Part 2 - Chapter 11 - Horse Sense

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Standing beneath the largest tent I had ever seen, I studied the huge crowd of people. Most of them wore cowboy hats and boots, even the ladies. Fitting attire for a western barbecue. The punch bowl line where I stood inched forward.

Almost five weeks had passed since Trent's birthday. Five weeks since I'd seen Hailee. We texted each other occasionally, but it was meaningless small talk. I settled for following her frequent posts on her Instagram page, cringing when she put up photos of her and Brett Slade doing things together.

I had been honest with Hailee, told her what I thought about the politics of Hollywood. She also knew I had developed strong feelings for her, and she didn't discourage those feelings. That kept me hopeful, but with Brett in the picture, I couldn't figure a way to make opportunities for us to grow closer.

The guy in line in front of me handed over the ladle for the punch. I filled two plastic cups and made my way back to the picnic table.

"Thank you," Rosalita Torres said as I set one of the cups in front of her.

I took a seat beside the Latina girl who reminded me a lot of Selena Gomez. As blind dates went, Jacko and Ginger did me a solid by pairing me up with this pretty girl. I needed to get Hailee out of my mind for at least this one evening. I owed it to Rosalita to focus solely on her and try to show her a good time.

I glanced across the table at the empty seats and wondered where my brother and his girlfriend disappeared to? A little while ago, the two of them excused themselves saying they would be right back. They never returned. Had they conspired to give me time alone with Rosalita? Bad move because it was backfiring. I needed their conversational support.

I chewed on a piece of steak, trying to think of something witty to say and came up empty. Lacking in wit, I groped around for anything meaningful to talk about. Rosalita told me she had just graduated from high school, making her only a year younger than me. A good match up.

I glanced around hoping to notice something to inspire conversation.

The long picnic tables were filled with people. Powerful fans kept the hot early-evening air moving under the behemoth canvas tent.

"How many years has the Simonds family been holding the barbecue?" I tried.

Rosalita used her steak knife to strip corn from a cob. "Don't know. My dad's worked on the ranch since before I was born. I've been coming to this picnic as long as I can remember."

"It's my first time." But she already knew that. I winced at my inability to entertain her. I couldn't understand myself. Conversation had come so easily with Hailee who should have been way more intimidating than this girl. Why did I feel so helpless here?

Returning to my steak, I took a few bites, I studied Rosalita while she ate.

She noticed me watching and set down her fork. "Ginger didn't tell me what you do. Where do you work?"

Grateful that she decided to take the lead, I said, "I'm a contract bodyguard."

That should've inspired her to ask follow-up questions, but she went silent.

Oh, man, I was really striking out.

Just then, Ginger slid into the seat across from us. She appeared flushed and gulped air.

I set down my utensils. "What's wrong?"

She glanced between me and Rosalita before dropping her gaze to the tabletop. "Jacko and I just had a fight." When she lifted her head, her eyes were rimmed with tears.

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