I shot up, remembering just in time that it was Riley, not Chad yelling at me to get up. And I’m not twelve years old anymore. I glanced at the clock and gasped. “Eight o’clock!”
“Riley, why did you let me sleep so long?” I asked, rolling out of bed.
“It’s Saturday.” Riley said. He was already dressed, a huge smile on his face.
Uh-oh. Whenever he grinned like that, I knew something was up. The only question was what? “What is it this time?” I asked suspiciously. “Good or bad?”
“Good, I hope.” Riley answered. “But you might not think so.” He rested his hand on the top of the bed and chuckled.
I groaned, reaching for a hairbrush. “Tell me quick, you’re going to anyway.”
“Well,” Riley cleared his throat and a faint look of worry crossed his face. “I think it’s about time you learned to shoot.”
“What?” I asked, hair-pins falling out of my mouth. My long brown hair cascaded down my back. I turned to stare at my husband.
Silence. The room felt icy. Riley cleared his throat again.
“Riley -” I began.
Riley cut me off. “Give me a chance, Andi. I’m sure I can teach you!” He paused, and his voice softened. ”I get worried about you.. . alone out here, not knowing how to shoot a gun.” His jaw tightened.
“I can’t shoot, Riley.” I argued. “Do I have to tell you how many times Chad’s tried to teach me?” I rolled my eyes. “The lesson always ended in arguments and tears.”
“But you’re older now.” Riley said. “Besides, I’m more patient than Chad.”
“Can’t disagree with that.” I admitted. I finished pinning up my hair and walked into the kitchen.
“Come on, Andi! Just try.” Riley coaxed, following me. “You’ve got to learn how to shoot at something and hit it with the first shot! What would you do if you met some critter or something?”
“I’d scream.” I said, dumping flour into a large bowl. I half grinned. “Being loud runs in the family.” I mixed in a few more ingredients and prayed I had it right. Leave it to me to ruin a perfectly good pancake recipe.
“Hang it all, Andi!” Riley said, spinning me towards him. “Won’t you at least give it a try?”
I turned away and didn’t respond. What’s so bad about trying, just once? My conscience asked. Because I can’t. I’ve always been lousy at shooting. I argued silently, stirring the batter as hard as I could. But...what if you did run into a bear, or worse?
I bit my lip and poured some batter onto the griddle. “I’d much rather be using this afternoon to ride Shasta.” I grumbled aloud.
Riley stayed silent.
“Alright.” I finally said, cringing at the words. What am I thinking? “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll give it a try.”
“Yee-haw!” Riley hollered. He grabbed my waist and spun me around.
“Let me down!” I ordered, bubbling up with laughter. Riley plopped me in a chair and grinned. “Only one try, mind you.” I reminded him. He nodded and pressed a kiss into my hair.
“My pancakes!” I shouted suddenly, jumping up past Riley and racing to the kitchen. “Oh.” I said when I reached the stove, the wind taken from my sails. Not only was the pancake burnt, but it was flat. Too flat for a pancake.
“What could I have done wrong?” I wondered aloud, eyeing the jumbled ingredients.
“Ready to start your first lesson?” Riley asked, coming up behind me and squeezing my hand.
“What about breakfast?” I asked.
Riley eyed the griddle. “It can wait.” He said, tugging me towards the door.
I doused the fire and begrudgingly followed.
“Andi! You’ve got to listen!”
“I am listening.” I said. Tears bubbled at my eyes. Don’t cry!
This lesson was going just as horribly as I had imagined. Riley, patient Riley, was already losing his temper with me.
He handed me the rifle again. “Try again, but keep the gun steady this time.”
How many times had he said that in the past hour? I took the gun and tried my best to steady it. It was heavy for its size. No heavier than Shasta’s saddle, my mind protested.
It’s still a wonder to me how such a small weapon can contain so much power. Just as I fired the first shot, I jerked backwards, lost my balance, and fell into an unladylike heap.
By now, I had given up the will not to cry, and silent tears of frustration streamed down my face.
Two seconds later, Riley’s face appeared in my vision. “You alright?” He asked, helping me to my feet.
I nodded. I didn’t even ask if I had hit the target, his look of disappointment told me everything. Without a word, I picked up the rifle and stared at the ground. Riley didn’t speak.
As we walked back to the house, I didn’t even have the strength to say “I told you so.” Even if I had, I didn’t really want to. To be honest, I felt just as disappointed as Riley, though I was glad the lesson was over.
My stomach growled, reminding me that breakfast, or lunch was waiting to be made. I groaned inwardly. No relaxing for me. “Do you still want pancakes, or should I start making sandwiches for lunch?” I asked, turning to Riley from where we stood a few feet away from the house.
Riley didn’t respond. His head was turned away, ignoring me.
I repeated my question and waited. Still no response. He couldn’t be that upset, could he?
Well, he was obviously holding a grudge. I felt a flicker of anger. “Riley, this is becoming a little bit ridiculous.” Tears welled afresh. “Being frustrated is one thing, but not even speaking to me… that's just-”
Riley turned and slapped a gloved hand over my mouth. “Hush, Andi, and don’t move.” His eyes were wide with anxiety. From what, I didn’t know. My own agitation dissolved into alarm.
I gulped. “Riley-”
“Don’t talk.” Riley warned. “Don’t panic, just slowly hand me the rifle.”
I eased the rifle into his waiting hand, my heart pounding.
“Coyote.” Riley answered my unspoken question.
I blinked in surprise and glanced around. “Where is it? Surely all you need to do is fire a warning shot.”
Riley nodded towards a shrub several feet away. Following his gaze, I let out a small gasp. This was no ordinary coyote. Foam hung from his mouth, his eyes were wild, and his grey fur was matted into clumps.
Worse, he looked ready to charge.
“I can’t take a chance,” Riley murmured. “If he gets near us, or anybody…” He left the rest of his dreadful words unsaid.
I nodded mutely, horrified. The awful stories I’d heard about such animals were suddenly coming to life, right at our own Memory Creek Ranch.
Riley lifted the rifle’s barrel and slowly took aim. I screwed my eyes shut.
The coyote spooked, and the bullet went wild.
“Riley!” I screamed, just as the gray and white blur came bounding straight towards us. “Run!”
Riley grasped my wrist and we took off for the house.
Just a few more steps.
I glanced behind me. The mad coyote’s gaze was transfixed on Riley. His hindquarters bunched.
“Riley!” I screamed, dodging further away. “Duck!”
My warning came too late. The coyote leapt forward, teeth bared. The gun went flying and Riley sprawled, missing a collision with the porch railing by a hair's-breadth.
But that was the least of my worries. The crazed animal was standing over Riley now, foam dripping from his fangs.
I couldn’t let him bite Riley. Riley didn’t speak, nor did he move, but his terrified gaze met mine in a silent plea.
Help him. My mind ordered. My heart quickened until I felt light-headed. Please God, I’m so scared, show me what to do. I prayed.
My gaze fell on the rifle. No. I shuddered. If I miss, I’ll never forgive myself. And what if I hit Riley?
If you don’t do anything, you’ll feel worse. My conscience argued. It was just a few feet away.
What other choice did I have? I snatched the gun up. My hands shook.
I couldn’t miss, I couldn’t. Keep the gun steady. Riley’s words echoed in my ears.
I aimed carefully. The coyote was in my sights.
And then I pulled the trigger.
Boom! The coyote yelped.
Then all was silent, all was still.
The seriousness of the situation hit me like a wave of nausea. If I had missed, Riley could have died. Or worse. I fell to the ground as tears streamed down my face. Thank you God. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Riley moaned, bringing my attention back to the present.
“Are, are, you alright?” I asked, sniffing. I scooted up beside him.
“I’ll live.” He murmured, sitting up. Despite a few bruises, he appeared to be fine.
I threw my arms around him, more grateful tears rushing down my face.
“Don’t cry, Andi.” Riley said softly, squeezing my shoulder. “I’m alright, thanks to God, and to you.”
I helped him to his feet, and he paused to give me an incredulous look. “I guess my lesson payed off, you can shoot after all.” He said.
I shook my head and smiled through my tears. “Only when people I love are in danger.”