Well Tended, a novel by Teddy Jones
When Cheryl Magee and Ryder Sheldon meet at a college dance in 1996, neither hopes for romance. The past two years challenged and scarred them both. They are just beginning to be able to see their dreams as possible. She aims to be an outstanding nurse, even though she carries shame about her unplanned pregnancy at fifteen and her mother’s refusal to accept her. He sees his future as a professional rodeo cowboy even though it took his father’s death to open the way. Although their attraction is strong, they’re cautious.
Four years later, he knows her secret and she understands and agrees with his dream and they have one in common, to make a life together. Her mother’s deathbed refusal to forgive her stirs all of Cheryl’s underlying insecurities and threatens their early marriage. All they can do is work, hoping to save enough money to own the home and a rodeo stock operation Ryder chooses as a better goal than the pro circuit. Drought and a job Ryder grows to hate make success seem improbable. They drift to separate paths, connecting only for meals and a shared bed where even sex becomes infrequent. And when apathy seems their destiny, things turn even worse. Ryder’s horse has to be destroyed; without him he will lose his job. Lies and infidelity and a pregnancy scare seem sure to cause permanent damage. She can’t imagine herself a mother, and certainly not if a baby might not belong to Ryder. The drifting they never speak of continues.
Cheryl’s injury at the hands of an inmate at the prison where she works makes them both realize they love and need one another. Even so, their dreams of a home and ranch business are impossible due to finances and drought. Those problems take a backseat to their shared fear when Ryder’s Uncle Butch lies near death. Cheryl nurses him, and eventually returns to the prison job she dislikes, made tolerable now by having Butch and his dog waiting for her each day on her return home. Uncle Butch makes them an offer that brightens the possibilities of their future, not only as a couple, but also as a sort of family. Perhaps they can find a way, together, to achieve their dreams.