I'm sorry this is a day behind. I've had birthdays and a sick baby to work with. The video will be put up sometime at the beginning of next week. It's just been a little too crazy here to get a good recording done. Mostly, my little one has been very fussy which makes it hard to record myself reading. So, once he's feeling better, I will get the video put together and put up. Be sure to let me know where the story should move next! Also, comment below to let me know what kind of video you'd like from my adventures in Indianapolis, next week!
We drove silently to the Double Rocking B. Scarlett seemed to be trying to keep her emotions under control and she wasn’t willing to talk about what had been said on the phone, other than to assure me Teddy was fine. When we arrived, we parked and went straight to the large barn. Twenty or so horses poked their heads out of stalls and Scarlett walked past them to the end stall. My heart twisted as I saw Josiah kneeling on the floor next to a palomino stallion. Its breath was ragged and sharp, as though just the effort alone hurt. His stomach was swollen and painful welts showed around his mouth.
“Blister beetles?” I asked, horrified.
Josiah merely nodded.
“Are any of the other horses infected?” Scarlett knelt next to Josiah, placing a gentle hand on his arm.
He shook his head. “Someone knew exactly what they were doing.”
“Have you called the vet? Is she on her way? What can we do?”
Scarlett turned to me, tears glistening in her eyes. “Blizzard, we’re here because the vet was already called. A poisoning this advanced can’t be helped. All we can do is be here with Goliath.”
“Doc gave him some pain medication, did everything she could for him. But…” Josiah stopped again, running his hand over Goliath’s neck.
He didn’t need to say anything. I sat near the wall, watching as Scarlett comforted both horse and owner. Why would anyone purposefully put an animal through this torment? Blister beetles are so named for the painful blisters they cause in people and animals. But for horses, it’s much worse. If ingested, they are poisonous. Even just a few beetles can be deadly or cause colic. Goliath obviously had gotten more than just a few. I glanced at the other horses in the barn. Josiah was right. They looked perfectly healthy and normal. Goliath had been singled out. Why? He wasn’t a champion in any event. He was a great horse, sure, but it wasn’t like you could eliminate competition with him. And even if that were so, Josiah wasn’t competing anymore anyway. Why go after a horse with no special significance? Especially when the horse in the next stall was Josiah’s champion mount.
Scarlett’s voice broke through my thoughts. “Does Teddy know?”
Josiah nodded again. “He’s been on the phone with the sheriff.”
“Finally got him convinced, huh?”
“I guess this time it’s obvious.” Josiah’s tone became hard and edgy.
“Do you have any idea who might have done this?”
“I’ve got a couple suspects.”
They stopped talking as Goliath’s breathing suddenly slowed and he struggled a little. Josiah held the horse’s head in his lap in a show of affection that broke my heart. “It’s okay, boy,” he cried. A few moments later the breathing stopped and Goliath was still. I felt tears sting my eyes. For a long while we just sat in the stall. Teddy came in and put a comforting hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “Sheriff’s on his way, son. Best be ready to meet him. We’ll have the hands take care of Goliath.”
For a moment, Josiah didn’t speak. Teddy left and Josiah stood. I scrambled to follow as he and Scarlett headed towards the barn door. As I did, I noticed the brand on Goliath’s side. It wasn’t from the Double Rocking B. It was Starwood. Goliath had been one of ours. I realized the others were nearly out of the barn and jogged to catch up to them. He turned to Scarlett. “Are you on your feet enough to not need me anymore?”
She blinked and said, “Well, yeah, I guess. I mean…”
“I think it would be best if I stayed on my own ranch from now on.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You don’t seriously think anyone at Starwood had something to do with this, do you?”
Josiah swore. “That’s not what I said, Scarlett.”
“You implied it.”
“I did no such thing. Do you have to be so danged sensitive all the time? There are other reasons I need to be here.”
“Like what?” Scarlett had her arms crossed over her chest.
