Saturday morning dawned bright and clear as I sprang out of bed and flung open the balcony doors to my bedroom in my family’s spacious two story ranch house. Leaning over the edge I breathed in the fresh California morning air and glanced back at the clock on the wall. I realised that I better get ready for breakfast and quickly, I didn’t want to be late for breakfast... again!
I pulled on my favourite gingham shirt and faded pair of overalls. Glancing at the clock, I hopped to the door, and tried to pull my boots on at the same time. Clearly this didn’t work well, as I tripped over a pile of dirty clothes. I sighed and finished pulling on my boots.
Why did everything go wrong?
I slid down the banister of the large staircase landing with a thump, and glanced around to make sure no one had seen me. I hurried to the dining room just as the breakfast bell rang. I sighed in relief, for once I wasn’t late. After my older brother Justin had said the blessing, I looked around at the table.
“Where’s Chad?” I asked Mother.
“Andrea, sweetie, don’t you listen at supper? Chad went to help the new family that are moving in to the old ranch that the Bakers sold. He’s lending them a few of our horses”.
I glanced up from my pancakes. “He better not be lending him Taffy!” I said angrily.
“Calm down little sis, Taffy is safe." Mitch said, grinning “Thanks to me." he added.
I jumped up and threw my arms around Mitch “Thanks Mitch!”
"All right, all right, you're welcome, sis. Now can you let me eat! The pancakes are getting cold!”
After breakfast I mounted Taffy and called for my Brother to hurry up. Mitch sighed. “Hold your horses Andi, Cory's not going anywhere!” He exclaimed.
Mitch had agreed to take time out his busy schedule to take me to town, after I had done my chores, (after much sweet talking on my part). I just wanted to race Cory and would have been happy to go by myself, but Mother insisted that I “could not go on my own”.
I tossed Chase’s reins to Mitch, who effortlessly mounted his horse. "Want to race?" I asked.
“I always win." Mitch grinned.
I knew Mitch could never resist a good race and I set off at a gallop, Mitch right behind me. I had gotten a slight head start but Taffy was still no match for Mitch’s fast stallion.
As we arrived in town, Mitch stopped at the Goodwin’s store to pick up some things for mother before attending to his business for Chad. “No galloping in town and be back in hour.” Mitch reminded me.
I waved my cowboy hat at him and pushed Taffy into a trot. I headed for the livery stable where me and Cory had agreed to meet. Sure enough, Cory was waiting there with his Chestnut gelding Flash. “Hey Andi, ye ready to go?” he asked.
“Sure." I replied and began to nudge Taffy into a gallop, and then on remembering Mitch’s words, I settled to a trot instead.
As we rode past the Arlington hotel on our way to our favourite racing spot just outside of the town, a handsome carriage drew up, and young boy of about 13 jumped out, before it had hardly stopped, and offered his hand to a girl of about my own age. Ignoring the hand she jumped out herself.
It wasn’t so much the girl’s behaviour that puzzled me, it was her appearance. She was quite a pretty girl with golden hair tied up in a pony tail. Her eyes were a beautiful greenish blue. She was wearing a gingham shirt tucked into a pair of grey trousers
She had riding boots on and a cowboy hat. Somehow it suited her. The boy was very much like her and I had no doubt that they were siblings. He was also dressed in similar clothes, a shirt, cowboy hat, boots and a pair of worn jeans.
“Come on Cory, let's go say Hi.”
"Andi come back here!” Cory yelled after me. He shook his head. I had obviously ignored him. He sighed and followed me.
“Howdy, you new here? I’m Andi Carter and this is my friend Cory Blake.” I said, indicating to Cory who had reluctantly followed me
“Oh, Hi." the boy said looking up from the pile of luggage. “Yeah, we're new here. I’m Matthew Jamison, but you can call me Matt, and this is my sister Lilly Grace. Nice to meet you." the boy said with a grin.
“Most people just call me Lilly, good to meet you” the girl said sticking out her hand.
“You too!” I replied shaking her hand. “Where ‘bouts you from?”
“My pa’s ranch up in New Orleans. We're moving into a ranch up here... the Bakers farm I think, Our pa’s already up there. You live around here?”
“Yep, I live on the Circle C Ranch, about an hour’s ride from here. You know, my brother Chad is out at your Ranch lending some horses to your dad. Say, did he really let you travel all on your own? What about your mother?”
Matt shrugged "Sure, he lets us travel on our own. My mom died when Lilly was born." he said
“I’m sorry. My own father died six years ago in a roundup accident." I said, softly.
“No worries, what’s done is done." he said, and smoothly changing the subject, he asked "Say, is your name really Andi? You remind me of my sister, you know, with your overalls and all."
I grinned. “No, my name's actually Andrea Rose Carter, but that’s way too fancy for me."
“Say, Cory where do you live?” Matt asked.
“I just live here in town.” Corry replied airily “Hey, maybe we could get together some time, have a horse race or something... Hey, do you and Lilly have horses?” I asked.
“Matt has a horse, but mine died a year ago, so I’m borrowing one at the moment." Lilly put in.
"But it'd be great to get together." Matt added quickly.
I smiled. “Great. How bout after school next weak... you going?” I asked.
“Yeah, we're going and I’m sure we can come. You said Circle C ranch right?” Matt said.
“Sure that’ed be great.”
We continued talking for so long my hour was almost up.“Sorry about the race, Cory.” I said, remounting Taffy.
“Doesn’t matter Andi. We can have it tomorrow.” said Cory, mounting Flash. He turned and waved, then galloped towards the livery stable.
Matt and Lilly headed off to meet their father, and I headed to the store and waited impatiently for Mitch to turn up.
When we got home an hour later we were both breathless from racing. I offered to tend to Chase so Mitch could take mother her things.
Latching the gate to Taffy’s stall an hour and a half later, I went inside and hearing voices in the Parlour I turned towards them and was stopped by Melinda.
“There are visitors Andi, Go to room and get changed." she told me firmly.
I sighed and went to my room. Melinda was in her bossy mood. Glancing at the contents in my wardrobe, I chose Mitch’s old red plaid shirt and my favourite plain blue cotton skirt. Then taking the stairs two at a time, I hurried to the Parlour, wondering who the visitor was.
As I entered the room I saw that the whole Family including Chad and Mitch where there. On the one couch sat a tall handsome man and on either side of him sat... Matt and Lilly!
“Andrea sweetie, come in.” Mother said with a smile “John, this is my youngest daughter, Andrea Rose. Andrea, this is Mr Jamison.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Carter." The man gave a little bow. “Your mother and I used to know each other." he told me.
“Good to meet you too Mr Jamison. I think I met your children in town." Andi said giving a fraction of a curtsey.
“Yes, they were telling me so." Mr Jamison smiled.
“Andrea, do you think you could show these two around the Ranch while the adults talk?” Mother asked.
“Sure." I nodded. “Matthew, you and Lilly Grace go with Miss Carter.” I beckoned for Matt and Lilly to follow me, and as soon as we were outside we burst into laughter.
“Miss Carter!” Matt grinned.
“Matthew and Lilly Grace!" I said choking with laughter.
“By the way, why aren’t you in overalls anymore?” he asked.
I frowned. "I’m only allowed to where them sometimes." I sighed, glancing at Matt’s suit and Lilly’s dress. “I guess you also have to be fancy sometimes"
"I guess... Hey, you want to go riding?” exclaimed Matt.
“That would be fun! But I’ll have to go ask Mother and Chad." I said as I ran towards the house. “Chad is it okay if we borrow some horses to go riding?” I asked, my head peeping round he door.
Chad glanced at Mother, who nodded. “Yes, Andi, you can take Captain and Arrow.” Chad answered.
“Look after your friends, Andrea, and be back in time for supper.” Mother added.
“Can we go?” Matt asked me eagerly as I rejoined them.
“Yep, come on upstairs and I’ll lend you something proper to wear!” Digging through a chest I handed Matt a pair of Mitch’s outgrown overalls and Lilly a pair of my own. We were soon changed again and racing outside.
At the horse barn and I showed Matt where the tack room was and told him to grab tack for him and Lilly. Then me and Lilly found Arrow, Captain and Taffy. I quickly saddled Taffy, and when Matt came back with the rest of the tack, it wasn’t long before we were ready and galloping away.
When we came to the creek, we stopped for a break. We were splashing around in the water, and I glanced at the sun “We better get back or we'll be late for supper.” I said jumping out of the water, and I was about to turn around when I heard click of the gun. We froze.
“Don’t move!” a voice shouted. I shot a worried glance at Lilly and Matt, who where facing the speaker. Their faces where as white as chalk. I didn’t recognise the voice but it looked like Matt and Lilly did.
“Turn around slowly.” he said to me in a thick accent as I heard a gun cock,
I figured it would be best to obey.
“Now, mount one of the horses." he said.
I quickly mounted Taffy, and taking a knife, he cut the tether rope from Taffy and fired his gun into the air. Taffy reared and I only just managed to hold on as Taffy started to gallop towards the stables.
I tried frantically to turn Taffy around. Matt and Lilly were still there. What would he do to them? I had given up trying to turn Taffy around now. I urged Taffy on. I needed my Brothers!
As I got home I jumped off Taffy and ran towards the house. Stumbling in I yelled for my brothers. “Justin! Justin, Chad! Mitch!!! Anybody?”
Chad stormed out of the sitting room “Andi! I’m trying to read! Do you mind?” then on seeing the scared look on my face, and that the other two were not with me, his face softened slightly. “Andi what’s wrong, where are the others!?”
The tears that I had held back now came pouring out.
“Andi! What happened?" he said giving me a little shake.
It didn’t help. Justin came in. “Chad!” he said, seeing me in tears “Andi, honey, what’s wrong?” he asked, pulling me into a close embrace.
I told Justin everything ending with, “Where is Mother?”
“Mother and Mitch went to town with Mr. Jamison. You three missed supper, so Mother said your friends could stay the night. But now... Chad you go to town and get Mitch. Andi and I will start searching. You two can join us." said Justin snapping into action.
“Andi, go get some canteens and food, and maybe some blankets." Justin instructed.
Chad was already heading towards the door and Justin had gone to tend the horses and get some guns.
I had soon collected the supplies and stuffed them into the saddlebags. Mounting Taffy I waited for Justin to mount Thunder.
"Here." he said handing me a small hand pistol that weighed heavily in my hands, and taking his own rifle, urging our horses into a trot, we started off to my special spot by the creek where I had last seen Matt and Lilly.
“Andi, you look around about a mile ratio from here. I’ll look further out. Meet back here in about an hour. It should be getting dark about then."
I nodded and urged Taffy into a gallop, scanning the horizon for my friends.
The sun was starting to set, and I guessed I better get back to where I was meeting Justin. Turning, I set Taffy off at a breakneck gallop and headed back to the creek. When I got there, it was already dark. I strained my eyes. I couldn’t see Justin.
There was a low moan from behind me. Startled, I looked behind me and gripped my pistol tighter. Dismounting Taffy, I cautiously moved towards the noise.
“Don’t move, I’ve got a gun.” said a weak and raspy voice.
“Me too.” I said trying to sound brave
“Andi!” the voice answered. I moved closer and then gasped.
It was Justin! He was lying on the ground next to his gun.
“Justin! What’s wrong?” I cried, sinking to my knees.
Justin groaned again. “Water....” he said in a whisper. I rushed to grab my saddle bag. Rifling through the contents, I found a water canteen, then carefully poured little drops of water into Justin’s mouth, which he swallowed eagerly.
Once he had had his fill, I tried again. “Justin what happened? And are you hurt?”
“Andi, you got to get out of here! They're coming back!"
“Who’s coming back?” asked I asked frantically.
“The people that shot me.” He answered, urgently.
“You've been shot!!!? Where?” I exclaimed.
I glanced at his body. I had missed it before. He had been shot in the leg. “Justin!” I gasped.
“Don’t worry Andi, it’s not that bad.” Justin said, trying to sit up and then falling back with a soft groan.
“Justin, it is bad!” I cried.
“Andi, you need to leave. Now! The people that shot me are coming back! They might shoot you!" Justin said, his face withered with pain.
“Justin, I don’t won’t to leave you!” I insisted.
“Andi!” Justin called out. There was a crack of a gun, then everything went black.
“Andi.” a voice called. I awoke and tried to sit up, but immediately fell back pain exploding in every muscle of my body. “Andi, are you alright?” an anxious voice asked.
“No, Andi, it’s me, Mitch. Justin’s here too.” he said.
I slowly opened my eyes. “It hurts so bad, Mitch." I said in a cracked voice, tears spilling out.
“I know Andi. You’ve been shot." he said quietly, squeezing my hand.
“Why... are you... here, Mitch...and...how’s Justin?” I asked, gritting my teeth and ignoring the pain of talking.
“Andi, just rest” Mitch soothed.
“Tell... me.” I said between breaths.
Mitch sighed. “Alright, but you have to lie still. Me and Chad and Mr. Jamison searched for a long while, but couldn’t see anything, so we were on our way back to round-up a search party when we heard gunshots near us. We took off at a gallop. Chase slipped and well... I was caught. Chad got away though, Thank God! There is some hope. He may find us.”
He glanced over at Justin, who was lying a meter or so away from me. “You were both shot." Mitch buried his head in his hands.
I looked at him, scared. I’m the one always getting into trouble; my brothers don't usually join me.
Mitch sat up “Andi this is going to hurt, but I have to see what I can do for your wounds”.
I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my fists determined not to cry.
Mitch took his knife and carefully tore my overalls and took of the sleeve of my shirt. I had been shot in my arm. A wave of pain came over me as Mitch carefully cleaned it with his bandana and a canteen of water. And then, when he started to remove bullet, the pain was so great that I fell into blessed unconsciousness.
When I woke up the pain in my arm was still very much there, but was slightly more bearable. I wondered how long I had been unconscious and I wondered where I was. Just then I heard some shouting coming from the door.
Mitch jumped up just as the door flew open and a gruff looking man came in holding two kicking children. I looked closely at the two children and gasped (immediately regretting it as my chest had been knocked when I had been shot). It was Matt and Lilly!
The man threw them down cursing and examining the bite marks on his arm. He walked out slammed the door without a word. I heard the key turn and the bolts sliding into place.
Matt stood up and gave his sister a hand then hurried over to Mitch. “What happened?" he asked, glancing at me and then Justin.
“Shot." Mitch said shortly. Then, looking up, towards them, “How did you get here?” he asked in surprise.
“We were kidnapped, as Andi probably told you. We were kept in the room next to this one. They have put us in here because their boss is coming... I think.” Matt said.
Lilly nodded “I managed to get a couple of good kicks though.” she grinned.
I looked up at Mitch “What are we going to do, Mitch?” I groaned.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There’s nothing we can do.” Mitch said. He sounded frustrated. He carefully checked my wound and then moved over to Justin.
I tried to move to a more comfortable position and immediately regretted it as pain shot through my body. Then, sounding from the room next to us, there was a load, of banging and then in burst no one but Cory! Breathless and panting.
“Come... on!" he said, in between breaths.
Mitch stood up clearly amazed. “Cory! How did you get here?”
“Chad helped.” Cory said glancing at me and Justin. “They are keeping others busy, But I didn’t know that they uh...”
“Justin and Andi have been shot. Cory, you and Matt take Justin’s legs careful it’s shot, I’ll take his head." Mitch said with renenewed energy. “Lilly, you stay with Andi. We will be right back.”
Matt jumped up, and helped to lift Justin. The three of them staggered under his dead weight, but were soon back for me. I shuddered as they lifted me. Even though they were being gentle, it felt like they were tearing me apart. Then I passed out.
2 DAYS LATER
I was now almost as good as new, stitched up and back to full consciousness. Justin wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Neither would I, but we where well enough to hear the full story.
The man with the gun turned out to be a man whom Mr. Jamison had testified against back at New Orleans, which put him in jail. He had wanted revenge, so he kidnapped Matt and Lilly, but when Justin and I had got involved he took us to. But what I really wanted to know was how Cory got to rescue us.
“Well, one man stayed to watch the prisoners whilst Chad and some others stayed and distracted the rest.” Cory explained.
“What about the guy who stayed behind?” I asked
“A frying pan can do wonders.” Cory said shortly.
I giggled. I remembered when Jenny had hit former deputy Baker on the head with a frying pan. I could imagine Cory with one.
“Andi, I just wanted to thank you for coming after us.” Lilly said.
Matt nodded. "Yeah, you could have just left us, but without you we would probably still be stuck in that o’l shed.” he said.
“Andi, our house is only about a twenty minute ride away. We can go riding everyday from now on!” Lilly exclaimed.
Matt, me and Cory grinned. “Err, I think I will stay off the trail for a while.” Matt said.
“I think we're gonna' all be great friends.” I said “And do you know what I’m most grateful for? It’s friends like you.”
Justin smiled and quoted, “However rare true love is, true friendship is rarer.” -author unknown
Note: Andi could have taken the easy option and forgotten about going after her friends. After all, she hardly knew them and their father would find them. But those thoughts didn't even cross her mind. She knew that it would not be noble to forget about them. So she did what was right even though she knew the risks.