by Faith H.
by Faith H.
“I’m sorry honey.” Justin gave a playful apologetic look at his sister, Andrea. He took a sip of coffee, eyeing her over the ridge of his cup. “I know you’re really disappointed about not going to school today.”
12-year-old Andi made a you’re crazy! face then laughed. “Of course, I am, big brother! I’m terribly devastated,” she rolled her eyes playfully then hightailed it for her room, leaping up the grand stairs two at a time. An inerasable smile played at her lips. She threw open the door to her room then flung herself onto her bed. Just as quick, she shot to her feet and did a little twirl.
This is going to be the best day ever!
She dashed to the forever frowning French doors and pressed her nose against a small pane of glass. A thousand rain drops splattered from the sky, drenching Andi’s balcony, turning the Circle C ranch yard into a muddy mess and happily for Andi, making for a definitely not travel-into-town day.
“Rain, sweet rain. Hmm, hmm, hmm,” she sang happily.
A typical day like today, (which always seemed to fall on a Saturday) Andi would be moping. Well, either that or cleaning out stalls. But not today. It was going to be great! She was determined. Besides it was Friday.
And since tomorrow’s Saturday, then of course Sunday, that means three entire days with no school! Andi bounced with joy.
Snatching her housecoat, she made to tear back down the staircase. Then, for a moment she hesitated, weighing the consequences of sliding down the banister. She grinned and hopped up. The polished banister slipped beneath her as she slid down. A moment later there was a resounding thud! Standing, Andi rubbed her backside and winced.
Luisa, the maid, who happened to be walking by made a ‘tut-tut’ sound. She shook her head and muttered something about a rufián salvaje in low Spanish.
Wild Ruffian indeed! Andi scowled the moment Luisa was out of sight, though really, she knew Luisa meant no harm. Andi never escaped a scolding when Luisa was around after a good slide down the banister. Andi gave up. Well, I’m not going to let this ruin my day.
Very rarely did Justin not go to his office in Fresno for work. But today there was no choice but to stay at the Ranch and skip a school and work day. Rain poured without a break in the clouds. That would make for a very bleak hour ride into town.
Andi glanced at the sky the moment her feet left the grand ranch Villa. Gloriously grey!
With a smile, she dashed over to the barn. The smell of alfalfa, horses and warmth enveloped her when she reached the barn.
A cheerful nicker met her ears.
She grinned. “Well, hello Taffy!” Her mare began prancing impatiently. “Yes, yes, I know,” Andi said, “you want a ride.” She sighed. “And believe me, I want nothing more too! But it's pouring outside.” Her boots left thick, muddy tracks on the barn floor as she made her way to her beloved equine friend.
“Right now, I was just going to brush you out and...” Andi’s words broke off as she gazed into Taffy’s longing eyes. She gave a defeated sigh. “Oh, alright,” she laughed. “Just don’t get grumpy when you get all wet!”
First went the saddle, then the bridle, then Andi. She mounted easily from years of practice. Rain drops pattered down on Andi’s hood. She nudged Taffy into a quick walk.
“Hey sis!’” Chad yelled from across the yard, “Where you going?”
“Just on a ride,” Andi threw over her shoulder. Please, oh, please don’t ask me to muck out stalls!
“Okay,” Chad answered. Andi gave a sigh of relief at his response. “Just don’t go too far. This storm looks like it’ll get nasty.”
Taffy broke into a trot and the two were soon out of view of the ranch. A good ten minutes later Andi reined in Taffy. The rain was pounded down harder. Droplets slid down her neck, causing her to yelp at their cold touch. She began petting Taffy's neck. If this gesture was meant to comfort Taffy or herself, she wasn't sure.
“Taffy,” she whispered, “m-maybe this wa-wasn't such a great idea.” She shivered from the cold.
Okay, let’s go— suddenly she gasped, leaving her thought hanging.
Through the wall of rain, she could just make out a magnificently posed horse. She nudged Taffy forward. The moment the horse was clear to see, Andi’s jaw dropped. One quick glance told her this was definitely not a Circle C horse.
He was a gelding, a beautiful blue roan. Even drenched from the rain, he was stunning. Shining black coated his legs and neck. Dazzling blue-grey covered the rest of his body. His mane and tail were pure black as was his head, with a definite white blaze finishing his majestic features.
Taffy nickered a greeting. The gelding’s head shot up, his ears pointing straight towards the dark sky.
Andi’s heart beat quicker. Gently, she dismounted and slowly approached the gelding, talking softly. His ears relaxed.
“Hey boy,” Andi crooned, “it’s okay. I would never hurt a horse. Especially not one as gorgeous as you.” She chanced a step closer. The gelding eyed her cautiously but didn’t shy.
And reached out and gently touched him. His skin flinched but he didn’t move. He turned his neck to sniff at Andi. Apparently satisfied, he went back to lazily grazing at the sopping wet grass.
Andi inwardly squealed. Oh, he’s sooo pretty! I wish we could keep him! But, where’s his brand marking?
She ran her hand over his back. Her eyes widened. A somewhat fresh scar lay unattended to on the other side of his back. She gasped when she spotted two more. Unknowingly, she bit her lip.
The story seemed clear. Whoever owned this horse had beaten it so, in self-defense, he’d run away.
Suddenly Andi’s eyes lit up. What am I doing?! This is a wild horse and he’s mine! Thank you, Lord! This really is a perfect day.
A grin spread from ear to ear. “I’m going to name you, hmm...” she racked her brain for any ideas. “Yes! Cinder. It’s perfect. Okay, come on Cinder. You’re shivering!”
She reached for his head and started walking back to the ranch. Chad’ll know what to do. She smiled. I may have the bossiest brother, but he does know more about horses than anyone in the world, I bet. Besides, he may even let me ride this beauty!
Andi grinned at the thought. “Come on, Cinder. Let’s hurry back to—”
A loud clap of thunder cut off her sentence. Her hands shook with fear as a blinding strike of lightning lit up the sky. A scream stuck in her throat. Her number one fear? Thunder Storms.
It was bad enough at night when thunder raged and lightning struck. At least then she had quilts to hide in and snuggle deep beneath their warmth. Then she’d squeeze her eyelids shut or run to Mother.
But Mother wasn’t out in this storm. She was probably at home canning preserves or working on a quilt. That actually sounds nice right now, Andi mused. Lord, please help me keep my wits together! she prayed silently.
Andi jumped at the man's hoarse voice which broke rudely into her thoughts. He came into view, a scraggly halter in his hand. He wore mud caked overalls and his shirt was drenched. When he saw Andi, he gave a smug grin. At least three teeth were missing. Andi frowned.
“What are you doing here?” she snapped, “you are on Circle C ranch land, you know. Who are you?”
The stranger broke out in laughter. “Slow down, missy! Me’ name’s Jim, I own a spread a good twenty miles from here. I’m just getting my horse, Horace. Been tracking him for hours. He’s annoying and especially useless.”
“That’s a long way to walk to get a useless horse,” Andi stated defiantly, pushing aside a shiver. The rain drops were beginning to seep into her skin.
Jim scowled. “He’s right ‘purty, just got no brains at all. Can’t let him get the better of me. He ran away from me, the dumb animal,” he snarled.
“I bet he had a good reason to,” Andi muttered. Horace? What kind of name is that?
Jim ground his teeth and leapt forward. With a heave he pushed Andi away from Cinder.
Andi stumble backwards. Quickly she righted herself. “Hey!”
“Let me get my horse and I’ll be outta’ ya way, missy,” he snarled, struggling with getting the halter on Cinder’s face. Cinder wouldn’t stand still. Jim’s fury bubbled over. He raised the halter and let it come down with a whack on Cinder’s back. Cinder startled.
Andi gasped. “Hey, you can’t treat him like that!” She shouted above the thundering rain. “No horse in the world should be treated like that.” Cinder’s eyes were wide with fright. He kept on fidgeting.
“You keep quiet!” Jim growled furiously at Andi. “You’re makin’ him scared!”
Andi’s jaw dropped. “I am making him scared? You’re nuts!”
Jim struck Cinder again. Andi’s anger exploded. She ran up to the beast of a horse owner and with all the strength she could muster pushed Jim away from Cinder. He stumbled back in surprise but quickly recovered.
Quick as a flash he darted forward and taking Andi by the shoulders propelled her backwards. The breath was knocked out of her. She tripped and landed in a puddle making mud splatter all over her face. Her head spun. Shivers racked her body. She felt useless.
Suddenly a figure stood before her.
No, don’t hurt me! Shaking, Andi buried her face in her arms.
“Nobody treats my sister that way.”
Jim’s eyes widened in terror of what Chad might do. There was a little break in the clouds and the rain started slowly letting up.
Andi’s heart beat a mile a minute. Chad bent and helped her to her feet. Her legs felt like jelly. Then Chad rose to his full height and met Jim with fiery eyes.
“I’m going to give you ten seconds to clear out of my sight before I pound you, got it?”
“You just keep that brat of a girl away from my horse,” he scowled at Andi.
Chad’s face flamed in anger. Taking Jim by his shirt, he flung him onto Cinder’s back and gave a dark scowl. “You better get.”
Jim scrambled and quickly kicked Cinder into a fast trot.
Chad turned to his horse, Sky, and mounted without a word. Silent treatment, Andi concluded. But what did I do wrong?
Andi cleared her throat to ask, but Chad beat it to her.
“Get on Taffy and let's get back. Last thing I want on my hands are a dozen cases of colds,” he paused. “You know, I’ve been thinking,” he started, “that horse looked like it could catch a real high price. Maybe I could bargain with ole’ Jim. He’d sell him to me.”
Andi’s jaw dropped. “What...”
“You’d like that?” Chad chuckled. “Wow, he was beautiful.”
“I was going to say, what were you doing out here?” Andi smirked.
“Of course, you were,” Chad said in a tone which meant the opposite. “When that lightning struck and the thunder and all that, well let's just say I knew you don’t like thunderstorms,” he chuckled. “So, I thought I’d ride out and see if you were okay. You can imagine my surprise to find you and a strange man bickering over that blue roan gelding.”
Andi’s dipped into a dreamy gaze. She sighed thoughtfully. We might own Cinder after all! Ahh! Oh, Thank you Lord! Thank you, thank you, thank—
Chad’s laughter broke into her musings. “You look like a dream just came true!”
Andi shrugged. I think it has.
The sun rose with gumption a week later. He spread his sunrays with pose and cast beams down upon the Circle C ranch yard as a rider led in a beautiful horse. Andi burst from the back door, beaming.
“Cinder!” she exclaimed upon seeing the beautiful blue roan. She threw her arms around his neck. A giggle escaped her lips. Cinder nickered. “I think you and Taffy will be best friends,” Andi whispered.
“Don’t get your hopes up, ‘sis,” Mitch said from behind. Andi turned.
“What do you mean?” She asked.
Mitch gave a grim smile. “Sorry ‘sis,” he said, “but horses like this beauty are to sell.” He pushed his hat back on his head. Andi noticed a bridle in his hand. “At least ones Chad invest in like this gelding. Do you have any idea how much Chad paid for him?”
Andi shook her head then winced. Probably a lot. He had to convince Jim to sell him. She bit her lip. “I know you’re right.”
Mitch laughed. “You and I both know Chad doesn’t throw around cash for no reason. He’s already got a buyer lined up!”
Andi’s gaze shot up, disbelieving. “But––”
“But that’s why you should take a quick ride on him while you can,” Mitch grinned, holding out the bridle. Andi’s eyes lit up as she leapt for it.
Then she hesitated. That can’t be right. Chad would never let me ride a new horse this soon.
Mitch read her mind. “Don’t look so worried, ‘sis!” he chuckled, “I’ve already asked for you.”
“And he said yes?!”
“Cinder is as gentle as a newborn colt; you can ride him easy! You know, Chad isn’t always stubborn about these things.”
Mitch winked, “Especially when a kind guy like me is asking.”
Andi laughed and had Cinder bridled in no time. Mitch helped her up as Cinder was a good two hands higher than Taffy. Andi’s grin spread from ear to ear.
“Thanks Mitch,” she whispered. Then she nudged Cinder into a lope. She was just leaving the yard when a sudden cry made her heart lurch.
Oh, Andi sighed in relief, it’s just Mitch.
“Yes?” she hollered over her shoulder.
Andi spared a glance at the sky. Pure grey clouds were starting to form. She winced. Looks like Rain.