her eyes. “I'm inviting you."
     “Me?” A wave of disbelief rolled over Nettie, leaving a roaring in her ears. She sat down on a log bench.

     "London?" She stared at Marie, the realization finally penetrating. "You’re inviting me to go to London?"