“Maybe the fact that if someone doesn’t look out for the Double Rocking B, I won’t have a ranch anymore,” he shouted. “I don’t think you quite understand the scope of this problem, Scarlett. Someone targeted a horse that had no other value than sentiment. Goliath wasn’t a champion, he was a plain, ol’ workhorse. But someone knew he was more than that to me.” Josiah’s voice broke and he looked down at the ground. “I have to take care of my own, Scarlett. I owe my dad that. He worked for decades building this ranch up from nothing. He thinks he can take charge again, but I think you and I both know the reality. He’s never going to be strong enough for me to fully leave the ranch back to him. Even now there have been things going on that normally wouldn’t if he were stronger. I can’t keep trying to run two spreads.”
“You were never running two spreads, Josiah. And if you remember, you volunteered to help at Starwood.”
“You needed help.”
“I never asked for your help. I didn’t want you there in the first place.”
“Then why are you fighting so hard to get me to stay?”
“Because you wanted a second chance,” Scarlett yelled. Tears glistened in her eyes. “You told me you wanted to try again.”
The arguing continued and for a moment, I considered interrupting them. Neither could see that they were on the same side. They were too busy allowing their heartbreak to overrun their heads. “Scarlett?” I said timidly.
She and Josiah turned to me.
I took a deep breath. “I think Josiah is simply saying he wants to be at his ranch to take care of things here. You’ve been cleared by the doctor for most of your regular activities and Josiah didn’t say he was never coming back…”
“Well, I’m saying it,” Scarlett said, turning to him and jabbing a finger in his chest. “I never want to see you again, Josiah Meddleton. Never, ever again.”
“Suits me fine,” Josiah growled, his brown eyes swirling.
Scarlett stopped as though he’d slapped her. I could tell she was expecting him to fight back, but Josiah’s expression was clear. He was done fighting. “Well, then I guess there’s nothing left for us to do here. Come on, Blizz.”
“Now,” she snapped, tears falling down her face. She hobbled into the truck and slammed her door, waiting for me to get in.
I looked at Josiah. “I’m sorry, about Goliath. He must have been a really great horse.”
He didn’t reply. Instead he turned and walked into the ranch house.
The next weeks were long and painfully boring. Scarlett spent most of her time either in her room or in the barn. She wouldn’t speak to Mom for a full week after the episode at the Double Rocking B. When Scarlett had come in crying, they had gotten into an argument over how the situation had been handled. School kept me too busy to worry much about what was going on in Scarlett’s head. Honestly, I was glad for the distraction. My sister had become so snappish it was hard to want to spend more than five minutes with her. She wouldn’t come down when Teddy came to visit, even if Josiah wasn’t with him. Teddy finally agreed with Mom that it would be best to give Scarlett her space. “Hopefully she’ll come around sooner rather than later. Joey’s been kicking himself since she left,” he admitted quietly the last time he came to the house.
“He needs to tell her that.”
Teddy shrugged. “Don’t know if he’s tried or not, but the state she’s in? It would take a lot more than a heartfelt apology to get her to listen to him.”
Mom sighed, “Unfortunately that’s true.”
Fall turned colder and in mid-October, Scarlett showed up at school to pick me up. “Let’s do some Christmas shopping,” she said, with a brighter smile than I’d seen in a long time.
“Okay. Where were you thinking of going?”
“Just some of the shops around town. I was thinking we could get gifts for Mom and Teddy today. I feel kind of bad for ignoring him so long.”
“You know he’ll forgive you quick enough.”
She frowned slightly. “He’s not the one I’m worried about. I don’t know that I’ll forgive myself anytime soon. It’s not his fault his son is an imbecile.”
I chose not to comment. The idea of pointing out to her that she and Josiah had both acted like children didn’t appeal to me. Instead I said, “Mrs.Callicut said Winter’s Folly is almost up to the average percentile for quarters.”
“That’s good news. Honestly, though Blizz, she might always be petite. Chalk Art is pretty small himself.”
“Oh, I know. I just wish people wouldn’t fault her for it. I wanted her to be a little on the small side since I’m so short.”
Scarlett laughed, “Yeah, I’m afraid you took after Dad in more ways than one. And you’re not actually that short.”
“Matter of opinion.”
She pulled into the parking lot of Quilter’s Paradise and we walked in. “Oh my dears,” Amelia said, placing a hand to her heart, “I wonder how you sleep at night.”
