It was a comfortable daytime routine; her days filled with soiled fingernails, dirty knees, the jingle of spurs, laughter, and music. It was perfect and normal and everything she needed to gradually come in to herself.

Time sped by quickly and mid-summer approached, leaving the days long, hot, windy. Austen spent as much time with Lawless as she could, exercising her around the ranch, training her to listen to her command, and grooming her. She was proud of her horse and honored by the responsibility of being her caretaker. Beyond the corrals and barns, manicured grass and barbed fence lines, Austen and Lawless ventured out into the unfamiliar lands to the west.

The sky had an unnatural way of shifting under the current of a Wyoming breeze. The wind, blustering through the evergreen branches, brought Austen back home to the sound of waves crashing on the sandy beaches of the Oregon coast. Between gusts which assaulted her ears with a deafening buffer came the clicking of grasshoppers in flight, of bees performing their sacred missions.

From astride Lawless, motionless in the moment, her eyes followed tiny black figures as they crossed the turbulent bleached grasses of the plains. The bluffs in the west marked a cascading blanket of sandstone and velvet. Sharp crags of sediment piled thickly together, concreted in time, a testament to generations of erosion. The spindled fingers of anchored tumbleweeds reached upward and out, rebelling against the unrelenting wind, clinging desperately to a solid, unmoving earth.

Cracks in the earth formed microcosms of great canyons. Their walls angular, their grassy cliffside an abrupt edge. Dusty green trees lined the ridges, denoting water, tributaries of a greater river nearly expelled of life. Cow-licked grass rushed to and fro under the pervading dominance of the wind. Austen felt she too would succumb to its tyranny if forced to marry the beast by lingering purposelessly in its shelterless domain. Fortunate was she that in the dry heat of evening the wind moved without chill, the force of which, when riding blindingly through gale of nature on the animal beneath her, she felt certain it had infiltrated her lungs and thus gave birth to the tempest locked away in her breast. A hurricane bouncing off cavern walls of the body left her gasping for air as if she were drowning.

Lawless would snort, exhausted from her battle against the invisible wall pushing against her bodily. To run against the wind was mutiny against nature, but to ride it like a wave within the ocean left horse and rider in flight, rushing faster and further from their home and the safety of the barn walls. Stranded thus under a blazing setting sun on a plateau of raging currents, Austen remained.

Comfortable in her saddle, she leaned back with arms outstretched and feet dangling freely from the stirrups. The land felt desolate, hard, and unforgiving, yet within moments of breath she felt welcomed as if returning home after a long journey away.

The energy of the prairie urged her on, cleansed her stagnant soul, forcing life into her apathetic bones. In the beginning the ferocity had frightened her. It required the purification of self; the letting go of all she thought she knew to be her truth. To relinquish that which she had held dear to her for so long, to release the bonds which held her fast to the insecurities of a lifetime of doubt and abused vulnerability, to accept freedom of spirit as it wafted in on the breeze seemed an impossibility. Yet, as each day of summer passed, so eager was she to seek out the morbid conditions of the plains that eventually the fear had subsided to addiction, to exhilaration, to liberation.

Her thoughts collided together, at times free of concern for her husband and at others consumed by it. She contemplated her place as his wife and how she had neglected the title and its responsibilities; the selfishness she harbored to safeguard her needs. Honest reflection uncovered the lies which encased her motivation behind supporting Jack during his times of trial and discovery. While speaking words of love and acceptance, beneath them dangled strings of reciprocity. If the violence of the wind would allow it, her head would have spent much of its time hanging in shame. An earnestness urged Austen to aspire to greater action. Time was a gift to her aching desires for change. Already she had grown, more than could be recognized by any who knew her at the ranch, but for the triumphant posture she adopted when striding into the barn yard to bring her steed home.

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