I hung the duster on the nail nearest to the door and looked over my shoulder. “Mr. Garrison? I’ve finished, is there anything else I could do?”
“No, but don’t forget to take your paycheck for this month.” He called back to me.
I opened the drawer and found the envelope addressed to me. A smile grew across my face as I slipped it into my pocket. “How could I forget it?” I whispered to myself.
I stepped out of the general store and breathed in a breath of fresh, brisk air. Usually by April, spring in California was warm. This spring was abnormal and I had to pull my warm shawl closer.
I squinted at the sun. “Almost supper time, “ I said, “I’d better get home.” I walked to the back of the general store and found Taffy tied to her post. “Hey,” My arms went around my horse’s neck. Taffy nudged me with her nose. “Stop,” I laughed. “That tickles.”
Taffy’s breathing warmed me and I gave her one last pat before mounting myself. Though I now wore dresses and my hair was done up, I never rode sidesaddle. Mother had begged me to start using a sidesaddle, but I was obstinate: I detested side saddles and would not use them.
I rode down Main Street at a leisurely pace. I was about to urge Taffy to a trot when something caught my eye. Or rather, someone. Henry Wilson, dressed in a blue and green plaid shirt with a cowboy hat to top, was walking towards me. My heartbeat picked up speed. He flashed me a smile, complete with his melting brown eyes.
Once he had passed me, I whispered into Taffy’s ear, “Wow. Isn’t he handsome?”
Ever since Henry Wilson had moved into town with his widowed mother, I had been smitten by him at first sight. Not only was he the best looking young man I’d ever seen, but he sang and played guitar at almost every barn dance. He worked at the lumberyard in town. Someone mentioned that he might be the new schoolmaster for next year, but mother had urged me to look at teaching. I hated the idea of teaching.
It wasn’t long before I reached home. I led Taffy into the barn. Cory greeted me, and he took Taffy’s lead rope. “I’ll take care of her,” He said. Ever since my best friend Rosa and her family moved away (they used to help us with the ranch) we’ve hired Cory Blake to work on the ranch. He normally doesn’t do my chores, which include taking care of Taffy.
“I can handle it.” I said, walking past him.
“But Andi, your mother wants you, and I think it’s important news to tell.”
I pause. “Is it good news or bad news? Is Melinda having a baby?”
“I don’t know about Melinda,” Cory said. “To you, it would be bad news. Just go inside and find out!”
I dropped the lead rope and rushed past him. “I’ll find out! Just make sure Taffy is okay!”
“You’re welcome!” Cory shouted back.
I slammed the kitchen door behind me. Mother was there, making herself busy.
“Mother,” I gasped, “What is the news?”
“Andrea Carter,” Mother wiped her hands on her apron and untied it. “Please, don’t rush so.”
“I’m sorry.” I said. “What is the news?”
“Well, the pastor’s wife, Celia, came by today and offered you a job next year at the schoolhouse. She said since you’ve completed your education and meet all the requirements, the position would be perfect for you. I know you’ve rejected the idea before, but Andrea, if you could just consider it, you might find that it wouldn’t be so bad after all.”
Feelings of irritation rose in my chest. “Mother, I already told you, I don’t want to be a teacher.”
Mother sighed. “Andrea, what else are you going to do? Mr. Garrison won’t need you at the general store in the summer when his nephew comes.”
“The thought of teaching a schoolroom of rowdy children . . .” I threw my hands up in the air. “It overwhelms me! I can ride Taffy in the summer and help out at the ranch. I can keep doing that until . . . however long it takes.”
“Have you ever considered courting?”
“Mother!” I cried. “I’m seventeen!”
“And I was married at that age.”
I grabbed a chair to sit down in. “Mother, no one has even asked me, and I can’t ask them, can I? Besides, there’s no one I like.”
My face turned red. “Well, sort of.”