“I sleep just fine. Mom gave us new winter quilts and they’re perfect,” I said.
“Haven’t you heard?”
“Heard what, Amelia?” Scarlett asked.
“It’s been all over town. Some miscreant broke into the Double Rocking B last night.”
“What?” I asked while Scarlett frowned.
“I heard it from Belinda over in the diner. Teddy and Josiah were meeting with the sheriff over lunch. Someone broke into the house and made a real mess. Trophies stolen, lamps broken, threats painted on the walls. Teddy was in a bad way. I shouldn’t wonder this puts him back in the hospital.”
“Were the two of them okay?”
“As far as I know. I heard…”
“Amelia, you shouldn’t repeat gossip,” Scarlett interrupted.
The woman puffed up indignantly, “I’ll have you know, Miss Scarlett, I have it on very good authority. The sheriff himself called to ask if I’d seen any strange folks in town. You two be careful and keep your guns close.”
We left without purchasing anything. Scarlett drove us straight home where Mom was visiting with Teddy and Josiah in the living room. Scarlett hesitated before going upstairs to her room. I walked into the living room. Josiah’s eyes smoldered as he stared at the carpet. “Of course, we’d be happy to help with anything you need, Teddy,” Mom was saying. She looked up at me. “Blizzard, can you ask Scarlett to come here please?”
“Blizzard.” Mom’s voice held a warning note.
Great, my mother is feeding me to the wolves. I went up after Scarlett and stopped by her room. “Scarlett?”
“Leave me alone.”
“I’d love to, but Mom wants you downstairs.”
“I’m not coming. Tell her I have a headache.”
“She won’t believe me.”
“Not my problem.”
Dear Lord, don’t let me be this stupid at her age, I thought before sighing and going back downstairs. “She says she has a headache.”
The next thing I knew Josiah was heading up the stairs and a few minutes later the sounds of shrieking and cussing rang through the halls. Josiah came into the living room with Scarlett thrown over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. She was beating his back and squirming around as much as she could. But there was a reason Josiah had done well in the rodeo. No matter how she tried, she couldn’t escape.
“Josiah, you uncouth brute of a man put me down!”
“If you’d actually listen to your mother I wouldn’t have to go get you. Next time I’ll rope you like I would a stubborn calf.”
“You would not!”
“Don’t tempt me.”
Mom interrupted them with a clap of her hands. “Please, Josiah, Scarlett, this isn’t going to get us anywhere. Can we please call truce for ten minutes?”
Josiah sat scowling opposite of Scarlett who turned her attention fully to Mom.
“Now,” she continued when it was quiet again, “Teddy and Josiah stopped by because they’re having trouble at the ranch. I already told Teddy we haven’t noticed anything unusual here. I’ve offered to allow them to bring anything valuable that wasn’t damaged here for safe keeping.”
“What?" Scarlett exploded. “Sure, that’s a great idea, Mom. Now the lunatic going after them will have an excuse to come break into our house too.”
“Scarlett India.” Mom turned with a glare to her and I watched Scarlett squirm uncomfortably. “You may be an adult now, but I still expect you to show me respect. As it turns out, Josiah already pointed out that flaw in my plan. Whatever is going on at the Double Rocking B is a personal attack. I don’t think they’ll come out here. However, at Josiah’s insistence, we will not be transporting things here. Instead, we’re going to turn Jake over to them to act as a night guard. Sheriff Henley is going to start a regular patrol in hopes that we can discourage any further vandalism.”
“Why tell us?” I asked.
“It’s the neighborly thing to do,” Teddy replied with a weary smile that broke my heart. “I’d hate to think you lovely ladies were in trouble and I did nothing to warn you.”
“It also means, Blizz, that until the situation clears itself, Scarlett or I will always take you to and from your performances at the diner.”
“Mom, I’m not a baby.”
“You are to me,” she said. Though she smiled, her tone was serious. “Until we have a better idea what’s going on, it’s not safe for you to bike to town. In the meantime let’s all pray this is resolved sooner rather than later.”
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius