Sixteen-year-old Andrea Carter walked through the wide double doors of the two story schoolhouse and thought, I get to ride Shasta all day tomorrow! As she was walking down the street toward Justin's office she heard a voice behind her.
"Hey, Andi wait up!" It was Cory. When he had caught up to her he said, "You know you wanted to play ball with the rest of us, why didn't you?"
She sighed and said, "Mother insisted that I wear a frivolous dress for the first week of school and I'll quote on what she said, 'Don't you dare get that dress dirty or wrinkled. I warn you, if you do I will speak to Chad about you carelessness.' That's what she said!" Andi spoke in an exasperated tone.
Cory laid a hand on her shoulder. They had been courting for some time now and he wanted to comfort her in some way. "How 'bout I come over tomorrow and ride to the creek with you?"
"Hey, that doesn't sound half bad. Come around seven?" Andi, who forgot about her worries, questioned.
"Yep, I'll be there. See you tomorrow!" Cory announced.
"Okay, bye Cory!" She called as he rounded the bend.
Andi stumbled through the door of Justin's office. It slammed behind her.
She winced, Tim, Justin's clerk liked quiet and not to be disturbed. Uh-oh! She thought.
"What do you want?" Tim growled.
"Just waiting for Justin," she replied.
"Well, be quiet about it then," he was starting to bite like a chilly breeze.
"Yes, sir," Andi said timidly.
"That's better." Tim said even more coldly than before, like Jack Frost.
He's more grumpy then normal today. Andi thought as she stole a quick glance at him and slumped in a recliner.
Just then, Justin came through the door of his office and said, "Ready to go little...oops, I mean not so little sister?" he teased, ever since little Gracie was born, he liked to tease.
"Yep," she replied, getting up. She couldn't wait for Cory to come tomorrow. So as she was climbing into the buggy she said, "Cory is coming in the morning."
"I bet that will be fun," Justin said.
"Yes it will," she sighed inwardly and thought, I wish Cory would ask me to marry him already! Being Andrea Carter made it very hard to be patient.
As they were pulling into the driveway Andi talked to herself, Maybe I'll pack a picnic for Cory tomorrow. He'd like that!
Her thoughts spilled out into words "I think I’ll pack Mother's fried chicken and cornbread. After all, that is his favorite," she bubbled with enthusiasm, for Cory was very busy at the livery and didn't have much free time.
"What are you talking about?" asked a confused Justin.
"Oh, sorry, I was talking about what I will pack for Cory's lunch tomorrow," she explained, rather embarrassed. Her cheeks flushed.
"That makes sense," changing his train of thought he said, "Just think, when you were 12 you would have never thought of courting, now here you are courting Cory," he chuckled softly.
Andi's cheeks burned a brighter red, "I-l do t-think Cory is a very good companion," she stammered.
Justin, who saw her uneasiness, stopped his careless teasing, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have teased you like that, I know you love Cory," he reached over the buggy's seat and gave her hand a squeeze.
"It's all right, I know you don't mean anything by it," she replied.
"No, Honey, it's not all right, will you forgive me?" he asked.
"Of course I will, Justin, I will always love you and will forgive you no matter what," she said, very sincerely. She returned his squeeze as the buggy came to a rolling stop in front of the hitching post.
Chad came out from the barn and helped Andi down from the buggy. He held her firmly by the shoulders, "Andi I want to make this clear, you need to stay out of the bunkhouse. A couple of ranch hands are down with influenza and I don't want you to get sick, there's an epidemic going around," he paused for breath and continued, "I really don't want anything to happen to you Andi, so please, will you understand?" Chad pleaded.
"I understand, Chad, I'll stay out of the bunkhouse," she agreed.
"Thanks Andi, I love you," he said pulling her into a hug.
"I love you too, Chad," she said, wondering why Chad, who rarely showed any sign of emotion, was hugging her.
Justin cleared his throat, "Let's get in for supper, you two," he suggested.
