Andi opened the door just as Chad reached for the handle. He walked in.
“Howdy, Andi, finished with you shopping I see. Justin, can you believe it? There’s not a spare feeding bucket in this whole town. Not even Goodwin has one, they’re all out! The only…” He stopped in his tracks, his jaw dropping. Riley held out a hand.
“Howdy, boss.” He said.
Chad closed his mouth, measuring Riley with his eyes. “Howdy stranger, it’s been a long time.”
Riley grinned. “I’m looking for a job. You wouldn’t happen to have a spot for me in the ranch would you?”
Chad slapped him on the back. “It’d be a pleasure to have you with us again! Come on back and join us! I need all the help I can get, you dropped by just in time.” They shook hands, and Riley gave a sigh of relief.
“I’m glad you have work for me. I need it.”
Chad frowned. “Are you in any sort of trouble?” he asked with concern.
Riley laughed. “Oh, no, nothing like that! It’s just that Mother needs my support right now, and I couldn’t get a job in our town that I liked. I thought you might need some assistance, so I came out in search of a good job. Thankfully I found one. It’s going to be great working with you again.”
Justin broke in with a polite let’s-get-back-to-business cough. “We should be going home.” He said. “Mother is waiting for her things, and dinner is probably also waiting for us.”
Chad slapped his forehead. “And we’re having the Blakes over! We’d better head out. Would you like to ride with us, Riley?”
Riley grinned, but shook his head. “I’d love to, but I have a horse. It’s been so long since I’ve ridden, I need to get in some practice! I’ll report to you in the morning though, and thank you again for the job!”
They parted with a wave, and the three siblings climbed into their wagon. Chad watched Riley walk back to the livery stable. “He sure has grown up!” he exclaimed.
Justin rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Yes, he certainly has. I hope he stays with us for a long time.” He glanced at Andi out of the corner of his eye, and she looked away, for some reason not wanting to catch his eye.
* * * * *
They arrived back at the ranch in plenty of time, and Andi ran up to her room quickly to slip out of her dusty going-to-town dress, and into something nicer for the special occasion.
The Blakes arrived on time, and Cory looked dashing in his new dinner outfit. When he caught Andi’s eye, he grimaced. She swallowed a laugh, and went over to him.
“You look nice., He admitted grudgingly.
Andi grinned. “So do you, except that you keep making faces. I’m lucky to not have to wear a corset! Mother doesn’t approve of them.”
Cory grunted. “Neither do I. Who would invent something like that? It’s torture!”
Andi nodded, her thoughts on the matter were similar.
Unfortunately, Andi’s mother called them into the dining room for dinner just then, so their conversation had to stop. After the prayer, Andi noticed for the first time a tall, dark-haired young man hovering over her sister. She frowned, trying to place him. Giving up, she turned to Cory. “Who’s that?” she whispered, trying not to bring too much attention to herself by pointing at him. Cory looked up from his plate of food.
“Him? Oh, he’s my cousin visiting us.” He grinned suddenly, noticing the attention his cousin was giving Melinda. “It may be that we’re related to each other soon.”
Andi poked him in the ribs. “Sh!” she warned. He chuckled and they both went back to eating.
Dinner was soon finished and the families drifted out onto the porch to enjoy the warm summer evening. Melinda and her new admirer went off by themselves towards the barn. Andi and Cory watched them leave. Cory got a sudden gleam of mischief in his eye. Andi regarded him suspiciously.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked. He shrugged his shoulder, but Andi persisted. “I don’t want you to do anything.” She said firmly.
“Aw, Andi, I had a great idea.” Andi shook her head vigorously, her braid slapping Cory across the face. He put his hand up to his cheek, and Andi stopped.
“I’m so sorry, did I hurt you badly?”
He rubbed the sore, a welt beginning to appear.“Your braid is like a rope!” he exclaimed.
Andi looked at it critically. “It is, isn’t it?” she said finally. Cory’s sense of humor won over his hurting face, and his face cracked a smile.
“Alright, I get the picture.” He said finally. “No pranks.”
Andi rolled her eyes. “No pranks.” She agreed.
Cory sighed. “It was such a good one too… I’ll have to save it for when you start courting.” He glanced over at her mischievously. Andi felt herself blush.
“That probably won’t be for a while.” She said.
Cory cocked an eyebrow. “If you get courted at all.” He said.
Andi glared at him. “I think you deserved getting my braid in your face.” She said, Cory laughed, and she changed the subject. “By the way, I don’t think you ever told me the name of your cousin.”
“Oh, his name is Marcus Knight.”
“How long will he be here?”
Cory grinned. “Well, he said he would be here for a few weeks, but that might change.”
Andi poked him. “Be quieter would you? They might hear!”
Cory chuckled, but lapsed into silence. They watched Melinda and Marcus as they walked along, oblivious to the prying eyes of others, in a world of their own.
Cory decided he had had enough. “Let’s go inside. We aren’t doing anything out here.”
Andi nodded. It was getting cold, and the crickets had started their chirping. She walked back inside with Cory, yawning.
Cory looked down on her sympathetically. “Tired?” he asked.
Andi gave him a weary nod.
“Why don’t you go to bed?”
Andi nodded again, her exhaustion coming over her suddenly. She vaguely realized her Mother was leading her up the stairs, and then she felt herself undressing automatically. Her head was no sooner on the pillow when she went to sleep.