• Published 21st Aug 2021
  • 774 Views, 99 Comments

Letting Go Of The Reins - applebatofalltrades

Applejack's rodeo career takes a turn. She must learn to adapt to her new life and the challenges that come with it.

  • ...

It's About Time

Thistle shut the door behind him gently and took off his hat with his right hand, not taking his eyes off of Applejack.

All eyes were on her as she put her burger down and looked around at her family. “Uh, Thistle what are you doin’ here?”

Big Mac was the first to look back at Thistle, his eyes squinted as if he were trying to figure something out. Thistle simply held his hat by the crown at his side and stayed near the shut door. “You told me to come by today for our, err…”

Applejack cursed under her breath, then out loud. “Shit, I did. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinkin’ when I told you to come today.” She shook her head and looked back at the rest of her family, who were all glancing at Thistle. Fritter seemed particularly interested, though she had the same thoughtful look in her eyes as Big Macintosh. “Uh, well, I guess now’s a good a time as any. Thistle, this is my family. And, y’all, this is Thistle Thorn. He’s my, uh, friend.”

“Just Thistle’s fine,” he said with a nod to everyone in the room. “Pleasure to meet y’all.”

Apple Bloom raised her eyebrows before grinning coyly. “Oh, so you’re the guy Applejack’s told me about.”

Apple Bloom,” Applejack hissed as the younger girl snickered. “Yes, this is him. Now I’d appreciate it if you’d keep all your teasin’ to yourself.”

Apple Bloom motioned zipping her mouth shut, but the slight nudge to Apple Fritter, who half-smiled in response. The green-haired girl squinted at Thistle. “Y’know, I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere.”

Thistle cocked his head, but before he could say anything, Applejack chimed in, “He’s a right cowboy, you mighta seen him on the circuit. Bareback and team ropin’.”

Big Mac stepped up to Thistle and extended his hand to him. The ginger stood quite a bit taller than Thistle, but Thistle didn’t seem intimidated by his size as he gave him a stern handshake.

“I haven’t seen you much ‘round the circuit,” Big Mac said as they shook hands. “You new?”

“Naw, I suppose we haven’t run into each other much, is all,” Thistle replied with a friendly smile. “Probably run in different circuits or somethin’I’ve definitely heard ‘bout you, though. You’re a great bull rider, and I envy your bulldoggin’. I ain’t nearly as brave as you.”

“Oh! I got it!” Apple Fritter yelled before Big Mac even had a chance to respond, pointing at Thistle. The pair of men turned to her in surprise as she snapped her fingers. “You race chuckwagons!”

“Chuckwagons?” Applejack couldn’t help the amused smile that crept onto her face. “You didn’t mention that.”

Thistle put the hat back on his head and gave a crooked smile. “Well, ya see, the ladies ain’t usually too impressed when I tell ‘em I race chucks…”

“I wonder why,” Applejack joked. She thought chuckwagon racing was a little silly, but it was fun to watch. That was all that really mattered. “Uh, but… Well I guess you kinda know everyone already. Other than my Granny Smith.” She gestured to Granny, who seemed to study Thistle.

“What exactly are your intentions with my granddaughter?”

Applejack wanted to disappear.

Thistle, God bless him, was all too calm given the circumstances. “Ah, nothin’ to worry about, ma’am. I’m just a friend bringin’ Applejack here some lunch. We seem to have… miscommunicated the dates, though, but I’m glad to finally meet y’all.”

“Just a friend, hm?” Granny looked at him sternly, but he didn’t waver, instead keeping his slight, respectful smile. She seemed satisfied enough. “You’d better hope it ain’t nothin’! Li’l Applejack’s never been much of an outgoin’ gal, so you best not be gallivantin’ all ‘round her.”

“Granny,” Applejack shot in, “I ain’t a little kid. Look, I just ran into him once by accident and we got to talkin’. I get you’re just doin’ what you’re supposed to, but trust me. Thistle’s a good guy and I’m a grown woman.”

Granny mumbled something about Applejack not being grown just yet, but the blonde decided not to argue with her grandmother about it.

“Aw, well I try,” Thistle said with a shy smile. “But I see y’all have already got the food thing covered so…”

“Ah, phooey. I’ll take my granddaughter’s word on you, boy.” Granny motioned for him to come closer. “Any friend of Applejack’s is welcome to stay. Now, we ain’t got any more burgers for you but if ya want you can eat whatever it is you brought.”

Thistle glanced down at his bag. “Oh, uh, I dunno if it’s right for the occasion. And I certainly don’t wanna intrude on your sister’s, uh, birthday.”

