This week is going to be a little different. Everyone liked --0the options for this chapter so much that I decided to use all of them. But that was an awful lot of information for one chapter and it was getting a bit too long. So, today I'm posting Chapter 3 and tomorrow you'll get Chapter 4! How's that for fast? Due to unforeseen time constraints I have not made the video reading yet, but hope to have that done sometime this afternoon, if my kiddos cooperate. Otherwise I'll get both video readings done tomorrow. Check out the poll at the end of this chapter for use in Chapter 5 and don't forget to visit my post about the Kindle giveaway and enter for your chance to win!
UPDATE 2-1-2016: The video has been posted on YouTube and is now at the end of the blog! Thanks for your patience!
About a week after the casserole fiasco, our summer really got underway. New foals were born it seemed every day and there was work to be done with the yearlings and older horses. One Saturday, Mom, Scarlett and I were enjoying cool lemonade out on the porch when we saw a pickup coming down the drive. Scarlett excused herself and disappeared to the barn before it arrived. I didn’t have long to wonder why she’d left. After parking, Josiah Meddleton exited the truck and came up to the front porch.
“Good afternoon, Josiah,” Mom said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.”
“Yes, ma’am. Dad told me to bring this casserole dish back to you.”
“Well, I see you refilled it for me. That looks like brisket.”
“Dad said I couldn’t bring it back empty. I’m afraid that’s about the only thing I know how to make.”
I could see him looking around the porch. “Looking for something?” I asked.
“Huh? Oh, no. Well, no.” He started to turn back to his truck and then looked over his shoulder at Mom. “Is Scarlett here, by any chance?”
Mom hesitated. “She is, but she’s likely busy right now.”
“I’ll only be a moment.”
I could see an inner battle in Mom’s eyes. Finally she tipped her head toward the barn. “She’s in there.”
Josiah tipped his hat before walking to the barn. I stood to follow.
“Blizzard, aren’t you going to help me in here?” Mom asked pointedly.
“It’s a casserole dish, Mom. I’m sure you can handle it. Besides, someone’s got to make sure she doesn’t throw a shoe at him.”
Mom tried to look stern, but her smile kind of ruined it. “Eavesdropping is going to get you into trouble one of these days.”
I shrugged before skipping over to the barn. I stood just outside where I could hear without being seen. Mom was probably right that I’d get myself into trouble, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’d done it.
Josiah seemed to be in mid-sentence as I came up. “Just wondering if you’ve had any problems with your chickens lately.”
“Nope. Our coop is fine and none of them are missing. Maybe there’s a coyote by your place.”
“Maybe.” He sounded unsure.
“Was there something else?” I could tell Scarlett was trying to get rid of him without being rude. Mom had taught us to be polite, no matter what. Didn’t always happen that way, but Scarlett tried harder than I did.
“Dad wanted me to tell you he’s got something planned for you and Blizzard during the county fair. I’m not supposed to say what, but he wants to make sure you’re planning on attending.”
“We always go,” Scarlett replied slowly. “Even if we didn’t, I have to be there.”
I could hear in her voice she regretted saying that. “I just do. If you need extra help fixing your coop, Shorty has tomorrow off. He might be willing to drop by and help you out.”
“No, I got it taken care of. Thanks though.” There was a long pause. “If you’ve got tomorrow off, I’d enjoy a ride with you.”
“I’m busy tomorrow, sorry.”
“We’ve got a foal due tonight. Skipperdeen’s milk is down. And I think I’ve already made it plain I’m not interested.”
There was a scowl in Josiah’s voice as he said, “You haven’t changed much have you?”
“’Bout as much as you have.”
“You wouldn’t know if I have or haven’t, Scarlett Jannsen.” Loud footsteps started coming toward the barn door and I scurried around the side. I watched Josiah stomp to his truck and drive away.
Once he was gone I went into the barn. “So, is Skipperdeen really close to having her foal?” I asked, not thinking about the fact that I wasn’t supposed to have heard that conversation.
Scarlett’s eyes narrowed. “Next time you want to listen in, just come inside.” Before I could say anything she stalked to the house. Yep, Mom was right. Eavesdropping had gotten me in trouble again.
The weeks flew until the county fair. There was a lot to prepare for the whole event. We’d heard the diner was having an amateur night and I was anxious to debut my new guitar there. Scarlett had been asked to give a barrel racing demonstration at the 4-H show and talk about how the program had led her to ranching. She and I laughed about it. In reality, ranching had led her to 4-H. Skipperdeen had been Scarlett’s horse project back when she was in school. She’d raised her from a yearling and trained her, showing her almost yearly. The tables were turning now though. This time I would be showing Skipperdeen and her new filly, Winter’s Folly, in the mare/foal division.
