Family As It Is and Will Be
Andrea Carter, age sixteen, rubbed the smooth neck of Tony, her pinto gelding. Despite having grown older (and she hoped wiser, kinder, politer, and many other virtues), she still was a bit of a tomboy and clung to her childhood nickname of Andi.
Sighing, she thought of all the changes that had happened in the last three years. Justin had married a small, dark eyed, dark haired woman from San Francisco named Rachel. Andi liked Rachel, despite the age difference between them. The both loved to ride, and they both agreed that their rides together were even better than ones with others who weren't quite so enthusiastic about riding in the heat and dust, though Andi pointed out that Rachel seemed pretty fond of riding with Justin, and Rachel laughingly declared that Andi would someday have the experience.
Rachel had only been riding since she was fourteen, when she found herself without a mother or father, family or friends, and began to ride horses in a circus for enough money to live on. Andi could barely believe that Rachel had lived such a gypsy-style life, when she was now so mild, content, and happy living in Fresno with Justin. But proof was there when Rachel rode. No saddle or bridle for her! She rode bareback and could execute some breathtaking tricks.
Andi thought Rachel was like a tamed Mustang---she was once wild, but love had tamed her, before and after Justin met her. Rachel was now expecting a baby, and she and Justin were filled with hopes for their future.
Chad was just about the same as he always had been. "Thank goodness!" Andi murmured to Tony, scratching his forehead. "Chad kept his senses about him through all that love heat wave, and has been helping me do the same."
Chad was the only other Carter besides Andi who had avoided marriage within the last three years. Mitch had fallen in love with an immigrate Irish girl he had met in San Francisco last year, and they were now engaged. Andi liked the spicy, snappy red-haired Molly, but was still struggling with the fact that Mitch was going to marry her in five weeks.
With a smile, Andi let her thoughts wander to Melinda. Melinda's love story was perfect. After several men had broken her heart to the point where she had declared to Andi, "I'll never love another man again", Moses Davis had stepped into the picture. Handsome, dashing, rich, honest, kind, and head over heels in love with Melinda---what more could they have hoped for? He complimented Melinda in every way. They had the same shade of blonde hair, same appreciation for one another. They both had blue eyes that overflowed with love for each other. And so Moses and Melinda were married last year, and their love had only grown deeper. And now Melinda was due to have a baby any day now.
Andi smiled excitedly. She was looking forward to having a new nephew or niece. But the thought of being an aunt reminded her of the sadder side of the past three years. Taffy had died, and Andi bought a paint----now her beloved Tony she was brushing.
Troy had returned to Kate, but only long enough to wreak more havoc for her before he was dragged off to jail by the authorities. Kate, with the rags of her ruined life around her, returned to her family, who once more took her and the kids back. But Kate was weak from trying to provide for herself, Levi, Betsy, and Hannah, and soon became ill-very ill. She died from a fever two weeks after returning back to the Circle C Ranch.
Mrs. Carter was hit hard by Kate's death, as was everyone else in the family. Levi was so upset he tried to run away, and it took Chad, Justin, Mitch, Moses, and the ranch hands and other family members two days to find him, lost in the large expanse of ranch land.
Everyone was worried as to how they should take care of the three kids. Levi was now 13, Betsy age 9, and Hannah only six. Mrs. Carter wanted to take care of them herself, but as she was growing older and wasn't sure if she could handle it. Mitch solved the problem by almost immediately volunteering to take care of all three. He was living in a neighbouring ranch, called "Flat O Ranch", and Levi took to ranch life immediately, helping Mitch while working out all of his anger from the grief for his mother.
Andi had been keeping house for Mitch, and took care of the two girls. She knew what it was like to lose a parent, and to lose the only one in your life who cared for you must be even harder, she reasoned. Betsy and Hannah adored her, and everything had settled down.
But life was getting hectic now. Mother had become ill, Chad had to go away on a journey, and Melinda was due to have her baby. Andi felt pulled in three directions. Mitch, Levi, Betsy, and Hannah needed her, but so did Mother. And then Melinda had begged her to come be with her during this time.
Mitch told Andi to go, promising that he would make sure all the kids got fed and the kitchen got swept "once in a while". Justin and Rachel went to stay with Mrs. Carter, so Andi was free to go help Melinda.
"Which is where I am now, Tony," Andi murmured to the horse. "At the Double M Ranch, in the stable, taking care of you. Meanwhile, we're waiting for that baby to come. But, Tony, I'll tell you a secret. I'm AWFUL with babies! They cry when I hold them, touch them----almost when I look at them! And I never saw a baby being born----that is, a real baby. I mean, a human baby. How am I supposed to help Melinda when I can't even hold a baby?"
Just then, Andi heard Melinda calling. "Andi? Andi, come quick!" Urgency seemed threaded thickly through Melinda's voice. Andi felt her stomach tighten. What if the baby....?
"Coming!" Andi yelled back. She hurried out of Tony's stall, the barn, and up to the house. When she entered the kitchen, she gasped.