Applejack waved her hand and wheeled a little closer to him, putting one of the burgers on her lap. “I’m sorry I messed up the dates, but if you wanna stay, you can have one of my burgers. I, uh, I ain’t really that hungry, anyway.” She noticed Big Mac straighten his neck slightly in surprise.

“Oh, I dunno…” Thistle glanced at Applejack as he hesitantly took the burger. “Feels like I’m intrudin’. I can always come back some other time.”

“Up to you, but I’d like it if you stayed,” Applejack told him before blushing and turning to Apple Bloom. “If that’s alright with you, ‘course.”

“More than alright with me,” Apple Bloom said coyly. She glanced between them. “My name’s Apple Bloom, if Applejack hasn’t told you already, and it’s my birthday. I’m fifteen now!”

Thistle grinned. “Well, happy birthday then. And sure, I’ll stay for the birthday girl, though it might be a little crowded here.”

“Ah it’s alright.” Apple Bloom scooted over until she was practically pressed up against Fritter. “Just sit on the bed with us! And I’ll take whatever you got in that bag as a birthday gift.”

“Don’t be rude, Bloom,” Big Mac chastised her.

Thistle laughed and shook his head. “Ah, it’s okay. She’s feisty, that’s good! It’s probably for the best, anyway. I hope ya like ribs.”

Apple Bloom took the bag that Thistle offered to her with a grin and placed it next to her. “I love ribs!”

Applejack watched with amusement as Thistle took a seat next to Apple Bloom, who barely reached past his shoulders even when sitting. She unwrapped her burger and finally started eating as idle chatter filled the room.

Eventually, not long after everyone had finished their food, there was another knock on the door. Applejack put her hand on her pocket and realized she forgot to give Apple Bloom the lollipop.

Rain entered the room with a smile. “Hey, I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” He blinked in surprise. “Wow, full house today.”

Apple Bloom shot out of bed and ran to Rain, nearly running Big Mac over in the process. “Rain! You came to wish me a happy birthday, didn’t ya?”

“Sure did!” Rain laughed as Apple Bloom gave him a hug. “You can thank your sister for that. She made sure I came to say hi.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Took a lot of convincin’. Nearly cost me an arm and a leg.”

“I told her to keep her limbs intact,” Rain defended, putting his hands up. “In the end, she just had to tell me that I’d get to see my favourite patient.”

“He means you, sugarcube,” Applejack told Apple Bloom in a stage whisper. “Apparently, you beat me at my own game.”

Apple Bloom smiled smugly.

“Did she give you your lollipop?” Rain looked at Applejack who very slightly shook her head.

At the rate at which Apple Bloom turned her head, Applejack was surprised that she didn’t give herself whiplash. Her hat almost flew clean off her head and if it hadn’t been for the elastic holding it snug, it would have. “What?! No!”

Applejack pulled out the aforementioned lollipop and handed it to Apple Bloom. “Sorry, I forgot.”

“It sure is nice to see ya, Rain,” Granny Smith said while Big Mac nodded in agreement. “Applejack hasn’t been givin’ you trouble, I hope.”

“No, she’s been great,” Rain promised. “I’m not at all worried about her adjustment period when she gets out, she’s doing great in our sessions.”

Thistle cleared his throat and glanced at Rain. “Sorry, partner. We haven’t been formally introduced.”

Rain turned to face Thistle. “Oh, hello. Are you a friend of Applejack’s?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Thistle replied. “Name’s Thistle. So you’re, what, her physiotherapist?”

“That’s right. I’m Rain.” He extended a hand, which Thistle didn’t hesitate in shaking. “Oh, you’ve got a strong grip.”

Thistle grinned. “Comes with the profession. Say, I’ve been healin’ up a shoulder injury, but I still get pretty sore trying to lasso more than a couple times in a row. Any advice?”

The two guys started talking amongst themselves, so Applejack turned her attention away from them and turned back toward her desk, though she didn’t really have anything to look at. She was glad to see them get along, though she hoped that Rain didn’t mind Thistle bugging him. While she thought about it, Apple Fritter had come up next to her and crouched down closer to her height.

“Y’know, cuz,” she half-whispered, “I, uh, I did ask Strawberry if she wanted to come.”

Applejack bit back a frown. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to talk about her. “Did you?”

“Uh-huh.” Apple Fritter adjusted her weight and shook her head. “She said she didn’t wanna make things weird for Apple Bloom.”

For some reason, Applejack felt a twinge of disappointment. “Oh, yeah I suppose that makes sense.”