“I’m in no hurry to get you out of the house, Andrea.” Mother smiled. “But I’m just trying to get you to think a little more about your future. I haven’t said yes to Celia’s offer, but I won’t say no until you’ve had some time to think about it. And if you can’t think of anything else and if you aren’t so against the idea anymore, I’ll tell her you’ll take the job.”
I sighed. “Okay, Mother.”
“I love you, you know.”
“I know.” I hugged her. “I love you too.”
The sky couldn’t have been a more crystal blue and the warm breeze blew against my face. “Finally.” I whispered to myself. “Warm weather.”
The world had been transformed overnight. Daffodils and daisies bloomed, mixing in with the green, bright grass. The trees had sprouted tiny new leaves, some sprinkled with pink blossoms. I heard the creek bubbling and laughing as it cascaded through the earth. The soil was damp and I could smell the scent of dirt, mixed in with the fragrance from the flowers.
I breathed in and let out a laugh. I needed it after a long day at the general store. Growing up was so hard — and it didn’t get any easier. I leaned my head toward Taffy’s and smelled her comforting horsey smell. My hair was tumbling down my back, messy and matted. I was barefoot and riding bareback. I hadn’t felt so free and alive in a long time.
I took off in a gallop as we made our way to the creek, Taffy heading directly to my favorite spot. I slipped down from her and sat on the ground. I dug my toes into the cool, damp dirt and leaned my head against a rock, closing my eyes. I didn’t know how long I was there for and I was completely still and silent, until I heard a splash in the creek beside me. I sat up directly and spun around.
Cory was there, grinning his familiar grin. He tossed a rock into the creek, making another splash. “You didn’t want to go fishing today?”
I shrugged, pretending he hadn’t startled me. “I didn’t want to bring anything along.”
Cory plopped down next to me. “Do you care if anybody comes along?”
“Not if it’s you.”
“Thank you. Do you care if I push you in the creek?”
I scooted away from him. “Cory Blake, if you even think about it—“
He threw back his head and laughed. “I wouldn’t dare. How was work today?”
“It was okay,”
“I know how that is.” Cory said.
“What?” I turned and looked at him. “You don’t like working at our ranch?”
“No. It’s just sometimes I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. You know?”
“I know.” But I guess I don’t know all the way, because at least Cory has a goal and I don’t even have that. Cory wants to be a doctor. He’s been working hard ever since he had the idea. “Cory?”
“I don’t think it’s fair. You have everything all planned out for your future and I have no clue what my future holds.”
Cory laughed again. “You think I have my future all planned out? Remember when last year how Doc was gone? And then Amanda got sick? That’s when I found out I wanted to be a doctor. Remember how clueless I was before? I didn’t have a care in the world. Besides, just because I’m striving for something doesn’t mean I have my future planned out. God plans our futures, not us. You know that, right?”
I sighed. “I know. But why doesn’t God just show me what I’m supposed to do?”
“Have you asked Him?”
I was silent for a few moments. “Not really, I guess.”
Cory stood up. “I gotta run back to work. Pray that God’ll show you the way, Andi, and He will.”
“You should be a preacher instead of a doctor.” I muttered.
“You asked for advice.” Cory walked away, still grinning. “See ya later, Andi.”
“Later.” I said.
I went back to the position I was before Cory interrupted me, with my head against the rock and my eyes towards the sky. When the sound of Cory’s footsteps had disappeared, I decided I should pray like he told me to.
“God, I rarely talk to You about my future, because I guess I haven’t had to think about before. But God, I don’t know what to do. Can You show me the next step, so I can follow it? Even if I have to be a teacher. Oh, and whatever You tell me to do, You’ll probably have to give me strength to follow it, too, because sometimes I tend to run away from what I’m supposed to do. You know everything about me, so You please show me what to do next. Amen.”
After that I felt better, like I had handed off a needless weight I’d been carrying into stronger hands. I walked over to Taffy. “Better go home, girl,” I whispered, “It’s getting late.”