Wow, readers, I'm a week late! I'm so sorry. Life has been a bit crazy with the farmer's market and summer vacation. So, here's the fourteenth chapter of Scarlett and Blizzard. Just two more to go after this. To celebrate being almost done, and to help me through the editing process, I'm going to have a little contest. If you read through the chapters and find any typos, email them to me. Each typo you find will give you one entry for a chance to win a paperback copy of Scarlett and Blizzard. Good luck!
When we arrived back at Starwood, Wyoming seemed to suddenly remember it was still winter. Granted the weather hadn’t exactly warmed up all that much to begin with. Winters storms popped up over the county and those on our staff who lived elsewhere either called in for vacation time or moved into the bunkhouse until the storms passed. Josiah chose to stay at the bunkhouse after Sheriff Henley came by to let us know he’d finished questioning McFinney and couldn’t find any ties to the fire. “I’m sorry, Tabitha,” he told Mom. “I know y’all want to be done with this whole mess. We couldn’t even get him to admit to Blizzard’s run-in. Kept sayin’ it was their word against his and danged if he’s not right. Blizzard’s going to have to come in and identify him if we want to nail this guy, and even then he might get off. I just don’t know what else to do.”
“You’ve done everything you could, Sam,” Mom replied, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I appreciate that. Blizzard and I will come by the station whenever you need.”
It wasn’t exactly the most thrilling thing I’d ever done. We walked into the station and Sheriff took us to a little back room with a windowed partition between us and the line-up. John McFinney was easy to place. There aren’t a lot of weasel-faced guys in Wyoming, I guess. He sauntered in, a smug grin on his face. The scary thing? It didn’t leave when I identified him and he was taken away. He just followed along like he expected it. And was pleased.
As we got ready to leave, we saw Josiah enter. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Just follow-up,” he said quickly. “Were you able to identify him?”
“Not hard to do,” I said, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
Sheriff Henley came before I could ask anything else. “Ah, Mr. Meddleton, could you join me for a minute?”
“Guess I’ll see you ladies tonight.”
“Bye Josiah.” I followed Mom out to the truck. For a while, only the country station Mom liked broke the silence. “Mom?”
“Why did McFinney look so smug? I mean, I just identified him as one of the perpetrators of a crime. Shouldn’t he look more guilty, or at least mad? I guess I expected them to haul him off screaming his innocence and that I was crazy or something.”
Mom frowned and she suddenly seemed to age ten years. “I don’t know, baby girl. I wish I did. I haven’t been able to get that look out of my head. Granted, this isn’t a sitcom, so the yelling and screaming might not be a realistic expectation,” she added with a small grin. “But, there was definitely something off about what happened back there.”
We continued home without speaking. When we arrived, Scarlett asked how things had gone. After we related our story, her brows furrowed. “That’s weird. But, we haven’t got time to worry about that right now. The weather radio’s been blaring for the last twenty minutes. The snowstorms are escalating and the affected region keeps growing. I’ve been out to the bunkhouse to make sure the hands had plenty of blankets and such.”
“Did you check the generators?”
“Yep. Got all the emergency kits set out, so we should be fine if this gets as bad as they’re predicting.”
“Well, let’s go check on the animals. I’m sure the puppies could use a potty break before we bunker in for the night.”
Mclintock, Cogburn and Rooster barreled out of the house to play in the yard. Mclintock tended to be more aloof in their games. I wasn’t sure if it was because he recognized how much bigger he was than our two Scotties or if he just didn’t feel like wrestling. Ears were tugged and tails chewed as the puppies scampered about. As we made our way to the barn, the pups followed along yipping and barking. The barn cats watched in disgust before slinking away to quieter parts of the barn. I checked on Winter’s Folly and Skipperdeen while Scarlett took care of Zander. Most of our stock horses were out in the round corral. There wasn’t a barn big enough to put them all in and they’d be safest together in a small space where they could share each other’s warmth.
I heard Scarlett’s voice and looked over as it was sharper than I’d ever heard her use when speaking to Zander. I realized Shorty had come in the barn at some point after us and was talking to her in low tones. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I heard Scarlett loud and clear. “No, thank you, Shorty.”
His face fell and he left the barn.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“It’s nothing,” Scarlett replied, though she frowned.
“It’s nothing,” she insisted. “Please, just don’t worry about it, okay?”
Snow fell in large, fluffy flakes when we finished our chores and headed inside with the pups. Mclintock barked and tried to catch the flakes in his mouth as Cogburn and Rooster ran in circles around his feet. I swear dogs think they’ve never seen snow before each and every time it falls. It’s hilarious. Josiah crunched through the snow to us and Cogburn ran to him. “You be good tonight, buddy,” he said rubbing behind the puppy’s ears. He then looked up at Mom, “Hey, I think I’m going to crash in the bunkhouse tonight if that’s okay with you. I was planning on going back to Franky’s, but this storm is picking up faster than I anticipated.”
“Not a problem at all,” Mom smiled. “It’s why we have the bunkhouse. Would you like to join us inside for dinner?”
“Normally I would, but I promised the guys burgers tonight. If I don’t deliver…”
Mom laughed. “Say no more. We wouldn’t want you to disappoint them.”
He tipped his hat and winked. “Good night, all.”
“Burgers sure sound good,” Scarlett said wistfully.
Mom chuckled, “Better than my chili?” The wind picked up and the flakes swirled around us. “We better get in. This storm is just getting started.”
Once in the house we helped Mom set the table and we sat to our dinner. Mom led us in grace and as she prayed I heard her ask for our hands and animals to be safe as well as those who had to travel through the storms. “Help us to weather the storms in our life. In thy Holy Name, amen.”
We chatted lightly as we enjoyed our meal. Seriously, Mom makes the best chili. Even though the wind howled and snow piled up outside, we were warm and cozy in the house. Mom got a fire going in the grate while Scarlett made her signature hot chocolate, this time with mint and vanilla. Despite the fact that mornings are always early on a ranch, we stayed up late into the night giggling around the fireplace. When Mom finally yawned and said she was going to bed, Scarlett and I agreed that we’d been up far too late as it was. “I’m going to miss this,” Scarlett sighed.
I felt like I’d been doused in ice water as I remembered that she would be leaving in only a few months. “Thanks for the reminder.”
She looked at me, her gray eyes flecked with green. “I know you’re still upset about everything, but I’m not abandoning you. I’ll come back to Starwood.”
She sighed again. “When I’m done with school. This is a chance for me to live out some of my own dreams, Blizzard. I wish you could understand.”
“What about Josiah?”
Scarlett blushed. “We’re taking things one step at a time. Besides, he’s not exactly tied down anywhere. Maybe he’ll come with me.” Then she shrugged. “Or he’ll forget all about me and we can both move on.”
I snorted. “Sometimes you’re the stupidest girl I know. Seriously, ‘he’ll forget all about me’? Do you not realize how much you mean to him?”
“I’m not blind, Blizzard.”
“Coulda fooled me. He’s been crazy about you since he came back.”
“I know. But things are more complicated than you would like to think in your little fairy tale mind.”
I should have kept my mouth shut. I knew I should. But I didn’t. “Maybe because that’s because you have overcomplicated everything with your unrealistic demands for perfection. Prince Charming is a myth, unless you want to count one very sweet, somewhat mischievous and definitely charming cowboy who can’t take his eyes off you.” I didn’t wait for her to respond. Instead I went up to my room with Rooster. I ignored Scarlett knocking on the door. That was my first mistake.
Rooster woke me up at some unmentionable hour needing to go outside. “Seriously? Couldn’t you have waited an hour?” I asked, shivering as I pulled my blankets back. The temperature in the house had dropped drastically. We must have lost power. I flipped my light switch and nothing happened. “Great,” I grouched, fumbling in the bedside table for my flashlight. Normally I just used it to finish books late at night without Mom knowing I was still awake. Normally our generator just kicks right in when the power goes out. I wasn’t sure why it hadn’t. That’s when I made my second mistake. I should have woken Mom up and had her go with me to fix it. But I knew she was tired and worried. She needed her rest. I knew generally how to work the generator. “Come on, Rooster. Let’s get some heat back in the house.”
Snow fell heavily around the house and I could barely see in front of me. I put a hand on the side of the house and felt my way to the generator. Rooster stayed close to me, shivering in the cold. “Go on back to the house if you’ve done your business, boy. It’s freezing out here.”
He whimpered and cuddled closer to my leg.
“Have it your way,” I muttered. I examined the generator. “This has been shut off. Who would turn off the generator?”
“I would,” a voice replied before something heavy hit the back of my head.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius