Readers, I know I've been promising forever, but today it's finally here! The second chapter to The Sheriff and Mrs. Jannsen! So sorry to be so slow. If it's been so long you don't remember the first chapter, you can read it here. Don't forget to comment below with where you think the story should go next! The next chapter will come out next Friday (January 6) and then we'll go back to a two-week schedule for chapters.
Blizzard never was one to sit still. As the months followed Scarlett’s wedding, I could see my younger daughter becoming restless. After her sighing about how lonely and boring Starwood was without Scarlett, I suggested she find some sort of project to occupy her time. Josiah jumped on the bandwagon during one of his weekends working at the ranch and said, “Blizz, I bet you’d have a lot of fun putting together a harvest party.”
“A harvest party?” she repeated, her teal eyes intrigued and suspicious at the same time.
“Yeah. They’re real popular this time of year. We’ve got a great corn crop this year. Maybe you could arrange a corn husking and a corn maze, your barn is the perfect size for a harvest ball. And I for one know that Scarlett would never be able to resist that.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve got rope.”
Blizzard giggled and I said, “Wait a minute, Josiah, you are absolutely not tying my daughter up.”
He laughed, his brown eyes twinkling. “Don’t worry, Mom, I don’t think I’ll have to.”
“This will be so much fun. What do you think, Mom?”
I hesitated. As fun as that sounded, it also sounded like an awful lot of work and even more people at the ranch. “Well, if you can keep up with your schoolwork and 4-H responsibilities, I suppose it would be all right.”
You’d have thought I’d just given her the keys to a brand-new truck with how her face glowed. “Thanks, Mom! This is going to be the absolute best harvest party ever!”
Blizzard spent the next few weeks in a flurry of activity. She enlisted Scarlett’s help making invitations and Josiah was put to work with some of the other hands setting up the corn maze. When she wasn’t working on the party, she was talking about it. Somehow she did keep up with her chores, though I suspect a certain brother-in-law might have been responsible for some of that. And she managed not to neglect our three puppies too badly. Mclintock didn’t mind her being busy as he’s definitely my boy. But Rooster and Cogburn did not appreciate her new-found project. The Scotties would follow after her, whining and yipping for her attention. To her credit, she would always stop to play with them for a bit. As invitations went out, I wondered what the response would be. I’ve never really been one for entertaining. I guess I stay too busy with work to bother much with it. But Blizzard is my social butterfly. She loves to be the center of attention, probably good since she has dreams of being a country singer.
The day before her harvest party, Franky came in with a smile on his tanned face and his hat clutched in his hands. “Hey Blizz, how’re things goin’?”
“Great! I’ve heard from almost everyone at the high school. They’re all coming! I can’t wait!”
“Is there something you needed Franky?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I wondered if I could get off a little early tonight.”
“Any special reason?”
“Well, Brother Cairn called and my appointment with President Schafer has been moved up an hour. I’d rather not smell like horse at my final interview.”
“Wimp,” Blizzard teased.
“Hey, this is the last one before my mission papers get sent in. Better to make a good impression.”
I laughed. “That’s fine, Franky. Why don’t you take off at three tonight?”
“I don’t need that much time,” he mumbled.
“But it won’t hurt anything either. Go on. We’ve got enough people here to help out with everything. You deserve a break.”
“You’re going to tell us first when you get your call, right?” Blizzard asked.
“Nope. Teddy’s got first dibs.”
Blizzard tried to pout and failed.
“But you’ll definitely hear second,” he added.
She gave a dramatic sigh. “I suppose that’ll be good enough.”
“Better be, cowgirl,” Franky replied, tweaking one of her curls. He laughed as her cheeks flushed and said, “I better get busy if I’m going to get all my chores done before quittin’ time. Thanks, Mrs. Jannsen.” He tipped his head and walked out the door.
Blizzard watched him go before turning her attention back to the scarecrows she was stuffing. I could have teased her about it, but I didn’t. Instead I said, “I’m going to be in the office for a while. If anyone stops by or calls, you know the drill.”
“Yep. I say, ‘Thank goodness you’re here! My mom’s been kidnapped and I’m trying to raise a million dollars for ransom. Would you like to make a donation?’”
She laughed. “Just teasing you, Mom. I’ll make up a much better story.”
Isn’t it funny how the more irritated you get with your teenage children, the more amused they become? Blizzard just laughed some more. “Come on, Mom, it’s not like this is the first time I’ve been in charge of the house. Go get your work done already.”
