I felt like fainting. Nathaniel drove us back to the hotel. Matt was doing a play by play of all the barrels he did expertly and how he didn't have any worries that Eagle could do the hardest hurdle. When it came to the routine, though, he launched into how it was all him. Nathaniel screeched to a halt in the parking lot and turned in his seat, a glare on his face I've never seen before. He pointed at Matt who leaned back a little.
"You didn't do jack shit!" he yelled. "It was Willow who figured out what to do when Flame went the wrong way! You just held onto her and do what she said! Don't try to fucking deny it!" he added when Matt opened his mouth. "I saw it! Aaron saw it! You give that woman the credit she deserves! You've been so damn focused on yourself you have no idea how hard this was for her! The world does not revolve around you so get your head out of your ass!"
He opened the driver's side door, slammed it shut, and stormed into the hotel, leaving us in stunned silence. I didn't know what to say so I got out, too, followed by my dad and Matt. We went up to the second floor but Nathaniel was in the bathroom taking a shower.
"You're just going to let him talk to me like that!?" Matt yelled, pointing at the bathroom door.
I didn't say anything. I just waited until Nathaniel came out and went in to wash off the makeup and copious amount of hairspray they had put me in. I changed into pajamas and got in bed next to Nathaniel. He had his back facing me and I stared at it for a few minutes before closing my eyes, still at a loss for words.
The next morning was the celebration of the winners. Matt and I were each given a large golden trophy and I beamed at it. We also each got a check for $500. We waved to everyone and walked out. By the time the ceremony was over, it was noon.
"Fuck staying another night," Matt snapped. "We're going home now."
"Aaron wants to stay another night," Nathaniel snapped back. "We're staying."
"It's okay, Nathan," my father said quietly. "We can go back now. It's not a big deal."
Nathaniel shook his head but didn't argue. He backed the truck up to the trailer and hopped out to help hitch it up.
The rotations were the same. The excited atmosphere was gone now, though. I was feeling like shit because of Matt and I tried to hide my tears. Nathaniel noticed, though, and he reached over to hold my hand. I looked at him but he was staring out the window.
"You guys did great," my dad said when he switched with Matt.
"Thanks," Matt said with a smile. "I never doubted that Eagle would do well on that last barrel. You really should do better at training Flame with it, Willow."
"Shut. The. Fuck. Up," Nathaniel snarled as I burst into audible tears.
Matt looked shocked that Nathaniel spoke to him like that. Nathaniel passed me some napkins and my dad was glaring openly at Matt. Matt just shrugged and went back to driving in that reckless way he always did. When I got myself under control, Nathaniel held my hand again.
He sat up with me when it was my turn again and took my phone. I frowned but he plugged it in and went to my Pandora. I laughed a little and he nodded.
"There you go," he said softly. "Keep that smile on your face, Willow. You deserve everything you got there."
"Thanks," I whispered.
I drove in silence for a few hours, tapping the steering wheel with my fingers to the beat of the songs. My father and Matt fell asleep when we were about two hours from the ranch but Nathaniel was still awake.
"Hey, Nathaniel?" I said and saw him look at me. "Thanks for standing up for me earlier."
"Of course," he said. "He's an asshole and I hope you never ride with him again."
"I don't plan on it," I promised. "You're right."
When we got back to the ranch, Nathaniel and I did most of the unloading. He got Flame into her stall without a problem and was attacked by a very happy Little Bit and my father passed a check to Dr. Mack before getting Eagle in his stall. Matt didn't say anything to us. He just took his trophy and his suitcase, put it in his truck, and sped off. I looked away, shaking my head.
"Are you guys hungry?" I asked when the three of us went up to the house.
"I'm always hungry," Nathaniel joked and I laughed.
"You two go shower and I'll get dinner ready," I said.
My dad paused before going up and pulled me into a tight hug.
"You did so great out there," he whispered and I hugged him back. "Nathan was right, baby. I'm very proud of you."
"I think I'm done with competitions, Dad," I whispered and he looked at me. "I can't do it anymore. Not without Spirit."
He nodded. "I understand, sweetheart." He kissed my forehead. "I'll go use my shower so we'll be down here faster."
"Okay," I said and started on making my chicken pasta.
I was almost done by the time Nathaniel came down the stairs, his hair still damp.
"Do you need any help?" he asked.
"If you could make sure the sauce thickens, that would be awesome," I said and he nodded happily.
"So, where are you going to put that sick ass trophy?"
I laughed. "I was thinking about putting it with the others but in the center."
"Why the center?" he asked, still stirring the sauce so it wouldn't burn."
"Because that was my last competition," I whispered.
He looked at me for a second before pouring the sauce in with the chicken and pasta.
"Because of Spirit?" he asked and I nodded. He gave me a one armed hug. "Dinner smells great."
I frowned. "Hey, Nathaniel?" I asked and he stopped, looking at me. "Can I call you Nathan?"
He laughed. "Of course you can. Is that why you've been calling me by my full name? Because you were waiting to ask for permission?"
I smiled and walked by him to set the table.
"No. I was calling you by your full name because we weren't friends before."
He smiled at me and I returned it.