"Sounds good, I'm starved!" Chad exclaimed.
"Me too!" Andi agreed.
"Me three!" Justin added, for good measure.
"Supper!" The call for supper rang through the house as Andi was changing out of her dusty dress from the ride home and into a clean sky blue dress. The skirt had see-through lace with blue satin under it. From the stomach up it was the same color blue without the lace. The sleeves were short with blue ruffles.
After she changed she walked down to the dining room and sat at her usual spot next to the stairs just in case she needed to make a fast escape to her room.
"How was your day Andrea?" Elizabeth Carter asked.
"Good, how was yours, Mother?" Andi said knowing that it was not polite to say that Victor Nelson, the school bully, had put a snake in Virginia's lunch pail and blamed it on her.
Of course the strict schoolmaster made Andi write, I will not put snakes in other pupils lunch pails 100 times. Mr. Foster still thought she was a foolish child. He had warmed up to her since she saved his daughter's life, but still, he hadn't quite forgiven her for almost running him down with her beloved but deceased horse, Taffy.
It was her last year of school and she wanted to show him that she had outgrown her nonsense. I wonder if he will ever believe me about how......
"Fine," Elizabeth replied, interrupting her thoughts.
"Where is Chad?" asked Andi.
"He was needed in the south pasture and won't be back for a while," Mitch sighed, "There's a big break in the fence that needs fixing," he said.
"How big is it?" Andi questioned. She knew full well how serious a break in the fence could be. It could let hundreds of head out.
"20 feet wide, it looks like the cattle stampeded right into it," he answered, his voice suddenly turned very quiet, "Mother, over a hundred head got out," at Mother's gasp he gave her a reassuring smile, "I'm sure we can round most of them up before dawn," he said in a comforting voice.
Mother let out the breath she had been holding while her youngest son talked, "Are you sending Riley out? God gave him a gift for rounding cattle," she said.
Mitch nodded his agreement, "Riley will be going out as soon as he gets done helping Cook with the dishes, we need every able hand out there, including Trig," he said with a disgusted grunt.
Justin, who was having supper with his mother and siblings, spoke up, "Andi and Cory are going to the creek tomorrow, do you think it will be safe, with some cattle that you might have missed wandering around?" he asked.
"Yeah, it will be safe, they won't wander that far," Mitch said to him.
"Oh, Mother, speaking of the creek, will you make fried chicken and cornbread for a picnic for Cory and I?" she practically begged.
"Sure, Honey, right after supper," she agreed.
"Good, thank you!" she responded eagerly.
Andi paced the porch over and over, picnic basket in hand, it was ten to eight and there was still no sign of Cory. She was getting worried, never had he been this late! She made a sudden decision, she was going into town to find out why he was so late. She started towards the barn, silently fuming,
If he forgot! she threatened.
She approached the hitching post where Shasta stood, already saddled and bridled. She hooked the basket to the saddle and mounted. Andi urged Shasta into a smooth lope. At this pace she would be in town is a half an hour’s time. If Cory was on the road she would not miss him.
As she rode into town, an uneasy feeling settled into her gut. What had happened to Cory? She rode to the yard of the house where he lived. It was empty.
The door suddenly burst open, "Don't come any closer!" Mr. Blake shouted.
"Why? What's wrong?" She asked. The sickening feeling she had in her stomach returned.
"I'm sorry Andi, Cory caught the epidemic," he said, "Andi, he, um, is in heaven now, I am so sorry.
Andi gave a shriek that made Shasta rear. She hit the ground hard. Mr. Blake's startled shout was the last thing she heard.
"Andi, are you okay?" Riley's concerned voice broke into Andi's shocked state, he had followed her all the way from the ranch. Mr. Blake stood nearby, he was anxious to see if she was all right. He had already lost a son to influenza and didn't want to lose a near daughter due to shock.
She stirred and slowly opened her eyes, "Is it true?" she asked Riley in a hoarse whisper. At Riley's slow nod and faint, "Yes, its true." she flung herself into his waiting arms and sobbed her heart out. "Why? Why did it have to happen?" she asked through her tears.
"I don't know, but in the bible it says 'All things work together for good for those who love God' I know you love God and I know you weren't meant to be married to Cory, it's gonna be hard, but I just know this will turn out for the good sooner or later," he comforted, "It may seem like the grief will never go away, but when my mother died I asked God to take my sadness. Just think of that when you are overwhelmed."
He lifted her up in his strong arms and settled her on her horse. He took Shasta's reins and mounted his own horse, Dakota. With Riley still holding Shasta's reins and Andi clutching the saddle horn, they headed back to the ranch.
When Andi awoke a few days later all she remembered was grieving over the loss of Cory and an occasional bowl of chicken soup. Mother was at her bedside the entire time. "Mother?" she called.
Mother jumped from the chair she was sitting in and asked anxiously, "What do you need my sweets?"
"Mother, I am going to get up and get down to the breakfast table,"
Her mother looked shocked, "But-" she was cut off,
"I'll be fine, go and get dressed, you don't have to take care of me anymore, I'll meet you downstairs," she said, dismissing her mother with a wave of her hand. At Elizabeth's concerned looks she said, "I'm serious, now let me get dressed." Andi waved her hand again.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest but shut it quickly and shrugged. She left the room.
When Andi had dressed, she hurried to the stairs, her depression was still there but an old habit still lingered in her mind. She wanted to slide down the banister so bad! This was her chance. "God, please let me get over Cory's death. I don't want this grief." she prayed.
Fingering the railing her thoughts turned more and more to Cory, tears sprang into her eyes. The grief has obviously still there, but she had to let go sooner or later. She settled on the railing and sailed down the banister leaving most of her grief behind, she plopped to the ground. Andi got up quickly, hoping no one had seen her.
As she hurried into the dining room the color rose to her cheeks, there was Mother, Chad, and Mitch, staring at her like she was crazy. Justin and Melinda were home with their spouses. Mitch's mouth dropped open and he asked, "Did you-?" at Andi's nod his mouth dropped even lower. Everyone, including Andi, burst out laughing.
Once their laughter subsided, Andi sat down. Luisa set a heaping stack of pancakes in front of her, "Lo siento acerca de Cory," she whispered.
"Muchas gracias," Andi whispered back.
"Dear Lord, thank you that all the cattle were rounded up safely and," Chad paused his prayer, "I thank you for Cory, the joy he brought others, including my sister. And I thank you for all this food! Amen." When he ended his prayer everyone started eating the fluffy buttermilk pancakes and bacon.
When breakfast was over Andi went to the barn, where she supposed Riley would be. She went to Midnight's stall and saw Riley sitting in the hay softly stroking his horse. Andi knocked lightly on the stall door. "May I come in?" She asked.
He looked a bit surprised at first but quickly recovered, "Of course," he said patting the hay beside him.
She sat down, "You know what you said about all things working out for good?"
"Yeah, what are you getting at?" He asked
"You know how you asked me to court you a while back?"
"Yes," Riley replied.
"Well, I accept your offer, that is, if it still stands," her words danced with excitement.
"It still stands but, isn't it too soon?" He asked with concern
"Even though it's not my way, like you said, I believe something good happened through all of this. Riley Prescott, I wasn't meant for Cory and Cory was never meant for me obviously. We were good friends, but you and I," She reached over and hugged him. "We were meant to be together."
Six months later
"It's just so beautiful out here at night, Riley," Andi breathed. They were at the creek with the twilight hovering over them. It was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. The setting sun glistened on the creek's clear water.
"Andi," she drew her head to where Riley was. He bowed to one knee "Andrea Rose Carter. Will you marry me?"
"Yes, I will marry you Riley Prescott," she said quietly. Then she felt the coolness of the ring being slipped onto her finger. All things do work out for the good.