Sid let Andi go and turned to the young ranch hand. “Well, Clint,” he remarked quietly. “You appear to have plenty of energy for tomfoolery this afternoon. I know for certain there’s some miles of fence that need checkin’ in the northeast section. Gather up your gear and head out there.”
“Now?” Clint’s eyes grew wide.
Sid nodded. “Now.” There was a subtle warning in the foreman’s voice.
Clint took the hint. He slicked back his wet hair and replaced his hat. “Sure thing, Sid.” He turned to Andi and grinned. “I reckon it was a tie.”
Andi wiped a wet tangle of dark hair from her face. “I reckon,” she agreed, no longer smiling. Riding a fence line in this heat was the worst possible job on the ranch. The look on Clint’s face showed her he was of the same mind. She watched him shuffle slowly towards the corral to get his horse.
“Well, Miss Carter,” Sid remarked, bringing Andi around to face the foreman. “How would you like me to explain this to your brother?”
Andi flushed and didn’t answer. Why does he have to tell Chad anything? “What’s the harm?” she
asked instead. “It’s hot, and I’ve seen Chad do it countless times.” She
glanced at the corral, where Clint was listlessly saddling his horse. “That’s’
awful mean, making Clint ride the fence line on a day like this, just ’cause he
dunked his head.”
|Chad dunks his head all the time.|
Sid frowned and folded his arms across his chest. He gave her a look that showed Clint’s discipline had very little to do with simply dunking his head. “It’s no concern of yours how I deal with the men, young lady.” Then his expression softened. “You know, Miss Andi, you’re getting a bit too old to be playing these games. One of these days you’re—”
Andi sighed and pulled on one of her long, dark braids. The water streamed down in rivers. “You sound like my Aunt Rebecca,” she lamented.
Sid took Andi by her shoulders and forced her to look at him. His sun-weathered face held nothing but concern and kindness. “Your family’s been good to me. Your pa hired me when my wife died—and me with a three-year-old little girl, too. For twenty years I’ve worked on your ranch. I mourned when your pa lost his life in that terrible accident at round-up time those eight years back. I’ve watched your three brothers grow up into fine young men. Justin’s a first-rate lawyer, and Chad and Mitch have made this ranch prosper into one of the best spreads in this part of California. Your sister Melinda is one of this valley’s nicest and prettiest girls, and your mother is one of the most respected women around.”
Andi shrugged. She knew all this. “So?”
Sid sighed. “Miss Andi, you’ve got a family reputation to uphold. I’ve never once seen Melinda challenge your brother’s hired hands to roping contests or”—he indicated the trough—head-dunking contests, or any of those crazy things that get into your head. And another thing. You’re too pretty to go around lookin’ like a poor no-account. Your family’s got more money than anybody else in these parts. You could dress up occasionally. You ain’t a little girl anymore. You’re gettin’ t’ be nigh on a young lady, and a young lady has got to start actin’ like one.”
Andi folded her arms across her chest and frowned. “How much did my Aunt Rebecca pay you to tell me this?”
Sid burst out laughing. “Nothin’! Honest!” He waved a hand toward her. “Jus’ look at yourself. The boss’s old overalls—”
“They’re not!” Andi interrupted, but Sid went on.
“That ragged old shirt.” He reached out and picked up one Andi’s drenched braids. “Look at you! Young ladies do not wear their hair in pigtails.”
“But—” Andi tried again.
“The foreman took a deep breath. “You’re like my own daughter, Miss Andi, and I’d tell her the same thing if she was here right now instead of in school in St. Louis. Girls goin’ on fifteenn need t’ start lookin’ and actin’ like young ladies. They need to brush and comb their hair all purty to catch a beau.” He cracked a grin at Andi’s astonished look.
“I’m not interested in catching a beau.”
“Maybe not. But it don’t hurt none to practice occasionally. Why! If my Sarah was here, I’d be hard-pressed to know who’s the ranch hand’s daughter and who’s the landowner’s daughter. Sarah’s learned herself all kinds of things at that fancy school of hers. She writes me all the time. I read her letters, then look at you, trying to imagine my Sarah.”
“Oh, Sid, stop it,” Andi burst out. “You talk worse than old Mrs. Evans and the other busybodies in town.”
Sid scowled. “Don’t you insult me by comparing me to those peahens.”
“Then quit nagging me about all this growing up nonsense.”
“Is that what I was doing? I was only saying you need to spend less time around this crude bunch of cowboys and more time at tea parties and other proper activities for ladies.”
“But how else will I learn how to rope and brand calves and flush out strays and—”
Sid backed off. “I’m sorry, Miss Andi.” He tipped his hat politely. “I forgot myself for a minute. It ain’t my place to be telling you these things. That’s your ma’s job, or maybe Mr. Justin’s. I’m just an old cowhand who misses his only child more than he’d care to admit.” He backed up a few steps. “Sometimes I slip and treat you like you was my Sarah. Forgive me, Miss Carter.”
Andi’s expression softened immediately. “It’s all right, Sid. I’m just a little touchy these days about this particular subject. I didn’t mean anything at the water trough. I’m sorry if I was bothering the men.” She pointed towards the barn. “I was really on my way to the barn to see Taffy. I guess I’d better get going.”
Sid reached out and gave the girl an affectionate pinch on her cheek. “Go along with you now. A couple more years, and my Sarah will be finished with school. She’s promised to come out here for a visit. Then you can meet her. I think you’d like her.”
“I’m sure I would,” Andi agreed. She was eager for Sid to change the subject. If the foreman started bringing complaints to Chad about her hanging around with the cowhands, her days were numbered. Mother had already spoken with her last week about the very same thing.
Elizabeth tried to make her daughter understand that it wasn’t possible to hang around and be considered one of the hands anymore. If they treated her like one of themselves, she would eventually get hurt. If they remembered she was not only a girl, but one of the Family, the men would get hurt trying to keep her out of danger.
No, her mother insisted, tagging along behind the ranch hands most definitely had to stop.
Andi sighed and turned back to the barn. She was as hot as ever and in a rotten mood. Nothing was simple anymore. The summer was dragging by. Worse, there was only one more month of freedom before school started again.
I wish I was twelve years old again . . .