When we arrived at the fairgrounds, I had to take Skipperdeen and Folly to check-in. “Will you be all right with Mom’s help?” Scarlett asked as she unloaded her old barrel racer, Zander. He’s a stocky, gray horse with just a hint of chestnut in his mane and tail. Mom says he’s technically a rose gray, but anytime you say that to people who don’t know horses, they look at you funny. He tossed his head impatiently. “Hey, behave,” Scarlett chided. It didn’t make much difference though. Zander, like Skipperdeen, is Scarlett’s baby and can get away with just about anything.
“Don’t worry about us,” Mom replied. “We can get the girls where they need to be just fine on our own. You go ahead over to the show ring. Blizzard will meet you there soon.”
“Aren’t you coming over?” I asked.
“Someone’s got to stay with this sweet girl,” Mom said. “This is a new place to her, after all, and she’s bound to be a little nervous. Besides, it’s been a long time since you saw your sister in action.”
Scarlett waved as she walked the opposite direction as us. Mom and I took Skipperdeen and Winter’s Folly into the stable where we met Mrs. Callicut, one of the 4-H advisers. “Why Tabitha Jannsen, is that Skipperdeen?” she asked, standing from her table to stroke the mare’s neck.
“Yes, it is,” Mom replied.
Mrs. Callicut’s green eyes sparkled. “Oh my, it seems only last year Scarlett was showing her as a yearling. Such a pretty girl.”
“And a great mother,” I added. “She’s just had her first foal.”
Mrs. Callicut bent over Folly. “She’s a darling! It seems we’ve come fully circle, Tabitha. Well, come over to the table and we’ll get everything in order so you can see these lovely girls to a stall.”
“You go ahead to the show ring,” Mom said after we finished with the paperwork. “I know you’re anxious to see Scarlett perform.”
I grinned and kissed Mom’s cheek before skipping away. When I got there she was finishing up her speech. I stayed by the fence. The last time I’d seen Scarlett do a course had been when I was a kid. I’d heard people around town talk about what a shame it was when she stopped competing. “Real talent,” they always said. As she and Zander rounded the barrels, I could see what they meant. Suddenly a shadow passed next to me and I turned to see Josiah Meddleton stop by the fence, watching Scarlett.
“I can’t believe she’s still riding that old gelding,” he muttered.
I considered ignoring him, but there was something about him that sparked my curiosity. “Don’t let Zander hear you say that. He has no clue how old he is.”
“He’s got to be at least sixteen years old. She was riding him back when we were in high school.”
“Yeah, and he acts like a colt,” I retorted. “He knows he’s got Scarlett wrapped around his little finger, or hoof I guess.”
Josiah chuckled. “Yeah, Scarlett always did baby her horses.” He glanced over at me. “So, do you barrel race too?”
“Nah,” I said. “I ride for the fun of it and because that’s how you get around on the ranch. I love the horses, but I was never really interested in the rodeo side of it.”
“Take after your dad, huh?”
I shrugged. “Dunno.”
“Sorry, you probably don’t remember a whole lot seeing as you were a kid when he died.”
I didn’t say anything. I hated being reminded just how little time I got with him. Words like “unfair” and “abandoned” started creeping into my thoughts. “Will you be participating in the rodeo this .
year?” I asked, trying to steer the conversation in a new direction.
“Dad roped me into it. I hadn’t actually planned on it before.”
We were quiet for a while, watching as Scarlett dismounted and began answering questions. She looked over in our direction and I waved with a smile. Even from the distance I could sense her frown as she turned her back on us and walked away.
“I guess I should go before she pushes me into a horse trough or something,” Josiah murmured.
“There’s an amateur night at the diner tonight at six,” I blurted out. “I happen to know Scarlett will be there to hear me sing.”
He looked at me for a moment, a mischievous twinkle entering his eyes. I could see why so many girls had fallen for him. That twinkle could melt ice cream, let alone a girl’s heart. “Sharing information with the enemy?” he asked.
“It’s public knowledge,” I shrugged.
Laughing, Josiah tipped his hat as he turned. “Well, thanks for the PSA.”
He’d hardly left when Scarlett arrived next to me. “What did he want?” she demanded.
“I don’t know, he was just watching you ride.”
She sighed and looked away from the fair. This had become almost a habit if someone mentioned him or she saw him. She’d get this real distant look on her face like she was seeing a totally different world than we were. “I just can’t seem to escape him.”
“Well, let’s not worry too much about the Bear,” I said. “The first round of the mare and foal division starts in an hour. Let’s look around.”
As we wandered the booths and tried out some of the baked goods at the pastry competitions, Josiah soon left our thoughts. We found Mom at the quilting booth speaking with Amelia in hushed tones. Though she smiled when she saw us, I could tell something Amelia had said was bothering her. She checked her watch. “Gracious! Blizzard, we better get you to the stables. It’s almost time! Sorry to leave you so soon, Amelia.”
“I know I’ll see you in the shop. Good luck, Blizzard!”
At the end of the day, Skipperdeen and Winter’s Folly took third place. I grumbled a bit since one of the marks against the filly was she was too small. Scarlett and I were heading to the truck when we heard arguing. We turned to see a short, spindly-looking man pointing his finger in Josiah’s face. I slowed to see what was going on, but Scarlett jabbed me with her elbow. “Keep moving,” she hissed.
We hadn’t gotten far when we heard a voice shout, “You haven’t heard the last from me, Meddleton.”
Scarlett jabbed me again and we walked even faster.
“What’s your problem?” I snapped when we got to the pickup.
“Eavesdropping on an obvious argument is just plain dumb, Blizz.”
“Who was arguing?” Mom asked.
Scarlett described briefly what we’d seen. “I don’t know much and I don’t want to know.”
Mom frowned. “This doesn’t bode well. Anyway, let’s head to the diner. I’ve already fed the horses, so they’ll be fine overnight.” She started the engine and slowly drove out of the fairgrounds and into town. The diner was packed. We walked in during one of the performances and found Teddy and Josiah sitting at our favorite booth. Scarlett started looking for somewhere else to go but Teddy waved us over. “Come on in, there’s plenty of room,” he said.
“Thank you, we’d enjoy that.” Mom said and took a seat next to Teddy.
Scarlett motioned for me to go ahead of her.
I knew I was risking death refusing, but I didn’t have much option. “I can’t sit in the middle, Scarlett. I’ve got to be able to get up for my turn or I’ll miss it.”
Her gray eyes flashed at me and I knew I was going to hear about it later, but she finally slid in next to Josiah.
I set my guitar case next to Scarlett before sitting down at the end. Time was short until my time slot. When the waitress came by for our order, Teddy said, “This is on me tonight, Lydia.”
“Sure thing, Teddy.”
“Teddy, you don’t have to do that,” Mom argued, though it was half-hearted at best.
“I’ve got to do something to make up for all our missed weekends,” he replied. “Which reminds me. I’ve got a surprise for you ladies tomorrow.”
“What is it?”
“Well if I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. Actually, I have a couple surprises. The first is for Scarlett. You and Zander need to be ready for the barrel racing competition tomorrow. I took the liberty of entering for you.”
Scarlett choked on her water. “What? But, I can’t compete! Zander and I haven’t been practicing at a competitive level in years. He could get hurt and he’s not as young as he pretends to be.”
“He’ll be fine and so will you,” Mom reassured her. “Teddy talked to me about the idea months ago. Shorty’s been working Zander and I know you’ve been doing more with him than you let on.”
“What about me? Don’t I have any say at all?”
“No, you listen…”
“Let’s give a big hand to that wonderful performance. Next up is Blizzard Jannsen.”
If not for the fact that I wouldn’t be given another opportunity, I half-wanted to skip my turn to see how this played out. I grabbed my guitar and walked up to the stage.
“Watch out! It’s the ice queen!” some teen shouted amid laughter and snorts.
I rolled my eyes. Some people just never grow up, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I checked the strings to make sure they were tuned and took a deep breath. Nerves fluttered in my stomach and I glanced at the table. Mom and Scarlett stopped arguing long enough to smile at me. Scarlett gave me an encouraging thumb’s up. I started strumming chords as the song I’d written worked its way through the guitar and me. It was a slow ballad and I guess some might call it a love song, though I didn’t necessarily mean it that way. Memories of a sunset ride with Daddy colored the harmonies with that bittersweet twang that makes country so unique. I glanced up and saw several people dancing. Josiah somehow managed to drag Scarlett onto the floor. I would love to know how he did that. Soon the song pushed that and everything else from my mind. All that existed were the guitar and my memories. I forgot about the crowd, the diner and everything in it. I could smell the summer grass and pine of Starwood Acres. Daddy’s laughter filled my heart
As the song ended, the cheering began. “If that song didn’t touch your soul, I don’t think you have one. A beautiful performance tonight by Blizzard Jannsen.”
The cheering continued and though my eyes pricked with unshed tears, I couldn’t help but feel pleased with the performance. I almost heard Daddy’s voice whisper, Way to go, cowgirl. I’m proud of you.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius