"Mom, I'll fall on my face in these things," thirteen-year old Patty groaned, looking at her heel-clad feet.
"Nonsense," her mother replied. "It's just a matter of practice," she added, tapping Patty lightly on the back, a reminder to stand up straight.
Her memory was interupted by a male voice. "Patty Rains," the voice called her name, it was time.
Patty tried desperately to remember everything her mother had told her during the weeks of practice, "wish I'd paid more attention,," she thought as she rose and started across the floor to the judges table. "I may look poised and cool, but inside, I'm dying." Bringing herself back to the present, Patty tried to appear bright and smiling as she approached the judges table. "How do you do," she said and extended a hand to the nearest man, "I'm Patty Rains." Patty was introduced to each man and then took a seat.
The interview as nerve-wracking but Patty thought it went well, and was in a very good mood when she rose, smiling brightly, and started back to her table. Patty concentrated on everything her mother had told her as she walked slowly across the floor. Her back was straight, her shoulders were back, and her held was held high.
"Excuse me," the tall man, apologized as he bumped into Patty.
Unsteady as she was on the high-heels, Patty lost her balance and started to fall. She grabbed wildly for something solid to hold on to. Her hand grasped the man's shirt, but it didn't help. She ended up on the floor, holding a piece of the man's shirt and looking anything but queenly.
The man helped her to her feet and her mother and father helped her to the table. Patty knew every eye in the room was on her but no one laughed. She spent the rest of the evening sitting at the table, refusing to risk standing up.
"I'll always remember that sound," Patty said as she lay in bed trying to sleep. "Expensive shirts make an awful sound when they are being ripped to shreds." Patty shook her head slowly. "Terrible, just terrible," she mumbled as she finally fell into a fitful sleep.
The second day of her quest to be Miss Rodeo dawned bright and beautiful and Patty rose early. For the horsemanship trials, Patty dressed in jeans, boots and a faded-purple shirt. She looked at herself in the mirror and smiled. Her lanky frame looked much more comfortable in these familiar clothes.
"Your turn, Patty," Mrs. Day said, handing her the reins. "This is David just cue him and he'll do the rest." Patty truly hoped so, but after last night she didn't trust herself very much.
"I'll try, Mrs. Day," she said and mounted the big red horse. "At least this part should be fun," she thought, listening to the instructions carefully. Patty found that Mrs. Day was right, the chestnut giant moved expertly through the course, responding to each of Patty's cues to perfection. Relaxed and enjoying the ride, Patty was totally unprepared when disaster struck. The gentle left turn she had expected didn't come. Instead, David made a sudden rollback in the opposite direction. The spin left Patty sitting in the dirt and feeling very foolish. "This is a habit I'd like to break," she said, dusting herself off. "Twice in two days, what next?" She wasn't sure she wanted to know.
"What happened?" Mrs. Day asked taking the reins from Patty.
"I was hoping you knew," Patty replied. "I cued a left and he just spun out from under me." Patty rubbed the horse's head as she spoke. "I must have cued him wrong." She finally said.
Mrs. Day smiled. "Perhaps." She said. "But David has been known to test his riders in his own way."
Patty groaned. "Great, out done by a horse." She returned to the fence and watched as each of the other contestants had their turn. David didn't test any of them.
The judges had assured her that it was not her fault that Mr. Samuel's shirt had been ruined. Mrs. Day told her that her fall could have happened to anybody. Even so, Patty had been hard at work selling tickets to the rodeo. "I don't know if it's enough, Peggy," she said, rubbing the mare's neck, "but I sold a lot of them." Patty threw a flake of hay toward the mare. "Gotta go, girl," she said, caressing the velvet nose, "tonight they count these." She held the box of stubs close her. "Ticket sales count for fifty percent of the total score, and I need all the help I can get. Wish me luck girl." Peggy nickered softly. "Thanks, Peggy," Patty said. She turned off the light and ran to the house.
"You walk like you are wearing cowboy boots." Patty's mother smiled as her daughter clomped down the stairs.
"You look beautiful," her father said, pride swelling his chest.
Patty stood a little taller and walked gracefully across the floor. "Better, Mom?" She asked.
"Perfect," her mother replied. "Ready?"
"Ready." Patty replied and the three left for the auditorium.
The room was filled with contestants and their parents. There was a constant buzz as people talked. Patty carried her box of ticket stubs to the judges table and handed them to the judges. She turned to return to her parents and met Mr. Samuels. "Sorry about the shirt." She said. "I'll be glad to replace it."
"Nonsense." Mr. Samuels replied. "Should have been watching where I was going." Mr. Samuels smiled and extended his hand. "Good luck, Patty. You'd make a fine Rodeo Queen."
Patty took his hand and shook it. "Thank you, Mr. Samuels," she finally stammered. "Thank you very much." Patty was floating as she returned to her parents.
The counting continued for what seemed like hours. Patty picked at a plate of vegetables her father handed her and waited impatiently. Finally the head judge stood. "We have the totals now." He said and the room quieted.
"Danielle Wheeler, $500.00. Karen Stone, $400.00. Debbie Thomas, $425.00." The judge paused, looking again at his list. "Patty Rains," he finally continued. "$1,500.00."
Patty was stunned, that was more than the other three combined. "I can't believe it," she murmured.
"What's that do to the final standings?" her father asked.
"I'm coming to that. Let's see," Mr. Levinson said. "My, my," he added, "yes we have a clear winner here, Patty Rains." Patty took a breath, just in time.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur. Patty smiled and shook hands with everybody. She congratulated the runners up and had lots of pictures taken. Finally home, she fell into an exhausted sleep. It had been a very long, very exciting weekend.
Monday morning dawned a little cloudy. Whether Patty's mood reflected the weather or the weather reflected Patty's mood the result was the same. She was quiet and withdrawn for the whole week.
Patty's mom noticed this, but waited till Friday to confront her daughter. "What's the matter, dear?" She asked finally.
"Mom, is there something wrong with the way I am?" Patty asked. "I mean, I do sometimes feel different, not like the other girls. They're so pretty and neat. I mean, look at me, I'm a mess." She didn't mean to say that, but it slipped out, and so did a tear or two. "Mom, is there something wrong with being a tomboy?" She finally asked.
"Of course not dear. A tomboy is just a girl." She smiled at her daughter, "who is a little bolder and more fearless than other girls. Like you. A tomboy can make her own decisions when she has too, and she seems to enjoy life a little more, maybe because she is more involved with the doing and less with the watching."
"I do that?" Patty knew her mom as referring to her.
Her mom laughed. "Yes, you do. Sweetheart, just because you'd rather chase horses than boys, and win the race rather than let a boy beat you, doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. You're very special and when you get a little older you'll be glad the tomboy is there. That independent spirit will help you, don't let go of it. Okay?"
"Thanks, Mom," Patty said, throwing slender arms around her mother's neck. "I love you." She ran out the front door the screen banging shut behind her. It popped back open as Patty stuck her head in, "let's go, Mom, Dad's already in the truck." Then she was gone again. Her mom followed, shutting the door quietly and smiling to herself.
That night, still too wound up to sleep, Patty was in the barn talking to her horse. "It was fun today," she told the mare. "I guess growing up will be fun, too, but I think I'll wait as long as I can." The mare nudged Patty's shoulder gently. "Mom said, that the way I am will make it easier, but becoming a woman is kinda scary." Patty laid a pink sash across the mare's neck. "Rodeo Queen," she read, "but then maybe it will be worth it," she added and laid her head on the mare's shoulder. "Maybe it will be."