I gave her a last stern look, which she laughed at. Don’t blame her really, I was having a hard time keeping the grin off my face. It’s practically impossible to stay mad at her. Almost as hard as saying no. Paul never could. I walked into the office. There wasn’t really much work to be done, but it was a kind of sanctuary for me. I could sit there quietly with Mclintock at my heels and just think. After sitting at the desk, Mclintock wrapped himself around my feet. He was big, even for a German Shepherd and I knew he probably wasn’t done growing yet. But boy had that pup wrapped himself around my heart. Despite Paul always insisting that dogs stayed out in the barn or the yard, I just couldn’t send him outside. Every now and again I would hear Paul’s voice in the back of my mind. “You’re spoilin’ that pup, Tabby. Put him outside where all proper dogs belong.”
“Let me spoil him,” I murmured and rubbed behind Mclintock’s ears before turning on my computer. I went over the budgets and bank statements to make sure everything matched. It had been a good year for us. Blizzard had seen a record number of travelers come through for our summer trail rides. Thinking about the rides reminded me of the upcoming event. I knew Blizzard was planning a midnight trail ride. I frowned. I normally don’t mind her setting up trail rides on her own. In fact it’s part of her job. But midnight rides can be dangerous. She promised to set up extra precautions and, like all our rides, the riders would sign a liability release form. That may sound silly, but believe me all it takes is one lawsuit to shut you down.
When I’d caught up on my actual work I stood and stretched. I walked to the window and looked outside. My office overlooks the road. I could see our wooden ranch sign. Starwood Acres was spelled out in scrolled letters. Josiah had painted it last summer and it looked as pretty as it did the day Paul set it up. Bright red and snowy white roses bloomed all over the bushes in front of the sign in a final display of summer. Green fields stretched on the other side of the road and the mountains stood tall in the distance. Wispy white clouds floated across a blue sky. I took a deep breath and released it with a sigh. Mclintock came and rubbed my leg. “We’ve sure been blessed, haven’t we boy?”
Blizzard’s harvest party came on a breezy fall day. The winds whistled through the corn stalks and half the ranch was busy with last minute preparations. Scarlett showed up bright and early with Josiah to help out. He kissed her cheek before going to assist the others taking the stock horses out to the far pastures. She watched after him a moment before looking at Blizzard with a grin. “All right, Blizz, put me to work.”
And boy did she! Blizzard had us moving tables, setting out tablecloths and place settings, and arranging centerpieces until she declared the barn perfect. Not long after friends and neighbors began trickling in. My good friend, Amelia, was one of the first to arrive. “Oh my, Tabitha, you look so beautiful today! Anything I should know about?”
“I didn’t do much more than normal, Amelia. Just my favorite blouse and jeans.”
“Well, you’re going to be the belle of the ball tonight, that’s for sure.”
I laughed. “I think I’m a bit old to be playing that game, Amelia.”
“You and me both, darling. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. I’ve got a new line of fabrics in. As soon as I saw them I just knew you had to have them. It’s been such a busy day though that I left them at the shop.”
“Left them on accident or on purpose to give me an excuse to drive out there?” I teased.
Amelia gasped. “Why Tabitha Jannsen, I’m scandalized that you would think so. I would certainly never resort to such trickery to get my best friend into my shop.” Her blue eyes twinkled. “Although, if the opportunity arose to remind my dear friend of all the wonders my shop holds for her, well, I might not be able to resist.”
We laughed together and I said, “How about I drop by Monday with lunch?”
“Oh, Tabitha, you don’t have to bring me lunch.”
“Isn’t that what friends who have been away too long do?”
“I suppose so.” She paused when she saw someone behind me. “I think I’ll go see if Blizzard needs my help with anything. Chat later, dear!”
Before I could argue or even say goodbye, Amelia was off. I turned to see Sam standing behind me with my dear friend Teddy Meddleton. I smiled warmly. “Teddy!” I wrapped him in a gentle hug. His health was declining and it broke my heart to see him looking so thin and worn.
“Tabitha my dear, you’re as lovely as ever.”
“And you are still as biased as ever,” I retorted with a smile. “How are you today?”
“Well, the nurse let me out the door, so I must not be in too bad of shape,” he replied with a wink. With a more serious expression, Teddy said, “I’ll be fine. Scarlett and Josiah hardly leave me alone. How they can possibly keep up with their schoolwork and jobs is beyond me.”
“They’re still at that age they don’t need sleep to function, right?”
“Must be. They’re sure happy together aren’t they.”
I glanced over where they were in the midst of an argument about Heaven knew what. “When they’re not fighting.”
He chuckled. “That’s going to be the tale of that marriage. Anyhow, I just wanted to say hi. I think I’ll go sit for a while.”
I hugged him again. “I’m so glad you’re here, Teddy.”
“Me too. Now quit making your man jealous.”
