Andi awoke with the sun streaming through her window. Alarmed, she wondered what time it was. She quickly dressed and dashed downstairs. Melinda met her at the bottom.
“It’s about time you were up. Mother just sent me to wake you. Breakfast is waiting for you at the table.” Andi gave Melinda a grateful glance and hurried into breakfast. The whole family, except Melinda, who was behind her, were still sitting at the table.
Riley was there too, and Andi suddenly felt self-conscious about her hasty preparations. She smoothed her dress and hair quickly before walking slowly to her place at the table and sitting down. Her mother smiled at her, and Andi returned the smile. She served herself some eggs and ate in silence.
The boys remained in deep discussion for a short time, and then Chad noticed Andi quietly sitting at her spot. He turned towards her, grinning widely.
“Riley wants to see Sunny and Shasta today, would you mind showing him around the barn?”
Andi nodded eagerly. She loved showing people her horses. She was proud of them. Riley pushed his chair back from the table.
“Can we go now?” he asked. Andi nodded, and she left the table with Riley. They walked over into the barn and she proudly showed him Taffy and her foals. Riley rewarded her with exclamations of admiration.
“Those are probably the best looking twins I’ve seen all my life! Well done Andi!”
Andi smiled. “Well, it wasn’t really me…it was more Taffy and Chad’s effort.”
Riley grinned. “All the same, these are horses to be proud of.”
Andi frowned thoughtfully, rubbing Shasta’s nose gently. “How do you know so much about horses if you’ve been stuck in the city for so long?”
Riley looked up from where he had been petting Sunny. “I had a job at a coach and wagon rental stable for a few years. My boss put most of the horses under my care, and there was a few times when one or more mares gave birth and I got to help. Once I got to do it by myself, but I was nervous. I tell you, delivering foals is no easy job. I thought I was going to lose it, but I didn’t.”
Andi went over to Taffy and began grooming her. “I thought you said you didn’t have a job.”
Riley frowned. “I don’t. Not anymore.”
“But…you just said that you did!”
Riley laughed, suddenly realizing why Andi was confused. “Oh! No, no, no…I got that job when I was about twelve and kept it until my boss moved about a year ago. I really don’t have a job right now, and that’s why.”
Andi’s face cleared and she continued grooming Taffy. Riley stood up and walked over to the opposite side of Taffy and patted her gently on the back.
“I can’t believe Taffy is so big!” he exclaimed. “It seems like yesterday when she was only a filly.” Andi nodded.
“I know. And yet sometimes it feels as if she’s always been this big.” She looked over Taffy’s back at Riley. “What happened to Midnight?” she asked.
A cloud rolled over Riley’s continence and he sighed deeply. “He died two years ago.”
Andi gasped, feeling tears sting her eyes. “What! Not Midnight!”
Riley blinked rapidly and nodded, turning away so Andi couldn’t see his eyes watering.
“Yes.” He replied shortly. “He was bitten by a rabid dog when he was out in the little pasture behind our house. With nowhere to run he tried to fight, but the dog managed to bite him once before Midnight killed him with a hard kick. I had been gone with my mother at evening church so I couldn’t have stopped the dog. When we got home Midnight was lying on his side in obvious pain. The only humane thing to do was put him out of his misery. I did.” Riley stopped abruptly. Andi felt her tears running freely down her cheeks, and she didn’t try to brush them away.
Midnight was dead. She couldn’t help thinking about all the times she had begged Riley to let her ride on his back instead of Coco’s, her pony. And all the times when she had gotten in and out of trouble with him. Why did he have to die? She looked over at Taffy, who was complacently eating some hay. What if Taffy was to die? Andi forced the thought from her mind. No! Taffy wouldn’t die! She was too healthy, too strong. Andi would never bring herself to give her up. They would fight away all sickness and weakness. Her horse would never…! She came back to earth suddenly, her mouth trying to say something, anything to cheer Riley.
“I-I’m so sorry.” She managed. Riley’s shoulders quivered slightly. Andi’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I loved Midnight too.”
Riley sank to the floor, sobbing openly. “He was so strong.” Riley said at last. “I didn’t think he could die. He was my best friend.”
Andi bit her lip. “Oh, Riley.”
He looked around at her, as if suddenly aware he was watched. A little shamefacedly he wiped his eyes and stood up. “You won’t tell anyone I cried over a horse, will you?” he asked.
Andi smiled, gulping her own tears back. “Of course not. You won’t tell anyone that I did, will you?”
He returned her smile. “Of course not, but then, you’re a girl.”
Andi raised her eyebrows. “At least you don’t have brothers who would never let you forget it!” she replied. Riley grinned and was about to say something, but just then Chad appeared out of nowhere with his foreman.
“How’s the twins?” he asked.
Andi grinned. “Healthy as ever. We were just about to give them their first grooming lesson.” Chad looked the twins over critically.
“Sunny seems a little on the skinny side. Has Taffy been feeding them both enough?”
Andi nodded.“Yes, but just to make sure I gave them each a bottle of milk yesterday.”
Chad gave her a quick nod. “Good, do that again today. It’s bad for a foal so young to not have enough to eat.”
Andi nodded again, and turned to her horse. “I’ll do that next.”
Chad smiled. “Alright, we won’t keep you. Riley, follow me and Sid. I’ll show you what your first job is.” The men left, and Andi obeyed Chad’s suggestion.