Josiah and Scarlett are spending a lot more time together, but things can't stay perfect for long. Josiah's about to have some real troubles at his own ranch. Vote in the poll below to decide what's going to happen next. Thanks for all the suggestions and believe me, Josiah will be doing more to regain Scarlett's friendship. The video will be up a little later this afternoon.
The next morning, bright and early, Josiah showed up at Starwood Acres in a sedan. We were finishing breakfast on the porch as he drove up. “What’s the car for?” Scarlett asked.
“Taking you girls to the fair,” Josiah replied. “It’s the Fourth of July. You can’t miss the rodeo on Fourth of July. It’s bad luck.”
Mom laughed. “I think we’ve had about as much bad luck as we can stand.” She pushed Scarlett’s wheelchair around to the ramp. Daddy had put it in when I was a kid after his grandmother stopped being able to go up and down stairs. Once in front of the car, she stopped the wheelchair. Scarlett pushed herself out of the chair and maneuvered herself into the car. Josiah helped her as much as she would let him, which wasn’t much.
“Where’s Teddy?” she asked after we’d all gotten in the car.
“He had a few things to take care of this morning. He’ll be coming down with Frank.”
The rest of the drive was quiet. Scarlett stared out the window, seeming to watch the land pass by. Mom and I sat in back. I glanced at Mom for a moment to see if she would start a conversation. But she merely shook her head and turned to look out the window. I was okay for maybe five minutes, then I couldn’t stand the silence anymore. “Don’t you ever listen to the radio?” I demanded. “If no one’s going to talk, we may as well listen to something.”
“Huh? Oh, sorry,” Josiah hit a button and suddenly loud scream-o rock filled the car. The windows buzzed as the bass vibrated through the car and I could swear my ears started to bleed.
“What on earth?”
“TURN THAT OFF!”
“Sorry!” He hit the button again and silence resumed.
“Is that what you normally listen to when you’re alone?” Scarlett asked. I could hear a note of amusement in her tone. In fact, I was pretty sure she was trying not to laugh.
“No,” Josiah retorted. “For your information I don’t normally listen to anything in the car.”
A grin pulled at my mouth as Scarlett turned to me, a mischievous smirk on her face. “Do you believe that, Blizz?”
“Well, it is what played when he turned the radio on.”
“This isn’t even my car!” Josiah argued.
Mom was getting into it too now. “We won’t judge if that’s what you like, although you might consider keeping the volume lower for your hearing’s sake.”
“I do not like or listen to that music! I didn’t even know it would start playing!”
Scarlett couldn’t hold it in any longer and started laughing which got the rest of us in giggles.
“Just what is so funny?” Josiah demanded.
“You are,” she giggled. “You haven’t changed one bit. Quick to jump to the defensive.”
“I do not,” he grumbled.
“Do too, but that’s okay.” Without warning she leaned over and kissed his cheek.
Mom and I exchanged a shocked glance. Scarlett seemed to realize what she had just done as Josiah stared at her. Her face went from pale to red in a matter of seconds and she cleared her throat and looked away. “You might want to watch the road, Josiah, before we end up in the ditch.”
He overcorrected and the car lurched as he pulled us back into our lane. Scarlett yelped. “Ow! You didn’t have to jerk, we weren’t that close to the ditch.”
“Well if you hadn’t distracted me we wouldn’t have been anywhere near it at all.”
Scarlett glared at him and then turned away.
Josiah looked like he wanted to kick himself, and I can’t say I blamed him. Scarlett had been friendly all morning, not even scowling at him. And he’d blown it. He pulled the car into the fairground parking and soon had it parked under a shade tree. He got Scarlett’s wheelchair out of the trunk and held it while she got herself situated. Then he pushed her while Mom and I walked behind them. We hadn’t gotten far when we heard cheering and saw the big welcome banner.
WELCOME BACK, SCARLETT JANNSEN!
GET BETTER SOON!
Scarlett’s eyes filled with tears as people we’d grown up around and some we didn’t know came to greet her. Teddy leaned over to give her a hug. “You old rascal,” Scarlett chided, though it didn’t sound much like a reprimand.
“Can’t let Joey have all the fun,” Teddy replied with a wink.
She laughed and we somehow picked our way through the crowd and to the arena. It was challenging to find a good spot for Scarlett to be able to get in her wheelchair and finally she said, “I’m not sure I’m in the mood to really watch the rodeo anyway. But I can manage on my own if you all want to watch.”
“I’ll take you around,” Josiah chimed.
“Me too!” I said. Much as I couldn’t say it aloud, rodeo had never really held my interest long.