“Sure…” Apple Fritter brought a hand to one of her pigtails and ran her fingers through the dyed green locks. “C’mon, she’s just bullshittin’.”

Applejack blinked in surprise at Fritter’s cuss. She wasn’t usually the type to curse, but the way it came out so nonchalantly was almost concerning. “Well, you weren’t really expectin’ her to want to see me, were ya?” Applejack half-smiled, joining her hands together to fidget with her ring. “I’m sure you heard ‘bout our fight.”

“I… Yeah, I did.” Apple Fritter looked at her sadly. Her eyebrows turned upward in an almost pathetic manner. “She told me all about it. I was real sorry to hear it, too, cuz.”

“Hm, she told you ‘bout it?” Applejack scoffed. “Can’t imagine what she said.”

To her surprise, Apple Fritter looked at her with disappointment. “Seriously? Even after that, you’re still just gon’ assume the worst from her?”

“I…” Applejack was at a loss for words.

“Well… I was really hopin’ y’all could work things out. I know how much it meant to her.”

How much it meant to her? Applejack squinted. “What do you mean?”

Even though it wasn’t the intention, that got Apple Fritter to smile in amusement despite her thinly veiled disappointment. “Well, ain’t it obvious? She’d really wanted to make things right. It woulda meant a lot to her.” Fritter’s lip twitched and dropped back to a frown. “She’d tell me that all the time. Y’know, she’d never stop talkin’ about you. Even when all you’d do was be pissed off at her. It was always ‘Applejack, Applejack, Applejack.’ Ever since we were kids, actually.”

Perhaps out of pure embarrassment, Applejack felt her cheeks warm up. She wasn’t used to hearing that sort of thing. “Really?”

“C’mon, cuz. Ya really didn’t notice?” Fritter furrowed her eyebrows. “I mean, even when y’all were friends, all she’d ever wanna talk about is how cool she thought you were, and how much of a good rider you were.” It seemed Fritter was enjoying the memory far too much as a half-grin crept up to her face. “I didn’t even live ‘round here and I noticed that.”

“I guess I ain’t the observant type,” Applejack murmured. “But that don’t mean anything right now. She… Well, I don’t have to worry ‘bout her anymore. That’s what I wanted. I’m a mite bit sorry it had to happen like that, but…” She didn’t know what to add to that sentence, so she let the thought linger. It was what she wanted.

Fritter didn’t seem sure as to what to say, either. “But, uh, she hopes that you’re doin’ alright. There’s that. And she’s been doin’ a great job with Barley.”

At the mention of her horse, Applejack frowned and looked away. Barley had been with her for so many years, ever since her dad had bought him for her when she turned thirteen. She was only turning twenty in a month but she was already past her prime. On the other hand, Barley was still in his prime. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. He deserved better.

Barley had so many years ahead of him. He was only eleven, after all. He was a great horse with the right rider. Really responsive and knew exactly what to do for any event that Applejack signed up for, and he was an equally good working horse. Barley had so much talent and potential. What use was it to keep a horse like that if Applejack couldn’t ride him like he deserved? It wasn’t enough for Strawberry to simply keep working him. That wasn’t fair to him or to her. It wasn’t her job. And it was frustrating that even despite their fight, Strawberry got to be the bigger person. She was always the bigger person.

“Applejack.” Fritter prodded her in the arm. “Cuz?”

Applejack looked back at her and shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Ah, sorry, Fritter. I’ve just been a little distracted lately.” She gave her cousin a well-practiced smile. “Well, I guess I’m glad that someone’s been able to work Barley. He still being difficult?”

Fritter nodded. “Yeah, just about tried to buck Big Mac off of him the other day.” She chuckled despite that. “Y’know, maybe he coulda been a good bronc.”

The idea of Barley as a bronc made Applejack feel almost a little sick. “Yeah, maybe…”

Her tone wiped Fritter’s smile clean off her face. “Oh, I’m sorry, cuz… I–I didn’t mean… Well…”

“Hey, it’s fine.” Applejack managed to smile for her again. “No use gettin’ upset on Bloom’s birthday, right?”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Fritter leaned on the desk and propped her head up on her hand. “So, tell me ‘bout that guy over there.” She looked over Applejack’s shoulder and wiggled her eyebrows.

Applejack glanced to her side at Thistle, who caught her eye and gave a bit of a smirk. Applejack huffed in amusement and looked back to Fritter. “There’s nothin’ to say that I haven’t already said.”

“What, that he’s your friend?” Fritter raised an eyebrow. “C’mon, cuz, you’re tellin’ me that he’s just a friend. The first guy you’ve ever shown interest in at all.”

