One day at church there was visiting family. The preacher was using a lot of long words that day, and though she should have listened, Andi was also slightly distracted by the visiting family. The men—the father and two sons—all had fancy suits on, and the women had large hats, covered lavishly in lace, flowers, silk, fake pearls, and any other ornament that could fit on them.
Beneath the hats, Andi could see that the mother and two older daughters had their hair up, coiled and twisted into elaborate spheres. The two younger daughters interested Andi more. One seemed about her age. Her curls of reddish brown were escaping from the large bow that she seemed to detest by her occasional, impatient swipes at it. Her dress was lacy, but the girl’s face, which Andi saw when she looked around (apparently having as many problems paying attention as Andi) looked rather flustered and suffocated by all the silks and bows. The youngest girl had golden curls and reminded Andi of her niece, Betsy. She sat still, but occasionally whispered to the girl with the runaway curls.
“And you as well, Mrs. Carter!” the woman said, smiling.
Andi could tell by that smile that this was a friendly, likeable woman.
“And this must be your baby, Andrea,” Mrs. Davis went on “How do you do?”
“Fine, thank you,” said Andi, slightly annoyed at Mrs. Davis' calling her a baby. She couldn’t stay annoyed for long, however, because Mrs. Davis was clearly well-meaning, and had, apparently, heard of or seen Andi when she was a baby. But why did older people seem surprised to see that children DID grow?
“How old are you?”
“I'm thirteen,” Andi said.
“Oh, the same age as my Margaretta. Margaretta, meet Andrea Carter. Andrea, this is my daughter, Margaretta.” Mrs. Davis introduced, then started talking to Andi's mother again.
“Howdy,” Andi said.
“Howdy yourself. Call me Retta. I detest Margaretta. I think it makes me sound like I come from some place in Europe, that I'm fifty-seven years old, and I adore silk and ribbons.” Lowering her voice, Retta whispered, “I hate this dress and hat. Mother loves this stuff, and so do my older sisters, Naomi and Miriam. Miriam isn't so bad, but Naomi can spend hours arranging a hat. Can you believe it? A hat!”
Andi giggled. This girl was such a fast-talking person, and she seemed to be just like her. Retta was going to be a great friend. “My sister Melinda is like that as well,” she confided.
“Is that your older sister? She's pretty. She must be the same age as Naomi and Frank. They're twins.”
Andi talked with Retta until it was time to leave for the ranch. She found herself liking her more and more every moment! Thus she was very excited when Mother announced that the Davis family was coming over for lunch.
Immediately, Andi had a hundred ideas of fun things to do with Retta, number one being, of course, a ride down to the creek on Taffy and a horse that Retta could choose. Retta had mentioned she loved to ride. Andi also noticed Melinda looked excited, although she’d had very little to say to Naomi at church, unless . . .
Well, maybe Melinda was just being polite.
At lunch, which was roast chicken with lots of vegetables, and peach cobbler for dessert, Andi was quiet enough to satisfy her family, but she had already told Retta about the idea of going for a ride. Retta had agreed enthusiastically, and both were glad to find they were the same size, so Retta could fit in one of Andi's riding skirts.
After lunch, Andi noticed that she and Retta weren't the only ones saddling horses. Two other horses were saddled on the other side of the barn. Squinting through the bright, early-afternoon sun, Andi recognized Melinda's horse, Panda, and another ranch horse, jokingly nicknamed Runaway, a horse who never even took a step forward without lots of encouragement.
“Let's go, Andi!” Retta called, swinging onto the horse she was riding, a chestnut mare named Bolt, who loved to canter.
“Okay,” Andi replied, hesitating to see who was riding with Melinda. When Melinda came out with Frank instead of with Naomi, Andi's mouth fell open with surprise. Suddenly, she realized why Melinda had been blushing whenever Frank spoke to her at lunch, and why she had not looked disappointed when Naomi had announced her intention to rest this afternoon. Melinda liked Frank!
Mounting Taffy, Andi nodded slowly at Retta and said, "Let's ride!"
Andi and Retta had a good time riding that afternoon, and Andi was sorry when Retta left two days later. But not nearly as upset as Melinda seemed. Her eyes looked rather pink for some reason the next day. And why was Melinda so interested in whether there were any Carter letters, when she had never cared before, except the time when Mother went to San Francisco with Kate?
One day a letter did come, from an “F.D.” That was all Andi could make out on the letter before Melinda raced away with it, looking very excited.
It turned out that letter was just the predecessor of many letters. It did not take much guesswork to figure that the letters were being replied to, especially when Melinda's response to Andi, instead of being just “I'm busy” was now “I'm writing a letter.” She never answered Andi’s question of who it was to.
But Andi guessed (as apparently did others) that a Mr. Frank Davis somewhere in California was receiving a great many letters, probably with affection, probably lots of affection, included.
Andi was fine with that. From what she knew, Frank Davis was a relatively good man (almost anyone was compared to Jeffery Sullivan). And if Frank visited again, as Andi was sure he was bound to, perhaps Retta would come along as well . . .
* * *
Peeking into Melinda’s future . . . Frank did visit again, and again, and again. Retta and Andi had lots of time to get even better acquainted.
I won't give you all the details, but two years later Andi was a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding. You can fill in the rest.