Teddy and Mom decided they were going to stay and watch the show. “Did you take your pain meds this morning?”
“Yes, Mom,” Scarlett replied. “I’m fine.”
“You watch her, Joey,” Teddy said.
“Relax.” Josiah grinned and began pushing Scarlett’s wheelchair. He wound through the livestock pens so we could say hello to Skipperdeen and Winter’s Folly. “She is so beautiful and that filly is almost a spitting image of her. A little lighter in color, but she might darken up.”
“She might. It’ll be interesting to see how many of her babies Skipperdeen stamps. The only thing Winter’s Folly seemed to gain from her sire is being petite.”
Josiah laughed. “Maybe we should try Skipperdeen and Goliath together.”
“I thought you were going to sell him,” Scarlett said as we continued moving.
“Thought about it, but I couldn’t. He’s my best friend. Turns out having him around has been a big help on the ranch.”
Scarlett chuckled, “When he’s not stealing apples?”
I remained quiet and listened to them talk for a while. If I hadn’t witnessed them arguing before, I might have thought they were the cutest Western couple I’d ever seen. When we stopped for snow cones, Josiah noticed one of those carnival games. “Stay right here,” he said. “I’m going to go try my luck.”
“It’s not like I can really go anywhere,” Scarlett muttered as he strode away.
“Well, I could kidnap you if you wanted, but you seem to be enjoying your time with the Bear.”
“I’m being no more than friendly,” Scarlett retorted. Josiah isn’t the only one who jumps hastily to defense.
I was prevented from saying anything as a little girl ran past, knocking Scarlett’s arm. Her half-finished snow cone fell to the ground in a puddle of slushy goop. “Oops, sorry!” the girl tossed over her shoulder. She was dressed in pink from her hat and pigtails to her cowgirl boots.
“Phillipa Marie Maltisten, you come back here,” a stern voice called.
She immediately turned, looking for the voice. When she located him, she tried her best to look properly ashamed. I turned to see who she was looking at and saw an impossibly tall, red-headed man. I mean this guy made Josiah look short! He had to have been six seven in his stocking feet and was standing with his arms crossed. His freckles seemed out of place with the frown he wore as he looked down at his daughter. Yet, his brown eyes twinkled with barely hidden amusement as he said, “Phillipa, what have I told you about running off?”
“To not to.” She scraped the toe of her boot in the dirt.
“And now you’ve made this young lady drop her treat. You might have hurt her. What do you think you should say?”
“I said sorry.”
“Did she know you did?”
The girl turned startling blue eyes to us. “I sorry.”
“For?” he prompted.
“For making your snow fall.”
Scarlett smiled. “It’s okay. I was about done with it anyway.”
“Lucian! Did you find her?”
He stood and turned to a woman with the same blue eyes and golden hair as the little girl. “She’s fine, Moira. Just a little carried away.”
“Thank heavens.” She took Phillipa’s hand. “You, young lady, are going to keep a hold of my hand until we go. I still don’t see what possessed you to stop here, Lucian. We have fairs and tournaments enough at home.”
“But I likes the horsies, Mama!”
“Yes I know, you and your father both,” her mother replied, glaring at Lucian. He shrugged and grinned at her as they wandered away.
We watched them for a while and I couldn’t help but laugh a bit. “Pretty sure I did that to Mom and Dad at one of these fairs,” I said.
“One time they had everything shut down looking for me,” Scarlett remembered. “They found me in a stall with the cutest little palomino filly I’ve ever seen.”
Josiah returned with a huge stuffed horse in his arms. “For you, cowgirl,” he said, handing it to Scarlett.
“Are you trying to bribe me?” she asked, her tone half-serious.
He shrugged. “Maybe. What happened to your snow cone?” he asked, noticing the green stain in the dirt.
“An overzealous toddler.”
“Well, let’s get you another one and see what else there is around here.”
We continued wandering the vendor’s booths and being stopped by just about everyone. Amelia burst into tears upon seeing Scarlett and claimed she’d had ten years of her life scared off after Scarlett’s fall. “You call if there’s anything at all I can do for you. Would you like me to make a lap quilt for you to use with your wheelchair?”
“Amelia, that’s very kind of you, but the wheelchair is temporary. I don’t think it’s going to get cold soon enough to use one.”
“I’ll make you one anyway. Evenings can get chilly up here, you know.”
As we moved along, I did a little shopping too. There was a booth for model horse enthusiasts and I browsed around for a while. My collection had taken off in recent years and I’d made sure to bring some of my savings to get some new additions. While I was debating between a palomino quarter horse and a grullo mustang, I heard a girl say, “Ugh, can’t we go yet, Laney? It reeks of cow here.”