“Yup.” Applejack glanced at Thistle again, who had turned to talk to Apple Bloom instead. She wasn’t… lying. They had agreed on a date, but she wasn’t exactly sure if she liked him any more than a friend yet. Wasn’t that how it worked, anyway?

“Sure, and this friend of yours just happens to show up today with dinner,” Apple Fritter added, “thinkin’ that we wouldn’t be here? Heck, you invited him here assumin’ you’d be all alone.”

Okay, maybe she had a point, but not in the way she thought she did. “Fine, alright.” Applejack dropped her voice to a whisper. “Look, I agreed to go on a date with him, but I can’t go anywhere right now so he said he’d bring me dinner. I told him to come today, but I guess I musta forgotten what day today was,” she explained, keeping a careful watch on Fritter’s visibly rising excitement. “And before ya get all jumpy, I’m askin’ ya to keep it to yourself for now, okay? You know how Mac would get, and Granny’d never shut up ‘bout it.”

Fritter nodded, yet her wide grin spanned from ear to ear. “Okay, okay, I’ll hush up ‘bout it, but ya gotta tell me everything! I mean, I’ve never seen you actually talk to a guy or nothin’ like that. He must be pretty special.”

“He’s nice,” Applejack told her. “I accidentally bumped into him my first week here. He recognized me from the circuit, but I think he wanted to give me a chance to introduce myself first.” Applejack couldn’t help the way her mouth curved upwards slightly. “And, uh, well I like that he doesn’t care that I’m… y’know.”

“That’s good,” Fritter responded with a genuine grin, not one born from teasing. “And, y’know, if you ever need any advice on the whole boy thing, you can just ask me, cuz!”

Applejack couldn’t help the snort that escaped her. “Yeah? Whaddya know ‘bout it?”

“More than you, cuz,” Fritter pointed out with a hint of sarcasm. “I actually like boys. Plus, Rusty and I are goin’ pretty well. He’s comin’ over next week to visit me and everything.”

Unfortunately, Apple Fritter did have a point. She did know more about the whole subject than Applejack could even pretend to know. And if she and Rusty were still making it work despite being ‘long-distance’, then maybe Apple Fritter did know more than Applejack wanted to give her credit for.

She shrugged. “Sure, I guess,” she said, glancing at Thistle again. That time, he and Rain were seemingly intensely listening to something Apple Bloom was saying while Granny passively nodded. Big Mac, interestingly enough, had at some point left the room.

“Great!” Fritter exclaimed in a stage whisper. “I gotta say, it’s about time you found a guy to get involved with, cuz. And a guy like Thistle, too?” She gave Applejack a friendly elbow to the arm. “Talk about eye candy.”

Applejack blushed and smacked her cousin in the arm. “Oh, hush! Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“Yeah, but I’ve got eyes, too,” Fritter said matter-of-factly. “I’ll leave him to you.”

At that, Applejack could only shake her head dismissively and turn to face the rest of the room. Thankfully, it wasn’t a strange occurrence for Applejack to separate herself from a group and choose one person to talk to, so no one really seemed to mind when she did it. Instead, Apple Bloom looked at her for a moment to acknowledge her presence but went right back on to talk about some group project or other she had at school.

Fritter reclaimed her spot on the bed and tuned into Apple Bloom’s tangent. Applejack, however, couldn’t seem to get herself to focus on her sister’s words. Instead, Apple Fritter’s words bounced around in her head. She was right. Applejack was on the edge of twenty and she’d never once even shown interest in a guy, not that she did it on purpose. It was just hard to talk to people, and most guys were insincere and only looking to get in her pants.

Not all of them, though. Maybe she’d been too quick to judge, too hasty to distance herself from others. It wasn’t fair to assume the worst. Did it really take her twenty years to learn that lesson? If she’d known sooner, would she have found someone earlier? Maybe she would have met Thistle before her life went to shit. Or maybe she would have met someone else.

If she wanted to really dig deep and that far back, maybe she could have even avoided everything that happened with Strawberry. She wasn’t sure if that could ever be fixed, but did she want it to be? She got what she wanted. She wanted Strawberry to leave her alone. That’s what she wanted, and she got it. But still, maybe there was an easier way that she could have gone about it.

Thistle. Maybe Thistle would have known, had she met him sooner. He said he knew about her beforehand, and it seemed like he was at least a recognizable face to the rest of her family. There was definitely a chance that they could have met.

That didn’t matter, though. There was no use in dwelling on potential circumstances. What mattered is that she had finally met him, and it was about time, too. Everyone had always expected Applejack to find a guy to be with, after all. It might have been easy, too. She wasn’t exactly unattractive—she considered herself to be half-decent—and she was really good at what she did. Heck, if she had put herself out there earlier, then she definitely would have found a guy.