A blush stole across my cheeks. Was it really that obvious? Teddy wandered to a table. Josiah and Scarlett soon saw him and joined him, setting their spat aside.I turned back to Sam. “Thanks for bringing him over. I know Josiah had wanted to.”
“He asked me to since things were busier here than he anticipated. It was no problem,” Sam replied. He looked around. “This is quite a party you’ve set up.”
“Blizzard is the brain behind it all. Creativity just seems to flow in her veins.”
“That’s a good thing. Listen, I know we’d had plans to go see that movie Tuesday, but I’ve had a conflict come up.”
I couldn’t hide my disappointment, though I tried. “Oh? I’m sorry to hear that. It’ll be okay though. Blizzard was wanting me to come to the diner with her that night anyway. She’s got some new songs she’s going to debut.”
“Yeah. Could I reschedule for Thursday?”
“I’ll be busy Thursday, but maybe Saturday?”
“I think I can swing Saturday.” He was quiet a moment as he scanned the room. “Anything you need me to do tonight?”
“You’re off-duty, Sheriff. Tonight your only job is to have fun.”
I heard Blizzard’s voice come over a loud speaker. She announced the activities and soon we were too busy having fun to talk much. Blizzard really had thought of everything. There was a corn maze, bobbing for apples, a cake walk, a Western style photo booth, dinner and a dance. There was a steady influx of people coming in and out and I knew with Blizzard’s five dollar entry fee, we were probably making a good amount of extra money. Some of the activities also had small fees on them. After sunset, those who wanted to participate in the midnight trail ride gathered by the front table. Paperwork was set out to be signed, Scarlett collected fees, Franky handed helmets to each rider, and Josiah took them to a horse.
Blizzard soon mounted Chalk Art and called out, “Let’s go! Stay on the path and keep behind the rider in front of you.”
I tamped down the nerves building in my stomach. I hadn’t gone on a nighttime ride since before Paul died. He’d gotten sick just after we’d had a late ride together as a date night. It didn’t matter how much the doctor claimed his illness wasn’t related to our late night, I couldn’t fight the guilt. I fell in line behind Scarlett and Zander. My horse was a surprisingly tall Quarab. (For those of you who aren’t horsey, that’s a horse bred from a quarter horse and an Arabian.) Anyway, he had all the grace of an Arabian with the strength and agility of a quarter. As the ride got started I could hear the whispered awe as people saw the ranch under moonlight. It was beautiful. A crisp breeze flowed over us, a constant reminder that summer was nearly past. The moon shone golden yellow down on us, just as it had all those years ago. The wind whispering through the pines teased me with memories of Paul’s voice. Before I realized it, tears were flowing down my cheeks. Scarlett heard me sniffling and turned. She slowed Zander until we were side-by-side. “Mama, are you okay?”
I tried to respond, but my throat was too tight.
Scarlett moved forward to Josiah and said something to him before coming back and taking the reins from me. “Come on, Sheik. Let’s get Mama home.” Zander and Sheik fell into rhythm easily, passing other riders who Scarlett called encouragement to.
As we passed the end of the line where Franky was helping the stragglers, he frowned. “You gals okay?”
“Yeah, I just had a headache and Mama’s going to help me feel better.”
His frown deepened and it was obvious he didn’t believe Scarlett for a second. “All right. I’ve got a cell if you ladies need anything.”
We reached the barn and dismounted. Scarlett took Sheik and Zander inside to their stalls and called to one of the wranglers to get them washed down and fed. Then she returned to my side. I was shivering uncontrollably and sobbing. She wrapped her arms around me and steered me to the house. Without speaking, she wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and set me down on the sofa in front of the fireplace. After starting a fire, she disappeared into the kitchen, returning later with a steaming mug in her hand. “Good thing I started this before we went out,” she said. She handed the mug to me and sat next to me. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I shook my head. No, I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to tell her how badly I still hurt after all these years. I didn’t want to admit how hard it was to see her with Josiah, happy and carefree like I used to be. I didn’t want to put a voice to the worry and sorrow. I couldn’t.
She nodded as though just by looking at me, she’d known my thoughts. Her arms wrapped around me. “Mama, it’s okay to still hurt. I know it’s different, but I miss him too.” Then she sat just holding me. It was as though we’d switched places. She was the caring mother comforting her grieving child.
Once I found my voice again, I said, “You’ll be a great mom someday.”
Scarlett smiled, the one that said she had a secret she wasn’t ready to share yet. “Maybe someday.”
Blizzard's next performance is going to be interrupted. What's going to happen?
1) Josiah is going to call about Sscarlett.
2) Scarlett is going to call about Josiah.
3) Teddy's nurse is going to call unable to reach Scarlett or Josiah.
4) Tabitha's mom is going to call from the airport.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius