All caught up! At least on writing Scarlett and Blizzard. This weekend I'll work on getting the video readings caught up too. Did you know today and tomorrow I'll be part of a fantasy giveaway party on Facebook? Be sure to come! There will be lots of fun prizes, games and adventure to be had by all. See you there!
School was back in session by the time I spoke to Scarlett again. I couldn’t believe she’d gone behind our backs to find a way to leave Starwood. I was especially hurt that she’d left me out of the picture entirely. When I got home one afternoon, Josiah was standing on the patio with Franky. They were talking in hushed tones and when he saw me, Franky called out, “Hey, cowgirl. How’s school?”
“Meh.” I kept walking. I just wasn’t in the mood for chatting or anything else.
“What, no hello?”
“Drop it, Frank,” Josiah warned.
I turned with as icy a glare as I could muster. “Hello.” I let the door slam behind me.
I heard Franky whistle. “Dang, she’s mad. But yeah, I got it worked out with my landlord. You can stay for a while, but do you really think it will help?”
As curious as I was, I quit listening and headed straight for my room. If Josiah was going to be leaving Starwood, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, things with Scarlett would doubtlessly become less tense. But on the other hand, I’d gotten used to him being there. It was like having a brother for the first time in my life. A big, goofy brother who would do my chores so I could sleep an extra ten minutes. Okay, so maybe he was really doing them to impress my bone-headed sister, but can you blame a girl for dreaming? It’s not every day you get someone who will muck out stalls without complaining.
Anyway, I tossed my backpack on the floor and sat down at my desk. After turning on my computer I started digging books out of my bag. I had a ton of homework to do. Within a few moments, Mom came upstairs. “Sweetie, are you okay?”
Tears I’d been stubbornly clinging to threatened to spill over my eyes. “I’m fine. I just want to be left alone.”
“Look, I know you’re upset about Scarlett’s pronouncement…”
“Why didn’t she talk to us?” I shouted. “Why didn’t she have the common decency to let us know she was unhappy? Or tell us she was thinking about leaving? She didn’t think of anyone but herself and it’s not fair.”
“You’re right,” Mom said calmly.
I gaped at her. I’d expected a rebuttal, not an agreement. My eyes narrowed. “And you’re okay with that? She’s just leaving us, Mom. She’s leavin’ us with the ranch and havin’ to figure everything out on our own.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time I was left to run a ranch by myself, sugar,” Mom replied, a mist of tears blurring her blue eyes. “I can manage it again. And we’re not totally helpless without her. We’ve got a great team here at Starwood.”
“It ain’t the same, and you know it.”
I growled and threw my hands in the air. “Are you seriously more concerned about my grammar than the fact that we’re being abandoned again?”
“That’s what this stems back to, isn’t it?”
I couldn’t hold them back anymore. The tears flowed and I flopped on my bed. “It just isn’t fair. First Daddy and now Scarlett. Everyone leaves me. What did I do wrong?”
Mom sat next to me on the bed, her soothing hand running over my messy tangle of curls. “Baby girl, Scarlett isn’t leaving us forever. And you haven’t done anything wrong. Right now she’s upset and hurting in a different way than you are. Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken her this long to want out. Scarlett’s always been my restless girl. She wants to be out in the world, chasing her dreams. And that’s how it should be. I always knew the day would come when she would leave Starwood. I just hoped it would be under happier circumstances.”
“What are we going to do without her?”
“Same thing we did with her. Run Starwood, go to school, live life and learn. But tears and tantrums aren’t going to keep her here. Perhaps it would be good for everyone if Scarlett went back to school.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because I know my daughters, Blizz. Come on now, dry those tears and let’s take the puppies for a walk. Mclintock’s got his energy back and I’m not sure I can handle all three pups on my own.”
A smile teased the corner of my mouth and I wiped the tears from my face. “I bet you could, but I’ll come with you anyway.”
As we walked around the house with the puppies, I tried to forget about Scarlett. Instead I focused on the snow-covered pastures. I could see our horses pulling what graze could be found and standing around a hay bale. Chickens strutted through the yard. The puppies, having finished with leash-time, were wrestling in the yard and chasing each other. It was soothing to see that at least some things had remained unchanged. I glanced toward the road and noticed the rattler wasn’t anywhere to be seen. In fact, I couldn’t remember having seen the car in a few days. Maybe he’d finally given up.
I should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.
A few days later, I was walking back to the house from the bus stop. When the weather was clear and beautiful, our bus driver would often just drive me straight to Starwood. But with the snow starting to melt and the threat of sleet and more snow, the school assigned mud routes which basically meant I’d get dropped off at the end of our road. I didn’t mind though. It was only a couple miles’ walk anyway and I needed the quiet to sort my feelings. My boots crunched in the snow and I tightened my scarf. The cold Wyoming wind bit my skin and tousled my hair, making it even messier than normal. Under the flurry of thoughts chasing themselves around in my head, I trudged home. I heard the sound of a car engine coughing behind me. When the car didn’t go around, but slowed down, I stopped to see who was on our road. The driver swerved and in a panic I leapt to the side, forgetting about the ditch along the side of the road. I landed in a heap, my ankle twisting under me. I struggled to get back to my feet as three men got out of the car.
“Well, what have we here?” I recognized the speaker as the man Josiah had identified as John McFinney. He was short and thin with a pointy face. It was like seeing one of Santa’s elves, only with an evil smirk instead of a cute grin. “What’s your name?”
“Like I’m really stupid enough to tell you that,” I snapped, hoping he wouldn’t catch the quiver in my voice.
The men laughed and I found myself backed into a fence. “I don’t suppose you are, but it don’t matter. I know who you are, Blizzard Jannsen, and your pretty sister too.”
An icy finger of fear traced up my spine. “What do you want?”
“Scared?” John sneered.
“Of a measly shrimp like you?”
Apparently, little man syndrome is a real thing because John scowled at me and I swear I saw sparks in his eyes. “Who you callin’ a shrimp?”
Hoping I could get him distracted enough to make a break for it, I said, “I’m just sayin’ it like I see it. You’re not exactly built like a bear.”
“So, you think your pal the Bear can save you from me?” he asked. He was close enough I could feel his breath on my face. I cringed as he took one of my curls in his hand and tweaked it. “I have a message for Mr. Meddleton and you’re going to deliver it for me.”
“Do I look like a mailman to you?”
John grinned again, a malicious smile that took the warmth from me. “Don’t worry, honey, this ain’t the kind of message you can forget.” He turned to the thugs next to him. “Don’t do nothing you can get arrested for.”
As John walked away the other men closed in on me. “Hey, you do know assault and battery is a crime, right?”
“Only if you get caught,” the bigger one retorted with a smirk.
Right, because that totally makes it okay. My mind was racing as I tried to think of an escape. Maybe I could force my way between them. I could probably outrun them. I hoped. As the smaller one swiped at me, I jabbed an elbow in his side and started to run, but I didn’t get far. The other tackled me to the ground. I screamed. A blow to my stomach knocked the wind from me and I struggled to regain my breath. “Help!” I cried as they tore at my winter coat, down feathers scattering over the snow. I kicked and hit, but knew I was no match for them. They knocked me around between them. Pain racked through me and I prayed desperately that someone, anyone, would come to my rescue. Spots swam before my eyes and I felt myself slipping out of consciousness. “Someone please help!”
“There ain’t nobody around to help you now, missy.”
I vaguely recognized the new voice talking and heard the sound of someone fighting off my assailants as a strong pair of arms wrapped themselves around me and pulled me out of the fray. I heard the coughing car engine sputter and roar as John drove off. “He’s getting away!” I moaned.
“Don’t you worry about him, Sheriff Henley should be here soon enough. We got his license plate number. We’ll catch that…”
I ignored the last word as I looked up and saw who was holding me. “Franky?”
He grinned, the merest hint of a dimple appearing in his left cheek. “Well, at least they didn’t knock the memory out of you. Come on, cowgirl, let’s get you in the truck and warmed up.”
“Who’s fighting out there?”
“Josiah has it well in hand. Quit worryin’.” He opened the door to Josiah’s truck and set me inside. The warmth of the cab surrounded me. “Now then, where are you hurt?”
“Everywhere,” I replied.
“Did they?” Franky blushed.
I shook my head. “No, they were told not to do anything they could get arrested for.”
Franky snorted derisively. “Assault and battery is a crime too.”
I grinned and winced as my lip split. “That’s what I said.”
“Well, let’s get you cleaned up. Your poor mother is going to have a heart attack when she sees you.”
“It wouldn’t be my mom you’d have to worry about,” I replied remembering our recent visit from Grandma.
Sirens blared in the distance and Franky turned his attention to me. “Let’s start getting you cleaned up. I gotta hand it to you, you did a fair amount of damage on those two yourself.”
“Really? I didn’t think I was making any difference.”
“Happens when you’re outmatched. But they’re gonna have bumps and bruises of their own. And that was before we showed up.” He held my chin gently as he wiped away the blood trickling from my lip. His eyes stayed focused on my injuries, but I couldn’t seem to focus my mind on anything. I tried to tell myself it was because I’d just had the crud beat out of me, but the more honest part of me knew it had a little to do with the handsome cowboy taking care of me. Concern darkened his eyes to a stunning shade of emerald. His work-roughened hands were gentle and warm. But I mentally shook my head. Franky was too old for me and wouldn’t be interested in a little country girl like me anyhow.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius