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“We're home!” Pa shouted as he and Lydia stepped through the doorway.
“In the kitchen,” Dessa shouted back.
“Up in the attic,” came Josh, Cale, Dale and Cooter's reply in unison.
“You're home?” Bo asked through the walkie-talkie.
“That would explain why someone who sounds like Pa would shout 'we're home' dipstick.” Rodney retorted, also through the walkie-talkie.
“Whatever, be right there,” Bo replied.
“It's good to be home!” Pa exclaimed, stretching his long, tan, muscular arms.
That was the worst honeymoon ever! Lydia thought, she had made the mistake of letting Pa plan the honeymoon and they had ended up in northern Michigan in a cabin. Every time she had tried to let Pa know that she was not pleased with the honeymoon, he had ignored her or hadn't noticed. She grunted as she picked up her suitcase, one of many, and began the long struggle up the stairs to her bedroom.
“Hi, Pa,” Dessa said energetically, her back to him. She was leaning over the stove stirring their supper. She was wearing jeans and a loose, faded Dallas Cowboys t-shirt, and her long blond, loosely-curled hair was up in a ponytail.
“Hi, Dessa darling, I sure have missed your cooking these past two weeks, in fact, that pasta smells so good, I'm tempted to scoop myself a big bowl full of it.” Pa said smiling, standing over Dessa, hands on her shoulders.
“Nice try, Josh and Cooter have already tried that..... And failed,” Dessa replied matter-of-factly. Pa laughed out loud, Dessa had never, ever let anyone eat before she was sure that it was absolutely perfect. But Pa had to give her credit; she'd never made a bad meal, only a batch of cookies but that was Josh's fault. He had purposely switched the sugar and salt, and he had to eat all thirty cookies.
“Nothing seems to have changed here,” Pa observed, sighing, “It really is good to be back!” Pa walked out of the kitchen and started unloading the rest of the bags from the car.
Later at supper, Pa and Lydia were telling stories of their honeymoon. Actually, Pa was telling the stories and Lydia was nodding and smiling sweetly when necessary, otherwise, she looked like she would've rather died.
“Sounds like y'all had a good time!” Jesse observed, smiling.
“Yes we did!” Pa replied happily. “What about you Lydia?” He asked expectantly.
“Oh, it was just splendid.” Lydia said sighing.
“Well, enough about me and Lydia, what happened to y'all while we were gone?”
“Well, we got the rest of the corn in, spent a few nights at the cottage and explored the farm some more.” Rodney explained.
“You got the rest of the corn in?” Pa asked amazed. They all nodded. “And spent the night at the cottage? All in two weeks?” They nodded again. “Wow, I don't know why I ever doubted y'all's ability to run the farm with me away for two weeks!” They all beamed, pleased. They had had fun while Pa and Lydia were gone, without either of them there they could do whatever they pleased. It had been a lot of fun, but it was even better with Pa back. After the dishes had been cleared and Dessa's cake gobbled up, they all headed up to their rooms for the night. Tomorrow would be interesting, Lydia's first time participating in chores and doing her share of the work around the farm, nobody wanted to miss that!
"C***-a-doodle-do!" cried the rooster at 6:30 the next morning. They all threw off the covers, threw on some clothes and sat down at the kitchen table for breakfast. As usual, Dessa was already up and at 'em, she always was.
"French toast!" exclaimed Cale, "What's the occasion?"
"Christmas," said Dessa sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
"Well then, ho ho ho to you too!" Bellowed Rodney in a deep, rumbling voice. "Have you been a good girl this year?" He asked Dessa, grabbing her around the waist and setting her on his lap, his eyes shining. Dessa promptly smacked him on his head with her spatula. "Guess not," said Santa, rubbing his head. Everyone else roared with laughter. They all stopped suddenly and looked at Lydia.
"What?" she snapped. She stood in the doorway wearing skinny jeans, Converse and an Aeropostale shirt. Her long, straight hair hung loosely down past her shoulders.
"French toa-" Dessa stopped in her tracks. Usually she wouldn't have let Lydia eat because of her designer labels, but for once, she let it fly. She didn't even say anything about her hair being down, Lydia's ready? She though mystified. Her mouth hung open, she quickly shut it and regained her composure. "Glad to see you're ready Lydia. Would you like some French toast?"
"Please," no snapping or murderous looks, just a simple 'please' what'd she do? Dessa thought suspiciously. She turned back into the kitchen and got two slices of French toast of the griddle and placed them on Lydia's plate. She then served herself and sat down at the table, praying someone would break the awkward, yet almost beautiful silence.
"So, Lydia," Josh began. There goes that silence, thought Dessa mournfully. "Are you ready for today?"
"What am I doing?" Lydia asked as if everything was completely normal.
"You'll start by mucking out the horse stalls and then brushing them." Josh said.
"How many horses are there again?" Lydia asked, cutting her French toast.
"Hmm," Lydia said thoughtfully, "What time is it?"
"What time is lunch?"
"Is that all I have to do?"
"For the morning, yes."
"Cool," Weird, thought Josh. She isn't trying to get out of chores, she's all dressed and everything. She isn't complaining about chores. It's almost like she's in a good mood, if that's possible. Dessa cleared the dishes from the table and put on her boots.
"Let's go," They all trooped out the door and headed to one of the barns or a field. Lydia headed to the horse barn. Alright, I can do this. I'll quick get this done and I'll go rest. She picked up a shovel and opened the first stall door, let's go.
An hour later Lydia was exhausted. She had cleaned out three stalls and was pretty sure that she was going to faint from the smell. And I thought I could do this? No way, no how. She looked at the time on her walkie-talkie, only eight? She whined, she groaned and forced herself to get up and start on the fourth stall, this was going to be a long day.
"Wonder how Lydia's doin'?" Jesse wondered aloud. He was in the bull barn with Cale and Dale working on mending the walls. It may only be September, but on a farm, winter starts a heck of a lot earlier. He drove a nail into the wall with his hammer. The bull barn required a lot of attention, the walls, stalls and doors had to be reinforced so that the bulls didn't escape and wreck havoc elsewhere. After they finished repairing the wood, they would get sheet metal and screw it tight to the wood and pray that their work wasn't in vain. I can only imagine what that would be like, Jesse thought.
“Oh, she's probably about ready to give up and drive back to the city and never return again,” Cale responded, as he picked up a two by four and started nailing it onto the old wood. Dale and Jesse burst out laughing.
“Yeah, you're probably right,” Dale said, laughing.
In the kitchen, Dessa was finishing stirring her soup. One last go-around, and.... she lifted the spoon to her lips, yummmm, perfect! She wiped her hands on her apron and stood outside the back door and lifted the cow bell. She gave it a long, hard shake and listened to it ring clearly all around the farm. She remembered when she and Josh were hardly two years old and Ma had rang the cow bell in Red Springs. She had been enchanted by the sound. She had been by the river with Rodney, which was quite a ways from the house. She had been holding Rodney's hand and bending down, touching the cold, fresh water with her small hand, when she heard the sound of the cow bell. She had stood up and turned around, the sound had been strong and mighty and seemed to be as loud as when she stood next to Ma. Man, that was something. She felt a tear forming in her eye as she remembered the memory, and less than three months later Ma was gone. Dessa stood straight up, mentally scolding herself. She turned back into the kitchen and started ladeling the soup into everyone's bowl.
“Yum! That smells good!”
“Hope you made a lot!”
“'Cuz I could eat a bear!” Not that anybody's hungry, right? Dessa thought to herself, smiling. Pa and her brothers usually came in for lunch the same exact way; loud.
“Cale Stewart! Are you sitting down at my table without washing your hands?” There was nothing Dessa hated more than dirty hands in her kitchen.
“Yes ma'am!” Cale shouted, saluting Dessa and marching to the bathroom. Dessa rolled her eyes, what am I going to do with him? After Cale returned with clean hands, they began slurping their soup, Lydia just sat there, her eyes glazed over.
“Lydia, what's the matter?” Dessa asked. She waited a few seconds, Lydia didn't respond. “Lydia hon?” Dessa asked again starting to get concerned.
“Huh, what?” Lydia looked up startled.
“What's the matter?” Dessa asked again, getting annoyed.
“Oh, just a little tired.”
“Then try my soup, it'll give you some energy.”
“Okay,” Lydia responded, like a little girl taking orders from her ma. She lifted her spoon to her mouth and swallowed. “Yum,” she took a few more sips and soon enough, she had finished the whole bowl. She stood up, stretched her arms sleepily and yawned, “I'm gonna head to bed, night.” She turned and walked up the stairs, a moment later she flopped onto her bed and fell asleep.
“Wow,” Bo said, staring after where Lydia had left.
“Wow is right,” Luke said, amazed.
“I'm a thinkin' she's tired,” Dessa said
“I thought she was wide awake!” Josh exclaimed in mock surprise, his eyes wide, “And wouldn't you know?” Dessa rolled her eyes and cleared the dishes. They all headed back outside to do their afternoon chores. By the time supper rolled around, Lydia had managed to rouse herself awake and remember where she was. She marched down the stairs and sat down.
“Lydia! What the heck do you think you're doin'?” Yelled Dessa. What is she talking about? Lydia wondered bewildered. Oh, I didn't wash my hands, heaven forbid!
“Sorry, Dessa,” Lydia said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She stood up and walked to the bathroom.
After supper, they played a game of poker, in which Lydia lost all her money and Dessa won twenty bucks, again. Once the boys got all the complaining out of them, they headed to bed and didn't walk up until they heard the rooster crow. And not surprisingly, Lydia had lost her vigor, and came to the table in her pajamas, her black hair a mess.
“Lydia Ann! What do you think you're doing?” Dessa asked, warningly the next day. Lydia marched back up to her room and got dressed and put her hair in a pony tail. Try as Lydia might, after a few days, she would forget to get dressed and all ready and Dessa would yell at her again. By the second week all Dessa had to say was “Lydia!” in a warning voice and Lydia would stalk back to her room. I cannot believe I'm taking orders from a thirteen year old! Lydia thought, stewing. Lydia hated the work, hated the early hours, hated the poker games, hated the homemade food, and hated the kids with all her heart. But, she couldn't, absolutely couldn't let Roy annul, that would not happen. She didn't care what it took, if she had to climb up the Empire State Building, if she had to muck out every horse stall in the world, she didn't care, as long as Roy didn't leave her before she did And that, will happen if it's the last thing I do! The second week was coming to a close and she had to think of a plan quickly. Roy was showing signs of disappointment, whenever she would forget to get dressed before breakfast, he would shake his head at her and sigh, disappointed. When she didn't finish her chores, which according to the kids were “easy”, he would go quiet and no matter what she said, she couldn't bring him out of it. I've got to think of something, I've never failed before, and I don't intend too! Now what to do? Lydia thought during her chores, when she was cooking something, before she went to bed, whenever she had a spare minute she was thinking of a plan and finally, on Friday, she had a plan. At dinner that night after they had all finished, she would announce her plan. I can't fail now!
“Ahem, excuse me, your attention please” Lydia said authoritatively, standing up. “These past two weeks have been a blessing to me, but as I'm sure you've noticed, I don't exactly excel at farm work, so I have come up with a plan. In a few weeks, I, Roy and Dessa will move to Portage. I have a house there and we will live there with my two daughters, Eliza and Sierra. Thank you, that is all,” With that, Lydia sat down, no interruptions, no protesting, that was perfect! She smiled, this was going to work, it just had too. The only glitch was Dessa, she really didn't want Dessa with her, at her house, with her daughters, but she knew that Roy would never agree if Dessa wasn't there. Besides, she could just have Dessa do all the work for her. He was his only daughter and one of the few things that he had left of Kelli Jo.
“Excuse me?” Dessa asked, Lydia, Pa and I? What the...? She thought confused.
“What’s unclear about it?” Lydia asked smiling politely.
“Oh, nothin’s unclear ‘bout it, but I ain’t goin’ nowhere, no how, no way, without my brothers, and I sure as heck ain’t leavin’ this farm!” Dessa stood up, challenging Lydia to make a wicked comeback in front of Pa.
“Just in case you haven’t noticed, Dessa dear, the world doesn’t revolve around you,” Lydia replied sweetly.
“I ain’t bein’ self-centered Lydia. I’m just lettin’ you know that Pa may go, but I ain’t goin’ nowhere without Josh, without Cale and Dale, Cooter, Bo, Luke, Jesse or Rodney. I’m sorry if that interferes with your plans, but your plan that will magically solve everything, is just solving your problems and creating a heck of a lot more. It's in everyone’s best interest that we stay put here in Lacota. I’m sorry if that isn’t what you want, but that’s how I feel and I’m sure that all my brothers will agree with me. Right?” Dessa finished and looked at her brothers, they all nodded in return. Pa and Lydia could leave, but not Dessa, Dessa wasn’t going anywhere without them.
“Lydia, we’ve been brothers with Dessa since the day she and Josh were born and you ain’t seperatin’ us now. You hate Dessa and would rather leave her behind, go ahead and leave with Pa, but not with Dessa,” Cooter was mad, no one was going to take Dessa away from him, he didn’t care if it would save the world or bring back ma. No one would touch Dessa before getting through him first.
“Now, why would I hate Dessa?” Lydia asked confused, “She’s my step daughter and I love as much as I love my own daughters. Why would you think a silly thing like that?”
“Um, well, let’s see here, you always insult me when Pa ain’t here, you shoot me murderous looks like there’s no tomorrow, you’ve yelled at me more than Pa and he’s my father, and shall I continue?” Dessa was getting mad, her blue eyes were turning dark and shining, but not a pleasant shining, it was like flames reflecting in her eyes, everyone had learned years ago that when Dessa had that look in her eyes, it meant one thing, back off!
“What are you talking about Dessa? Are you feeling well? I’ve never insulted you, never shot you mean looks and I’ve only yelled at you once because you had dirty hands!”
“Liar,” Josh said. Lydia was a little shocked, what happened to your plan? Why isn’t everything going according to plan? Why, why, why, why?
Take me away from this? From Lacota? Even the idea of taking Pa away from the farm is crazy! I can understand her taking Pa away, but me? Why me? Dessa quickly scolded herself, she couldn’t be distracted or Lydia would take advantage of her, she couldn’t let that happen.
“Josh, don’t call Lydia that, Dessa sit down and calm down, Lydia why?” Pa asked firmly and calmly. Something about his firm, calm voice made everyone within a five mile radius hush up and listen.
“Roy, I just wasn’t meant to do farm work. At my house in Portage, you can have a garden! You and Dessa won’t have to work so hard anymore, and I’m sure that the boys would be just fine by themselves for a while, I need to get my strength back and we can always come and visit!”
“Ah, I see. Well, Lydia, I see your point on the whole farm work situation, but it takes a while to get use to it all. Nobody’s born bein’ able to work on a farm.”
“Roy, I understand that you would rather stay here on the farm, but I've worked my rear end off for fourteen days straight, I think I should've gotten the hand of chores by now, don't you?”
“Well, maybe, but I really don't know.”
“Part of being married is making sure that everyone is happy. If we move to Portage, you can have a garden and I'll be able to see my daughters again.”
“We didn't even know you had a house in Portage or that you have two daughters,” Dessa retorted.
“Dessa, sit down. Lydia, Dessa brings up a good point, why didn't we know this before? Isn't part of being married, not hidin' anything?” Pa asked, innocently. The kids snickered.
“I told you everything, you must've forgot,” Lydia replied, cool as a cucumber. Dessa slapped down her fork, stood up and marched out of the kitchen, her brothers followed her lead.
The next day, the kids started trouble. Making everything five times harder for Lydia and trying to convince Pa that Dessa couldn't go and he shouldn't. The last time they unleashed everything they had, they had almost succeeded but somehow, Pa and Lydia still got married. How do you fail a second time? Jesse wondered. First, she invades our family, now she's trying to split us apart?! Uh uh, no way. Had Lydia suggested that she and Pa move, they would've tried to stop it, and probably would've succeeded too. But Dessa? All of the boys, were protective of Dessa whether Dessa liked it or not. They would kill to save Dessa, literally. Dessa leaving? Ha! Over my dead body! Bo thought. For a whole week, they went out of their way to make things even more complicated for Lydia, but nothing was working, Rodney called a meeting in the hayloft of the horse barn.
“Okay, this ain't workin'!” Rodney said.
“Thank you, Cap'n Obvious.” Dale said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
“We've tried everything, more chores, bad food, everything. But not a damn thing works!” Rodney yelled, slamming his fist down on the table. Wow, I thought he was like Pa, calm. Cale thought as he watched, amazed. “What are we 'pose to do now?” Rodney asked, frustrated.
“I've got an idea,” Dessa announced calmly, standing up.
“What?” Rodney snapped, then he turned red for yelling at Dessa, “I mean, what?” He asked calmly.
“Instead of makin' things harder for her, which only proves her point to Pa, why don't we make things easier? Then, she'll think, oh, this really ain't as hard! And maybe she'll stay.” Dessa said calmly, she sat down. The boys looked at each other, Cale let out a loud laugh.
“This whole time, we've been makin' things harder for Lydia which makes her want to move away even more. What we really should've been doin' was makin' things easier for her.” Cale observed. The rest of the boys started laughing, Cale and Dessa among them.
“Good job, Dessa!” Josh yelled over the laughter. They all whooped with delight, with a new, surefire plan, they were all more hopeful then they had been in a while, this was sure to work.
Monday morning, before anyone was up, except Dessa of course, Dessa snuck out the door, running as quietly as she could out to the barn. Dessa opened the barn door a sliver, careful not to make it squeak and entered. She grabbed a shovel and started mucking, ten minutes later she finished the first stall and ran back inside, careful to shut the stall and barn door. She quick checked on her rolls and then crept upstairs to Rodney's room.
“Boo!” Dessa whispered hoarsely. Rodney woke up with a start and fell off the side of his bed. Dessa laughed, Rodney gave her the evil eye and shooed her out the door. Rodney quick got dressed and then quiet as a mouse, tiptoed down the stairs into the kitchen. Dessa handed him a hot mug of her famous hot chocolate and Rodney headed to the horse barn. Dessa stood over the oven, sticking a toothpick in her rolls. Crispy on the outside, nice, soft and heavenly in the inside, with cinnamon to make it even better! Hmm, what else can I do? Dessa tapped her foot on the hardwood floor, that's it! I could add cocoa to the top! Perfect! Dessa sprinkled cocoa on the top and added a hint of powdered-sugar and then Dessa went to wake up Jesse who coincidentally fell off the bed too, when Dessa scared him. To bad it ain't Halloween! Dessa thought, trying not to laugh too hard. Two minutes later, Jesse stepped into the kitchen and Rodney returned from the barn.
“Good timing Jesse! I just finished two stalls! Your turn!” Rodney gloated. Jesse's face turned to stone.
“Hush up you two!” Dessa whispered, “I agree with Rodney, you both had excellent timing, my rolls are finally ready!” Rodney and Jesse's faces lit up with glee. Dessa's rolls were the best, especially the cinnamon ones. Dessa handed them each a plate of two rolls and a mug of hot chocolate.
“Yum!” They both shouted at once.
“Hush! Don't wake up Pa or Lydia!” Dessa scolded, still in a whisper.
“What'd you put in these Dessa? These are fantastic!” Rodney exclaimed, quickly devouring his roll. Dessa pretended not to care, but her cheeks turned the slightest shade of red and a smile was playing on her lips.
“Cinnamon, cocoa and powdered-sugar,” she replied.
“Well, don't you ever forget what you put in these, because these are great!” Jesse said, smacking his lips. Dessa hit Jesse on the head with her spatula. “Ow!” Jesse exclaimed, rubbing his head.
“Quiet both of you! Once you're done eating, Jesse you get to go do your stalls,” Rodney told Jesse.
“How many do I have to do?” Jesse asked, taking another sip of his hot chocolate.
“Got it.” Jesse took a final gulp and stuffed the rest of his roll in his mouth and headed out the door.
“I'm gonna go get Bo and Luke up,” Dessa told Rodney. “Don't steal any rolls or hot chocolate and if you start to smell something burning move it!” Rodney nodded, Dessa headed out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Wonder if I can make Bo and Luke fall off the bed? Dessa thought, smiling.
Less than a minute later, Dessa was downstairs.
“They fell off the bed, didn't they?” Rodney asked. Dessa nodded triumphantly, she walked back to the oven and got two plates and mugs ready for Bo and Luke. Five minutes later, Bo and Luke were downstairs, eating.
“So, how many stalls do we have to muck?” Bo asked, between mouth fulls of roll.
“Combined, five,” Rodney replied.
“How long will Jesse take?”
“Not much longer,” Jesse said as he came in the kitchen. He grabbed another roll and gave Bo and Luke a playful shove. “Slackers! There's work to be done, so get!” Jesse commanded, his eyes shining.
“Yes sir!” Bo and Luke replied at the same time, saluting Jesse and marching out the door. Dessa glanced at the clock.
“It's almost six,” she observed.
“Think we should get the others up?” Jesse asked.
“How many stalls are done?” Dessa asked as she stirred the hot chocolate.
“Let's see, you did one, I did two, Jesse did two, and Bo and Luke will do five, which means that, ten stalls are almost done.” Rodney replied, doing the math.
“So then no, we shouldn't get the others up.” Dessa told Jesse.
“Dessa, I think we should, Lydia can muck out seven stalls before lunch, without brushing or feeding any horses. If we get the rest of them up, we can send out Cale and Dale to do two. Then all Lydia has to do is muck out three stalls, brush horses and toss them some hay,” Rodney said.
“I knew that,” Dessa retorted.
“What if we finished all the horse stalls so all she had to do was brush them and feed them?” Jesse asked.
“What if we did that AND brushed the wilder horses. Like, Ionia, Caledonia, Argentine, Talledega, and Daytona?” Dessa asked.
“That ain't a half bad idea. Then all she'd have to do is brush the tame ones, toss them some hay and change the water. There's absolutely no way she can't finish that before lunch!” Rodney said, calculating everything in his head, making sure everything was perfect.
“Good, that's our plan,” Dessa agreed, “But I get to wake them up!” Rodney and Jesse laughed, Dessa headed upstairs.
By six fifteen, everyone except Pa and Lydia was downstairs. Dessa, being Dessa, refused to give anyone anything to eat, until they had mucked out at least one stall and brushed a horse. By the time the rooster crowed, the stalls were done and five of the horses were brushed.
Five minutes after the “alarm” had gone off, Pa walked downstairs, in jeans, a clean white t-shirt and his boots. Lydia, on the other hand, took another ten minutes and managed to stumble downstairs and into the kitchen, in jeans and a designer t-shirt. She may be tired, but leave it to Lydia to somehow mange a designer label. Dessa thought hotly.
“Howdy!” Jesse greeted Pa and Lydia cheerfully, raising his glass, acknowledging their presence. Pa grinned and Lydia rolled her eyes.
“What y'all doin' up so early?” Pa asked, sitting down as Dessa placed a plate in front of him.
“I'm guessin' I don't count as part of the 'y'all' you're referrin' to?” Dessa asked, everybody laughed.
“Pretty much,” Pa replied. Dessa smiled.
“Yum!” Exclaimed Lydia, taking a bite of Dessa's rolls. “These are delicious!” She greedily took another bite.
“Are they really that good?” Pa asked, amazed. It wasn't often that Lydia complimented Dessa, and meant it. He took a bite, and his reaction was the same as Lydia's; surprised and loving it. In a few minutes, all the rolls were gone, and the hot chocolate drank. Dessa shooed everyone out of the kitchen to their chores. All the kids grinned with glee, they couldn't wait to see what Lydia had to say at lunch.
Lydia trudged toward the horse barn, taking as long as possible. I can't believe they're still making me do chores! She thought, dejectedly. She swung open the barn door, bracing herself for the stench of manure, but found herself, standing straight up. She took another step in, the smell was gone, it almost smelled sweet. The stalls looked brand new, or at least as brand new as a stall that was nearing a hundred plus years could look. The wildest horses coats had an unusual shine to them, Lydia couldn't believe it. She peered over the stall wall of Argentine, a beautiful, intensely dark brown horse. Her coat shone with a honey-colored gloss. The Arab's stall was clean, with fresh hay and water, that sparkled. Lydia ran to the next stall. The stall of Roy Rogers, the horse she had ridden that fateful day, the day that what she did depended on what Roy would say, the final say. Would they call off the wedding or continue? He made the right choice, Lydia thought, smugly. Roy Rogers stall was clean, fresh hay and new water. His coat wasn't brushed, but she didn't mind. Roy was one of the gentlest horses, except for the draft horses, Stars and Stripes. She ran to all the stalls, and to her amazement, the stalls were all clean, the hay new, and the water sparkling. The wildest horses were brushed, all she had to do was brush ten horses and turn them lose. She quickly got the curry brush and started.
Two hours later, she was done. This was what she had been waiting for. Getting to turn them lose, and see their coats shine in the late morning sun. She quickly opened the barn door, and checked the gates, making sure that in her haste, she didn't forget to close them. Good! They were closed. She ran to the stalls and threw open the doors, the horses ran out of their stalls and into the pasture. Once she had let all of the horses free, she walked to the doorway and looked out. She gasped, her breath stopped, the sight in front of her was magnificent. All this time, this has been here?How could I have missed this? Lydia pondered the thought, chewing her lip, never taking her eyes off the horses, their coats shining in the sun. Argentine's coat looked absolutely magnificent in the sun. Her dark brown, honey-colored coat, looked even more intense and daring. Argentine had been Kelli Jo's horse. Kelli Jo and Argentine had competed in cross country and jumped heights sometimes taller than six feet. Lydia had never understood why the horse mattered, she had always thought that all horses were the same but now she realized. Draft horses, are stronger, pulling things. Ionia had a passion about her, not stopping, never tiring, like Dessa. Roy Rogers is strong and calm, like Roy. Argentine is intense and daring, that must have been what Kelli Jo was like! Lydia thought, understanding. Then she remembered what she was trying to answer before. How do you miss something like this? She gazed longingly at the horses, then it dawned upon her. This is what it feels like to be them! Watching horses running free in a pasture, it's so simple, yet so, so, graceful. Breath-taking, simple, majestic. Amazing! I've been so tired, with all the chores, that by the time I've turned them loose, I just wanted to get out of here. I've been missing this for two whole weeks. No, wait! For a whole lifetime! Lydia, got her breath back, she chuckled, she thought how simple it all was. Maybe I'll get use to this after all. She turned back to the house.
Dessa was standing at the stove, stirring stew when she heard a door shut. She's back! She sing-songed in her head.
“Lydia?” Dessa called.
“Yes?” Lydia asked dreamily. Did she just respond to me without being mean? Dessa thought in disbelief. She and her brothers had thought that Lydia wouldn't be as mad after watching the horses for a while, but none of them had thought she would be like this!
“You're back early!” Dessa exclaimed, “Are you alright?” Dessa asked with concern.
“I'm fine, do you need any help?” Lydia asked.
“No, I'm good. But, would you mind telling me why you're back so early and so happy?” Dessa asked.
“Sure, the strangest thing happened!” Lydia said, still hardly believing what she had seen.
“What?” Dessa asked excitedly. She actually was sort of excited, she always had been enchanted by the horses, they never had become a normal part of her day, it was always amazing. She always thought it was just as amazing listening to someone else talk about it.
“All the stalls had been mucked out, clean hay placed, the wildest horses brushed and water in every stall!” Lydia exclaimed excitedly.
“Really?!” Dessa asked, she didn't even have to act surprised, she had thought that Lydia would have to change the hay and water, but the boys had done it.
“Yes, really!” Lydia replied, seeming more relaxed with every word. “And that's not even the strangest thing!” Lydia bragged.
“What was that?”
“When I turned the horses loose, you should've seen them in the late morning sunshine. It was absolutely breath-taking.”
“Which horse do you think was the most beautiful?” Asked Dessa, she always thought it was interesting to here who everyone thought was the most beautiful.
“Definitely Argentine,” Lydia replied surely.
“Really?” Dessa asked, pressing Lydia for more. Dessa cocked her head, she had always thought that Lydia would think another horse, like Roy Rogers, was the best. But she could see how anyone would think that Argentine was the best.
“For sure,” Lydia replied.
“Her extremely dark brown coat, with that honey-colored gloss, oh it's just amazing, it's beyond amazing!” Lydia replied, as if seeing it for the first time again. “And you know what Dessa? I learned something too!” Lydia said, with the pride of a first grader when a teacher tells them they did a wonderful job.
“What did you learn?” Dessa asked excitedly, seriously. Lydia learned something? This is amazing! I never thought our plan would go like this! Dessa thought, mentally begging Lydia to hurry up and spill.
“That horses aren't all the same,” Lydia replied. “See, I always thought, what does it matter who the horse is? But I realized, that the horse, is probably one of the most important things, if not the most important.”
“Oh, ain't it wonderful when you finally realize that?” Dessa asked, remembering her first time.
“Oh, it really is. See, Argentine, you've always been telling me that she was Kelli Jo's horse, and that she was exactly like her. But I kept going, what are you talking about? Horses are horses, they don't reflect personalities. But they do! Argentine's coat is so intense, and you can see that in her eyes, and daring, doesn't even do justice. I figured out that when you guys look at Argentine, it's like looking at Kelli Jo. Am I right?” Lydia asked, timidly, as if fearing that if she had guessed wrong that the world would end.
“Lydia, you're exactly right!” Dessa answered evenly. “That's exactly what we think, Pa will be so proud.”
“Will he?” Lydia exclaimed. And as if on cue, Dessa rang the cow bell and the boys and Pa filed in and sat down. Dessa ladled them some of her stew and sat down.
“I think Lydia has something she'd like to share with us,” Dessa announced, prodding Lydia on. Lydia nodded.
“While I was out in the horse barn, the most amazing thing happened!” Lydia exclaimed and they all leaned forward, over the course of the next twenty minutes, Lydia told all of them the story she had just finished telling Dessa, when she was done, all of them had an amazed look on their face, Lydia leaned back in satisfaction. Pa's face broke out in a wide smile.
“Lydia, that's just, just amazing! I'm so proud of you!” Pa gushed, beaming. Lydia beamed back, for real, none of that fake stuff she'd been doing her whole life, a really, honest to goodness beam. It was contagious. Like Dessa's one of a kind smile. “Does this mean that you might rethink the whole moving thing?” Pa asked expectantly.
“Oh,” Lydia's face fell a little bit, but when you've seen what Lydia had seen for the first time, it's hard to be completely mad. “Maybe, but I do miss my daughters.”
“Then why don't you bring them here?” Josh asked. “Then you could show them what you just saw, can't you just see their faces?” Josh exclaimed, getting excited. “They'd light up, and probably be happier then they've been in months!” Josh had hit Lydia in the right spot, in the middle of her heart, the part that belonged to her daughters, a mother's heart. And as everyone knows, there's nothing a mother likes better then seeing her children happy.
“I suppose so,” Lydia said slowly. “Of course, I need to explore a little more just to make sure.”
“Of course, go right ahead. You don't have any chores this afternoon anyways, seeing how you finished your morning chores so early.” Dessa said. Lydia stood up and started to walk out of the kitchen. Then she turned, and looked back on the family.
“But where should I start?” She asked.
“Kelli Jo,” Dessa replied surely, “In fact, I'll take you there tomorrow after lunch!”
“Who's gonna feed us?” Complained Cale.
“Hush up, Cale. I'll get supper started and then all you'll have to do is heat it up or somethin',” Dessa told him, reassuring all of them.
“OK, just making sure!” Cale said, breathing a sigh of relief.
The next day, after doing over half of Lydia's chores, and eating lunch. Lydia and Dessa headed out to the horse barn.
“Lydia, who would you like to ride?” Dessa asked.
“Oh, I don't know. Who do you think I should ride?” Lydia asked. If this had been any other time or place, Lydia would've said some random horse's name and not have cared. But after what she had seen yesterday, she did care.
“Hm, let's see. I think...” Dessa looked Lydia up an down, then turned to the horses. “I think you should ride Dusten,” Dessa proclaimed.
“Why?” Lydia asked interested. She looked at the light chestnut colored Thoroughbred.
“Look at her,” Dessa whispered. Lydia looked, Dusty had a superior look about her, but there was still a innocence about her. Lydia thought about it and nodded her head.
“Yes, I think I should ride Dusty,” Lydia said, with confidence in her voice. Dessa helped Lydia onto her saddle and climbed onto Ionia.
“Lydia, because of what you learned yesterday, here's your test. Why do I ride Ionia?” Dessa asked.
“Um,” Lydia chewed her lip, thinking it through. She looked at Ionia. “Because, Ionia has a passion about her, not letting go, never tiring, like you. She's intense, but isn't as intense as Argentine, she looks, she looks, unstoppable, invincible, powerful. She looks like you,” Lydia finished and looked at Dessa. Dessa smiled approvingly, yes! Thought Lydia, she had passed. Dessa turned and trotted out of the barn and Lydia followed. This time, when I go to Magnolia, I'll learn something, I'll find something that I never noticed before. I won't be worrying about having to jump twenty feet off a cliff, I'll have a good time. Dessa broke into a gallop, ready or not, here we go! Lydia snapped the reins, and they were off.
Bam! Dessa threw the door open and came inside.
“How'd it go?” Asked Cale, he was sitting at the kitchen table writing something in a notebook.
“Better than last time, but not as well as I wanted,” Dessa said, as she stirred up a cup of hot chocolate for herself. While she and Lydia had been riding back, it had started to drizzle, the wind was just a breeze. Lydia had started shivering, Dessa had hardly noticed. Then, it had started to sprinkle, the wind had kicked up, not quite an actual wind, more like a harsh breeze. Lydia's teeth had started chattering, and had complained about numbness in her fingers. Dessa had felt it but still hadn't felt cold, she had wished for a shorter ride just for Lydia's sake, but still was fine. Then it started to rain, and it began blowing harder, a strong wind. Lydia had started complaining even more, Dessa had started to feel a small chill.
Then, it started absolutely pouring, and blowing harder and harder, the horses couldn't run anymore and couldn't see very far. Lydia kept straying off to the other side. Dessa had to control two horses, a grown-up woman and was shivering. She kept praying for the red barn to come out of nowhere to shelter them, she wished for a sweatshirt, but she knew that wouldn't help, the rain would just soak it too, and she would be even colder. After half an hour, she made out the rough outline of the barn and had spurred the horses to a gallop, the horses couldn't see, but they could sense that their friends were in there.
Finally, when they weren't more than two hundred feet from the barn, the lightening came, scaring the horses. The horses had reared and it had been all Dessa could do to keep Lydia and herself from falling. The sky was an ugly, dark blue gray. Dessa didn't like the way the sky looked or the storm itself. Dessa was mad that she couldn't get the horses in the barn fast enough, she had already cursed at the sky, so she threw in a few more choice words for good measure. Finally, they had arrived safely in the barn and had run like heck towards the house, Lydia had burst through the door after Dessa and run straight upstairs to her room. Dessa had settled down in a kitchen chair, across from Cale.
“We had a good time at Magnolia for the most part. Except when Lydia found out that there wasn't a bath tub for her to take a good long soak in, and when we went jumping. She ain't quite use to jumping twenty feet into cool, September water,” Dessa said.
“You went jumping? In September?” Cale asked in disbelief.
“Only once, when it was really warm, but after that we went canoeing. We pushed off the shore by the waterfall and waded through the stream, and then when it gets really deep, you know what I'm talking about?” Dessa asked. Cale nodded. “Then we hopped and paddled to the pond; make that I paddled to the pond.” Dessa added, making sure that Cale had all the facts straight, another thing Dessa absolutely hated was when people didn't have their facts straight, even when she didn't have them straight herself.
“Boy, do I envy you,” Cale said sarcastically.
"Oh, you know you do," Dessa replied, teasingly. She stood up, walked out of the kitchen and upstairs to her room. Luckily, Josh wasn't there. Dessa fumbled around for the light switch to her bedside lamp, she found it, turned it and flopped onto her bed, on her back. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and thought about everything that had happened since Pa and Lydia had returned. Dessa usually didn't have time to think about things, she didn't let anything get to her. Josh had once described her as having built a brick wall around herself, impenetrable by the swords of feelings. And he was right, she never cried, didn't laugh often and smiles were a joy. Only once in while did she take time to feel things. She couldn't do that in front of anyone, she was very blessed to have a loving father and eight equally loving brothers who had built their worlds around her. She had to stay strong for them, if she fell apart, they would fall apart. Part of being loved very much was having responsibility. But truthfully, Dessa didn't really mind, when she was alone, she remembered things, she would feel. That's just who Dessa was, you didn't see her cry, had to be special for her to smile, and one of the best to make her laugh. Dessa was strong, she cried, maybe once a year, and even then, most years she didn't. But she did have feelings, she was like a gun. Eventually stuff would build up and you had to clean it out. Once it was clean, it worked like a charm.
Three weeks passed by, each day they did a little less of Lydia's chores, gradually getting her use to doing work. Eventually, she was doing just about every chore in the horse barn except for cleaning out all the stalls, she only cleaned out ten. On Sunday night, they all were sitting at the table when Pa cleared his throat.
"These past three weeks have been the best weeks that Lydia has had at the farm. So, we got to talking," Pa said, he went on talking about how good things were, and maybe that her daughters could come to the farm, the kids all exchanged hopeful smiles, holding hands for good luck under the table. "But, as you all know, winter is fast approaching so of course things are getting easier, no crops or anything, but when the spring comes, there's more work to be done then heck. Lydia is convinced that she can't do that, so, Lydia would you like to finish?" Pa asked, his eyes looked wet with tears.
"In exactly one week, Roy, Dessa and I are moving to my home in Portage with my daughters, Sierra and Eliza." Lydia said authoritatively. The kids gaped, how could they? And for the first time in five years, Dessa cried.