Without You

By: Kelly Elliott

Ten Years Old

I stood there and listened to my younger brother, Colt, complain about the girls playing football. I was ten, and my brother was nine, but right now, he was acting like a two-year-old.

“He’s just afraid we’re going to kick your butts,” my cousin Grace said as she folded her arms and stared my brother down.

Will walked up to me. “You can’t play, Alex. You’re a girl, and you could get hurt.”

I tried not to smile at Will’s sweet words. I rolled my eyes and turned away. I didn’t want Will to know I liked him.

Daddy smiled at Colt. “Colt, the girls are gonna play.”

Colt whined and then said to Grace, “Fine. But you’re not kicking our butts!”

After playing for a while, it seemed like Grace was going to be right. We were kicking their butts—that was, until my cousin Luke, Grace’s brother, tackled me and busted open my lip.

Will came running over and pushed Luke, causing him to fall. “You hurt her, you idiot!”

“William Hayes! You do not call people names. Say you’re sorry right this second.” Aunt Heather was standing there with her hands on her hips, looking down at Will, as she waited for him to apologize.

I quickly glanced between Aunt Heather and Uncle Josh. Will looked just like Uncle Josh. Both had wavy hair and the same smile—or at least, that was what my mom had said.

Aunt Heather and Uncle Josh—Libby and Will’s parents—weren’t really my aunt and uncle, but I called all my parents’ friends aunt and uncle. Aunt Amanda and Uncle Brad were Maegan and Taylor’s parents. Aunt Jessie and Uncle Scott were Lauren’s parents. Luke and Grace were my cousins, and their parents were my Uncle Jeff—my mom’s brother—and his wife, Aunt Ari. They were all really good friends, and someday, all us kids would be just as close and live in houses near each other just like our parents.

Will and I will be married, and we’ll have lots of kids while we run the ranch.

“What are you smiling about?”

I looked up at my mother, and my smile instantly faded. “Nothing, Mama. I just thought of something funny.”

She raised her eyebrow at me and then glanced at Will as he told Luke he was sorry. Both boys shook hands and then walked off toward Colt.

My mother looked back down at me and smiled as she squatted down. Making sure no one else could hear her, she whispered, “You have to admit, it was kind of cute how he came to your defense, wasn’t it?”

I smiled bigger and nodded. “Someday, Mama, I’m gonna marry Will.”

She made a funny face. “Is that right?”

I giggled. “He makes my tummy do funny things.”

“Your daddy makes my tummy feel the same way. But let’s keep our options open. After all, you are only ten.”

I grinned and nodded my head. “Okay, Mama, but I’m telling ya, he’s the one.”

I turned and headed over to Grace as I heard my mother say, “Oh Lord.”

I glanced over toward Will and smiled as I walked by. I couldn’t help but notice Luke watching Will and me.

Luke grabbed Will and said, “Come on, let’s go find a snake.”

Will winked at me before he turned and started running behind Luke and Colt.

Yep, I’m gonna marry that boy someday.

Seventeen Years Old

“Daddy, he’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”

I ran my hands down the leg of my new horse. He was breathtaking. I’d always wanted a paint horse, and I couldn’t believe my parents had gotten me one for my birthday.

Daddy smiled and shook his head. “Aunt Ari will train him with ground work and get him ready.”

My mouth dropped open. “No, Daddy, no. I want to train him.”

He let out a chuckle, and I placed my hands on my hips.

He lifted his hands. “Okay. If this is something you want to do, then by all means, you can do it but not alone. I want someone with you.”

I glanced over and looked at Will. After helping Daddy get Banjo out of the trailer, he had been leaning against the barn, watching everything.

I smiled. “I won’t be alone. Will can help me with the training.”

Will pushed off the barn and smiled back at me. “I’d love to help.”