That was what she needed to do at some point. Maybe it just took her a little longer than it should have. She lived on a family ranch, after all. It was only a matter of time. It was common for the people in her family to all live together on their acreages, spouses and children and aunts and uncles. It was the way it was, and the way it always had been. You grow up, you find someone to marry, you have kids (if you can), and you help your family out.

Even those Apples who don’t stay on their acreage still stay a part of it. The Apples in the city attended the reunions when possible, and they even sent out the kids to different branches of the family in the summer. The Apples in faraway parts of the world stayed in touch and visited when possible. The Apples were kin, and kin always stuck together.

Applejack loved contributing to the family. She loved helping out, she loved working her hardest on the ranch. She taught the young ones everything they needed to know about anything they wanted to know that she could teach them. She used her money for the family, she used her time for the family. She put her everything into giving back to the people that raised her to be the person she was.

There was an aspect she always put off to the side, though, and she worked herself hard enough to have an excuse not to think about it. She had never thought about adding to the family, even with just a partner. People—boys—outside the family were never her priority. The ranch was. Not boys. Never boys.

But, she figured, things changed. There was no could have, there was no would have, only should have and did. Applejack looked at Thistle once more. It surprised her to notice him already looking at her. He shifted his expression into a smile after locking eyes with her. It was a stupid smile, a nice smile. One that felt safe. One that felt like it should have been there the whole time. It fit right in and it was all Applejack could do not to goofily smile back at him.

In all honesty, Applejack was still unsure about how she felt, but to be fair, it was new. Everything about her life felt new. It was new. But Thistle was nice, and if there was anyone that Applejack should know how to feel about, it was him. He was what Applejack had always heard girls talk about wanting in a guy. He was tall, he was good-looking, and he was nice. And he was a cowboy. That meant he had something in common with Applejack. They shared a passion, which would make things easier.

So maybe she could just make a decision. She should just make a decision. Applejack let herself smile back at him and it felt like the first right decision she’d made in a while.

Author's Note:

And that’s the part two to Apple Bloom’s birthday! Yippee! She’s fifteen now! And has a hundred bucks and a lollipop (and who knows what else). Thistle finally meets the family, and we find out he also races chucks! If you don’t know what chuckwagon racing is, you should go check it out, it’s quite amusing (and a little bit controversial).

Applejack has some big thoughts at the end there. She’s a big thinker, ain’t she? Crazy how her mind works.

On a separate note, below (for those of you who actually look at the entire A/N), you’ll notice that there are two different foundations linked at the end this time. You’ll also notice that there are now four linked on my front page. I wanted to include these two down below for a reason. Number one: shit happens in rodeo. I don’t shy away from that in this story (clearly) but it is unfortunately a very real part of rodeo. Both of these foundations focus on helping members of the rodeo community that get injured and may need any type of assistance. The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund is special in that all of the money they raise goes toward the people they’re helping. I chose this one not only because of that, but because I own a pair of Justin boots, and I thought it was very cool what they’re doing.

Number two: The WSF isn’t only a charity for the sake of giving members of the rodeo community money, but for other types of help in general. You’ll find that a big part of this story focuses not only on the physical struggles that Applejack may have, but on other ones, such as mental, monetary, or emotional struggles. I wanted to also put focus on a foundation that prioritizes these needs. Like the Ty Pozzobon Foundation, the WSF has a focus on prioritizing mental health and wellness, as well as physical recovery.

I will be alternating between these four foundations in each author’s note from now on. Even if one person learns of their existence, that is enough for me.

Check out these foundations:

The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund provides need-based financial assistance to athletes injured through their participation in professional rodeo.

With no guaranteed salaries or injured reserve provisions in the sport of rodeo, these professional athletes are often left with no place to turn when faced with serious, sidelining injuries and the accompanying financial hardship. Recognizing that serious injuries can be traumatic enough without the additional burden of financial worries, the Justin Boot Company formed a partnership with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) to establish the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund (JCCF).

The Western Sports Foundation provides medical, life counseling and financial resources to meet immediate needs and prepare athletes for life beyond competition.

Western Sports Foundation comes from a long tradition of caring for athletes and their families. Formerly known as the Rider Relief Fund and founded in 1998 following Jerome Davis’ career-ending fall and injury while bull-riding, Western Sports Foundation continues to attract and receive philanthropic support from thousands of friends, fans, sponsors and participants in and around Western Lifestyle Sports.