“Well, duh, it’s a rodeo. What did you expect?”
“But he wasn’t even there yesterday. What makes you think he’ll be wandering around today?”
The girl named Laney gasped. “Omigosh, it’s him!”
I heard Scarlett yelp and turned to see the girls rush past her, knocking her leg as they went. I put down the horses and went to Scarlett. “Are you okay?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she glared ferociously at the two girls who were now giggling all over Josiah. He seemed to be taking it all in stride, laughing with them and signing bits of paper they shoved at him. When he started writing on one of their shirts, Scarlett tried to turn the wheelchair around away from him.
“Hey, why don’t you help me decide on a new horse for my collection?” I asked her, pushing her where she’d been trying to go. “The palomino quarter or the grullo mustang?”
She took them from me and considered them for a moment, though I could tell she wasn’t really focused. “I’ve always been partial to those zebra stripes on the legs,” she said after a while. “But that palomino is sure pretty.”
“I could get it for you, if you want it.”
“Nah, I’ve got a palomino at home,” she replied. “Get the mustang. I’m going to go rest under that tree over there. It’s a bit too warm out here.”
I knew that wasn’t the real reason, but I said, “Sure. I’ll meet you there in a bit.” My heart ached as she rolled herself away. Part of me wanted to comfort her, remind her that they were just fan girls and wouldn’t always be around. But then I remembered the story Mom had told me. Scarlett had already seen this happen before and it hadn’t ended well for her. I was about to pay for my horse when Josiah came back. “Where’s Scarlett?”
“Under the tree avoiding you.” Seeing my sister hurt kind of brings out my nasty side.
His eyes narrowed and then he sighed, “Look, Blizzard, this is going to be an uphill climb for me no matter what. It would sure help if you weren’t pushing me back even farther than your sister.”
I have to admit he had a point. If he was ever going to patch things up with Scarlett, he had his work cut out for him. “I’m sorry, she was just really upset and that bothers me.”
“Rightfully so, well you being bothered. Nothing happened over there for her to get upset about.”
“That’s not what she thinks.”
“I never know what that girl thinks.” His eyes fell to the horse in my hands. “What are you doing?”
“Scarlett and I have always collected models. I’m getting a new one for my herd, if you must know.”
His eyebrow rose and he smirked. “Real ones aren’t enough?”
“A girl can never have too many horses,” I retorted, finally paying the vendor.
He shook his head and laughed, turning away from me. His laughter stopped as he picked up one of the horses. “No way.”
I looked over at the model. “That looks exactly like Zander. It even has the same back stockings he does!”
“That’s what I thought. How much is this?”
“Woah, cowboy, I know what you’re thinking and while the idea is great, the timing isn’t.”
“Well, what do you suggest? Today’s the last day of the fair.”
I thought for a minute. “Take the horse to Teddy so Scarlett doesn’t see it. I’ll take her over to the pavilion for some lunch. I’m sure I can come up with a good reason why you’re not here. But I suggest you save the mini-Zander for something really special.”
“Don’t suppose you have any ideas what that might be?”
“Nope, you’re going to have to figure that out on your own.”
The county fair ended with fireworks and singing and more fun than should be allowed in a single day. The next day brought Josiah back to the ranch early in the morning. He was a hard worker and never complained about the chores Scarlett gave him. I knew she was enjoying bossing him around, even if she wouldn’t admit it. Nothing was too much for him to handle and he took Scarlett’s criticism well, usually. Occasionally I heard arguments between the two of them which almost always ended with Scarlett saying, “This is my ranch.”
Each day Josiah did extra things as well. Our fence not only got repaired, but he stained and treated it so it would stay in good condition. He weeded out the garden in front of the Starwood Acres sign and added new plants to it, including two mini rosebushes, one with red blooms and the other white. He surprised us one morning with fresh made donuts from the diner and even took me out a few times in our old pickup for driving lessons. Several times he brought Scarlett little horse figurines for her collection, though the little Zander never appeared. Each one came with a card telling her what the horse’s name was and a little story. She liked them more than she let on.Things were going well for us and Scarlett actually seemed to look forward to Josiah coming. He routinely took her to her therapy sessions which always ended up longer than the ones Mom took her to.
One morning just before fall, the phone rang. Scarlett happened to be closest to it and picked up. “Starwood Acres, this is Scarlett. What? Are you sure?” There was a long pause and when she spoke again, her voice was low and sorrowful. “No, we’ll be fine today. Yes, I’m sure. Yeah, I’ll be over in fifteen minutes.” She put the phone back on the receiver. “Blizzard, grab your keys. We’re heading to the Double Rocking B.”
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius