Old Friends and New Family

by Jesseca Dawn
Part 1
Andi plunked down on her bed and stared out the window. The raindrops made pretty designs as they trickled down the windowpane. Andi sighed. Sitting down at her desk she looked at the pile of homework in front of her.
What a way to spoil a perfect Saturday, Andi thought to herself. But still, homework is better than sitting in the parlor with Melinda, listening to her go on and on about her suitors and teasing me about when I'll have one.
Starting on her homework with renewed vigor, Andi was soon finished. 
Pushing the chair away from the desk, she gave a sigh of relief. “If graduating means all these tests and finals I wish I could stay in school forever!”
Andi muttered. But, at least Mr. Foster was going to be gone all next week, which would mean no school...and no homework. When Cory, who had graduated last year told her she wouldn't have time for anything else but studying, Andi hadn't believed him. “I guess you were right after all, Cory.” Andi laughed to herself. Of course, when was Cory ever wrong?
Just then, Andi heard a knock on the downstairs door.
Who would be out in such weather? Andi thought, hurrying down the stairs.
Entering the parlor, she saw mother reading a single slip of paper.
“Who was that, Mother?”
“That was Jesse. You know, the assistant telegraph operator. He's brought me a telegram from Chad.”
Chad and Mitch, along with some of the ranch hands were on a cattle drive, taking the cattle from the ranch to the market in Los Angeles.
“What's wrong, Mother?” Andi asked, anxiously scanning her mother's worried face.
Mother handed her the telegram. “Here, read it.”
Over half of heard stolen by cattle rustlers Stop Mitch badly wounded stop Being treated by doctor in Bakersfield. Stop. We will be here for a while Stop
Andi gasped. “Oh Mother! What are we going to do?”
“Well, we'll wait until Justin gets home. Then we'll decide.”
At the supper table, Mother and Justin discussed what to do.
“We need to get going after those cattle rustlers. I'd also like to make sure Mitch is alright. I think I'll go down to Bakersfield with a couple of men. That way I'll be able to check on Mitch and get the details from Chad,” Justin said. “Then we can get going after the rustlers.”
Mother agreed. ”That sounds like the best plan. When will you leave?”
“First thing tomorrow morning. If it wasn’t so urgent I would wait till Monday, but every minute counts.”
“Can I come along?” Andi asked.
“No!” exclaimed Justin Mother and Melinda at the same time.
“Why not?”  Andi protested. “There's no school all next week so I wouldn't be missing anything.”
“Andrea, it's not safe. Who knows what you would danger you'd run into.”
“But I don't have to go after the rustlers. I can stay with Mitch. If he's wounded bad, as Chad said he was, I'm sure it would help for me to stay with him. Otherwise he'd be alone, since Chad will be off chasing the rustlers. Besides, Mother, I know what to expect. I've been on a cattle drive before,”Andi explained.
“Well, what do you think, Justin?” Mother asked.
Andi turned pleading eyes to her brother.
“You be ready by 6:30am tomorrow morning or you'll stay behind,” Justin said with a smile.
Andi jumped up and threw her arms around her brother! “Thank You, Justin! I'll be ready!”
Andi sat up and rubbed her eyes.
Justin grinned down at her. “You must have been tired. You fell asleep as soon as the stagecoach started moving.”
Andi grinned sheepishly.  “Well, it's not every day I get up at 5:30am to get ready to go with you to Bakersfield! How much further till we get there?”
Cory, sitting with the other men from town on the opposite bench laughed. “You've slept most of the way. We'll be there in about 30 min.”
Andi grinned. “I should sleep on all the trips we take. Otherwise they are too long.”
Soon they arrived in Bakersfield. Justin and Andi immediately went to the doctor's office while the men went to the sheriff's office.
Andi turned to Justin. “Can Cory come along? “
Justin turned to Cory. “It's up to him. Do you want to come along? You can wait in the office until Andi and I see him then you’re welcome to see him also.”
Cory shrugged. “Sure, I'll come along.”
“Justin, Andi, over here!”
Andi turned toward the voice. “Chad! Justin, there's, Chad!” She hurried across the street. Chad picked her up and swung her around.
“Chad put me down! I'm almost seventeen!” Andi laughed.
Chad put her down. “Now, how were you able to talk your way into coming along?”
Before Andi could answer, Justin hurried across the street followed by Cory. “We came as soon as we could. How's Mitch?”
“He's doing better. Follow me and you can see him.”
Upon entering the doctor's office, Chad turned. “You wait here while I see if he's awake.”
When Chad entered the room, Andi heard him talking in a low voice. Then heard Mitch's voice answering.
“You can come in.”
Suddenly, Andi hung back.
“What's wrong, Andi ?” asked Justin.
“What if he's hurt really bad? Maybe you should see him first, Justin.”
Justin gave her a hug. “He'll be alright,  Andi. But, if you want me too, I'll go first.”
As Justin entered the room, Andi sat down in a chair next to Cory.
“Andi, remember a couple years ago when Mitch got shot and it was just Jenny you and I were the only ones with him?” Cory said.
Andi nodded.
“Well, if Mitch got better then, he'll get better now. But until he's well, he needs you to be strong for him. Alright?”
Andi smiled. “You're right. I think I'll see him now.”
The door to the room was halfway open. Andi knocked softly.
Mitch turned and grinned. “So, you finally decided to see me. Now, I want to hear all about how my little sister was able to come along. I know Mother would have had a protest. So, I want to know how you were able to reverse the answer.”
Andi grinned and entered the room. “It's quite easy when I have a smooth-talking lawyer on my side, as Chad calls Justin. Besides, I said I'd stay here with you while Chad and Justin go to pursue the cattle rustlers. Cory agreed to stay with us also, so we'll have plenty of company. By the way, you don't look so bad.”
“Well you haven't seen my leg. Both of them actually. They both got shot pretty bad.”
Just then one of the sheriff’s deputies ran in the room. “We've just got another report of cattle being stolen. We've gotten up a posse and we're ready to go after the rustlers. Are either of you coming?”
Both Chad and Justin jumped up. “We're on our way,” Chad exclaimed.
“We'll see you and Cory later,” said Justin, and they both were gone.
Part 3
The next couple days were quiet. Mitch, who got restless staying in bed, was happy to have Andi and Cory there to amuse him. Andi, who soon got bored of staying indoors, tried to coax Cory to come outside with her.
At first he refused. “Andi ,we don't know where those men are. They could be hiding around close to the town. I am responsible for you as well as Mitch, and I don't want to take any chances.”
Andi snorted. “YOU responsible for me? I don't think so! And Mitch is perfectly able to take care of himself for a hour or two. Aren't you, Mitch?”
Mitch, who had been a silent observer of the argument, grinned. “You better go with her, Cory. Nothing stops my sister when her mind is made up.”
Cory groaned. “That's what I was afraid of. Okay, we'll go, but only for an hour.”
As  the door closed behind her, Andi took a deep breath of the fresh air. Turning to Cory, she grinned. “Don't tell me you're not glad to get out of that stuffy room for a while.”
Cory smiled. “That I can't deny. So, where are we going?”
“Oh, I don't know. We could just walk around the town.” Just then, Andi looked across the street. “Cory, is that Chad?”
Cory turned to where she was pointing. “It sure looks like him, but I can't tell for sure because his face is turned away from us.”
Andi started across the street. “I'm going to see who it is.”
Just as she reached the boardwalk on the other side of the street, Cory yelled, “Andi, look!”
Andi turned to where he was pointing.
A mounted procession was making its way into the town. The sheriff came first, while behind him rode five men on horseback with handcuffs around their wrists.
“It looks like they caught the rustlers. I wonder where the cattle are.”
“They're probably outside town a little ways and bedding down for the night. Some of the ranch hands are most likely with them,” Cory replied.
Just then Andi spotted Chad and Justin waving at them. “Look, there they are. I guess that man wasn't Chad after all.” Andi turned around to look at the man she thought was Chad. As she turned around she turned into someone and, caught off balance, she fell.
“Are you alright, miss?”
Andi looked up. The man she had thought was Chad was standing over her reaching out a hand to help her stand.
“Thank you,” Andi said getting to her feet.
Cory ran over. “Are you alright, Andi? How did you fall over?”
“That was my fault,” the man said. “I was walking past and she turned so quickly that I ran into her.”
“I'm sorry. I turned around because I thought you were my brother, Chad, but when I saw him riding in with the sheriff I turned around to see who you were.”
“I'm Jem.” He turned to the lady standing next to him, whom Andi hadn't noticed before. “And this is my sister Ellie.”
Part 4 
“Would you like to come meet my brother, Chad?” Andi asked.
“Sure. Would that be alright with you, Ellie?”
Ellie smiled at Andi “I don’t see why not. What's your name?” 
“Well, my full name is Andrea, but most people call me Andi.”
Ellie grown up. Don't let the fancy clothes fool you!
Ellie had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “I assume you don't like the fancy name 'Andrea'?
Andi shook her head. “Not at all!”
Ellie smiled. “You sound just like me at your age. My full name is Ellianna, but I like being called Ellie.
Just then Chad and Justin joined them.
Andi turned to her brothers. “Justin and Chad, this is Jem and Ellie. Jem, Ellie, these are my brothers.”
Chad winked at Ellie. “I believe we've met before. It sure is good to see you again, Jem, Ellianna,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as he shook Jem's hand.
Ellie also had a twinkle in her eye. “Mr. Carter, you know I can't stand to be called Ellianna. Just as Kate couldn't stand to be called Katherine and Andi can't stand to be called Andrea.”
“Ahh, but it's always fun to tease!”
Andi was confused. “You know them?”
Chad grinned. “It's been a while, but yes. I met them on a business trip I took with father about 3 years before you were born.”
Jem grown up.
Jem surveyed Chad. “You look worse then you did that time we tried to brand calves. And you got pretty dirty in that scuffle!”
“I'm ready for a hot bath and a soft bed after being out in the weather for 4 days. And so does Justin.”
Later that night, it was decided that Ellie would return home with Cory, Justin, Mitch, and Andi, while Jem, Chad, and the other ranch hands finished taking the cattle to Los Angeles.
“How long will y'all be able to stay?” Chad asked Jem.
“Well, a week or two. We are just returning home after visiting our aunt, whom you might remember, in San Francisco. “
Chad laughed. “Oh, I definitely remember her! How could I forget?”
While  Chad, Jem, and Justin  talked, Andi, Cory, and Ellie walked to the doctor’s office to check on Mitch.
While they were walking, Ellie told Andi all about the time Chad had visited and all the mishaps they got into.
Andi laughed. “To think that bossy Chad ever had some adventures!” she exclaimed.
The next day, they left. Chad wired Mother to let them know what was going on and to prepare her to expect guests. Chad and Jem returned home two days later. From the beginning, Andi had noticed how Chad seemed to treat Ellie. 
So, it was no surprise to her when Chad announced his desire to court Ellie.
“I would love to have a sister like Ellie!” she exclaimed. “But Chad, you better watch out. She's a lot like me, and I don't think it would be a good idea to try to boss her around.”
Chad laughed. “I wasn't even planning on trying. Although it is a mystery to me how only one of the girls in my life, my sister Melinda, managed to be a perfect lady!"
Ten months later, Chad and Ellie were married. Ellie's father had given permission and was able to leave their ranch in Goldtown long enough to attend the wedding.
Melinda and Andi and Rebecca, one of Ellie's friends, were bridesmaids while Jem, Mitch, Justin, and Cory were the groomsmen.  Just before the service, Cory whispered to Andi. ”I’ve got a little surprise planned for the newlyweds after the service.”
As Chad and Ellie were saying their vows, Cory winked at Andi. Andi smiled back. I can't wait to see what Cory has planned!
Part 5: the conclusion
When the service was over, and before the dancing began, Cory was one of the first to congratulate the new Mrs. Chad Carter. As he shook her hand, Andi saw him slip something into her pocket.
Chuckling to herself, Andi walked over and stood next to him. “Please don't tell me you slipped a snake into her dress pocket.”
Cory grinned. “That I did. If she's like you, like you said she was, she also needs a little gift on the important days of her life.”
“You are mean!” Andi exclaimed.
Presently, Andi saw Ellie touch her pocket while a surprised look came upon her face. Turning to Chad, she said, “Will, you excuse me a moment, dear? I have something I must do.”
“Of course.”
Ellie walked over to where Cory and Andi where standing. Reaching into her pocket, she took out the snake. “Mr. Blake, I believe this belongs to you.” Ellie's eyes twinkled. “It is a fine wedding present . But I’m sure it will be happier free, don't you agree?
“Cory smiled. “Yes, Mrs. Carter.”
“Oh, don't call me Mrs. Carter. Call me Ellie.“
Just then the fiddler struck up a lively tune and Chad walked over. Bowing, he asked, “Ellie, my dear, may I have this dance?”
“I would be delighted, Mr. Carter,” Ellie replied with a twinkle in her eye.
Chad turned to Cory. “Why don't you ask Andi for a dance? However reckless she may be, she still can dance wonderfully, and don't you think she looks rather attractive tonight?
Andi blushed. “Chad! How could you tease me so?”
Chad only grinned, then he and Ellie were gone in a twirl of dancers.
“They do make a fine couple,” Andi mused.
Cory grinned. “Yes, and so would we. May I have this dance, Andi?“
Andi sighed. “You know I can't stand dancing. But, alright, just this once.”
As they were dancing, Cory said. “You know, Andi, I've been thinking about asking your brothers something of great importance that concerns you. Which brother do you think I should ask?”
Andi laughed. “That would depend on the question. What are you going to ask them?”
“Well . . .” Cory stopped dancing and looked Andi in the face. “I would like to ask them permission to court you.”
Andi gasped and pulled back. “Surely you are teasing me!”
“Actually, no, I'm serious for once.”
Andi turned and took off running.
Mitch, who had  been watching the incident walked over. “What just happened between you two?”
Cory explained.
Mitch smiled. “Well, I can tell you that you have permission to court her.  Of course, that is only if it's alright with her. Stay here. I'll go after her.”
Mitch found Andi in the barn brushing Shasta's mane. While she wasn't sobbing, Mitch saw that her face was wet with tears.
“Cory told me what happened. And I gave him permission to court you if you agreed.”
“Oh, Mitch! How could you?”
“You don't want him to court you? I—”
“It's just so sudden. I'm barely seventeen!”
“Andi , tell me truthfully. Do you care for Cory?”
“W-w-well, yes, I do, but I hadn't admitted it even to myself yet.”
Mitch laughed. “That's what I suspected. Now, why don't you dry your eyes and go back inside. I believe I know a certain young man who is waiting for you to finish a dance.”
As she walked inside, Cory hurried over to her. “I'm sorry, Andi. I didn't mean to hurt you.  But may I court you? Mitch gave me permission, but it's ultimately up to you.”
Andi looked down. “Yes, you may.” Then she looked at him with a twinkle in her eye. “I believe, Richard, that we have a dance to finish.”
Cory smiled. “Most certainly, Andrea.”
One year later, Andi and Cory were out at a picnic down at the lake. When it was finished, they went for a ride in a rowboat. After talking for a while, Cory turned to Andi. “Can you take the oars for a minute? I've got to get something out of my pocket.”
Andi hesitated. “I've never rowed before. I might tip it.”
“You'll be alright. Just take the oars.”
Taking the oars, Andi laid them on her lap. As Cory pulled a small box out of his pocket, Andi heard a splash behind them. She stood up too quickly. 
The boat began to totter.
“Andi . . .“ Cory warned.
But it was too late. The boat tipped over, and Cory and  Andi splashed into the water.
  After swimming to shore, Andi said, “So, what was that you were getting from your pocket?”
Cory laughed. “Here.” He handed the box to her and she opened it. “Andi , will you marry me? I have your family's blessing. Please say yes.”
Andi laughed. “Most gentlemen propose with a ring, not a snake. But the answer is yes, I'll marry you.”
Cory looked shocked. “A snake? There was a ring in there. Not a snake!”
Andi took the snake out of the box. “Oh, here is the ring. It was under the snake. The snack must have slithered in the box when the boat tipped over. It's a beautiful ring.”
“Well, I guess our friendship started with a snake. And now our marriage will too.” Cory grinned.
They both laughed.
The End


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