I brought the apple pie Mother baked and set it on the picnic table. It was Sunday and we were all eating together afterwards. I liked Sundays in general, but when we ate afterwards it was even better. Pies, ham, green beans and countless other foods were laid out on the tables outside. My mouth watered at the sight of them.
Then I felt two arms around my waist and a sharp chin rested on my shoulder. I turned around, and my smiling friend Virginia greeted me. “Andi,” She said, “You look just lovely in that light blue dress. It really brings out your eyes.”
“Thanks,” I hugged her. Virginia and I hadn’t always been friends, but time had made us grow closer. She was one of my best friends in Fresno. Her father used to be the schoolmaster, but he quit a few years ago and the town has been searching for a consistent teacher ever since. “What have you been up to this week, Virginia?” I asked.
Virginia rolls her eyes. “Nothing, really. Mother and I have still been sewing, but that’s not news. A new Godey Lady’s Book came out this week though,”
But my eyes and thoughts were on someone else. Henry was just a few yards away from me, talking to my older brother, Mitch. Mitch and his wife, Doris, were in for the weekend. It was strange having everyone so far apart from each other — my sister Melinda had married and moved, though she was still in town. My brother Chad still comes in every once and a while from just north of here in Clovis, but now he’s got a family and a ranch of his own.
My father died when I was five and I barely remember him. Part of me is glad because I don’t have much to miss — but then I’m curious and I want to know what he was like so I can have something more to remember. I wondered if my father would be like Henry. Henry was tall, good-looking, had a job—
“Andi?” Virginia poked me playfully. “What are you staring at?”
But I didn’t have time to explain and I didn’t have to. Virginia’s eyes followed where mine were and she let out a giggle. “Isn’t he attractive?” She whispered in my ear.
I turned red and elbowed her. “Stop.”
“He’s nice looking, but you really can’t like him, can you? Father says he doesn’t have the best reputation.” Virginia kept whispering. I didn’t hear her, because Henry was heading our way.
“Hi Andrea, Virginia,” He said, as he gave us a dashing smile. “Or do you like to be called Andi? I’ve heard both.”
My words came out unsteady. “I like Andi, but whatever you want,”
“Okay, Andi.” Henry said, “That’s a pretty dress, by the way,”
I was sure my face was even redder. “Thanks.”
When he was out of earshot Virginia went back to talking. “Andi, he talked to you!” She squealed. “I’m sure he likes you.”
“Hush. He talks to girls all the time.”
“I know,” Said Virginia. “My sister thinks he’s a big flirt.”
“Come on, let’s get some food.”
We ate heartily and even Virginia went back for seconds. After eating, Virginia and I walked around. I told her about my mother wanting me to teach school, and she seemed sympathetic. We both tried to propose other ideas, yet to no avail. After a while I told her I had prayed about it and she thought that was a good idea, saying herself that she would pray, too.
By the time we headed back to where the others were, the picnic tables had been cleared and only the Fosters, Virginia’s family, remained. They waited in their carriage.
“I suppose mother thought I could just ride Taffy home when I wanted,” I told Virginia.
“We can drive you home, if Taffy will follow,” Virginia offered.
“It’s no problem—“
“I’ll see that she gets home,” Another voice cut in. Henry stepped out from behind me.
“Alright,” Virginia winked at me as she stepped into her carriage. “Have fun. Goodbye!”
“Bye!” I said, as their carriage drove away. I looked up at Henry, who smiled down at me. Oh my goodness, I told myself, his eyes look even better up close. I couldn’t believe that I was standing here, alone with him. I couldn’t believe he had offered to see me home. I was half delighted and half horrified. “Well,” I said, walking quickly over to where I had tied Taffy. “I guess we should head home. Do you know where my ranch is?”
“Yes, I do. Perhaps we should walk together and let the horse walk alone.” Henry said. “I’ve never been infatuated with horses.”
I wasn’t sure what infatuated meant, but I had a feeling it wasn’t something good. “Okay.” I said. I started walking in the direction of the ranch, leading Taffy behind me. “Why don’t you like horses?”
“They make me sneeze and cough if I sit on one for long enough, and besides, they reek of barn odors.” Henry said, walking closer to me.
“Oh.” I hoped I didn’t reek of barn odors. I did hang around in the barn a lot. “Well, what do you like to do?”
“You know that I work at the lumberyard, don’t you?” Henry said.
“Yes,” I replied. I knew all sorts of things about him, even if I had never had a conversation with him that lasted longer than a few minutes. “But what do you like to do in your spare time?”
Henry laughed. “I don’t have much spare time. I prefer to advance my education.”
“That’s nice. What are you hankering to do?”
I cleared my throat. “You know. What do you want to be when you ‘grow up’? Like a farmer, a lawyer—“
“Oh, I see. I long to see New York one day and become a business man. What do you wish to become?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m not sure. I’m working at the general store right now, but only for a short while because they really need the help. I guess I’ll hang around the ranch at home and help with chores.”
“Hmm,” Said Henry, “That’s interesting.” But I could tell he wasn’t really listening. The more I talked to Henry the more foolish I felt. How could I have liked this boy? We were as different as night and day. While people say opposites attract, maybe we were too opposite.
The rest of the walk home was long and tiresome. And awkward. We both knew we were trying to think of polite things to say. The more we talked the more we found out there were things we didn’t like about each other. When the ranch finally came into sight, I don’t think I was ever so glad to see it.
Henry was going to lead me to the doorstep, but I told him I needed to put Taffy away. “Thank you for walking me home,” I said, as nicely as I could.
“You’re welcome, it was no trouble.” Henry looked at me and smiled. I had never felt so uncomfortable. What was I supposed to do? But then he turned, and with one last goodbye, he walked away.
I let out a sigh of relief. “Whew Taffy,” I whispered to her. “I’m glad that’s over. Oh Taffy,” I said, looking at her soft eyes as mine filled with tears, “How could I have been so stupid? I was so obsessed over Henry that I never saw that we’d be horrible for each other. Taffy, he doesn’t even like horses!” I sighed, this time a disappointed one and I led Taffy into the barn.
When I walked into the house, my mother greeted me with a warm hug. “Andrea,” She said, “I saw who walked you home.”
“Yes,” I said. My heart felt heavier than ever. I sank down into the sofa. “It was awful.”
“Awful?” Mother sat down next to me and put a comforting arm around my shoulder.
“Yes.” I said, burying my head in my hands. “Mother, all he wants to do is study and he hates the smell of barns. He doesn’t even like horses!”
“Oh sweetheart,” Mother said. “It’ll all work out.”
“Sure it will!” I stood up, pulling myself away from her. I headed up the stairs. “Just tell the preacher’s wife I’ll be a teacher! I don’t even care what I do with the rest of my life!” And with that, I rushed up to my room, slamming the door behind me.
The next morning I woke up late. I didn’t have to work until later, and I suppose Mother didn’t want to bother me. The sun was shining through my window, filling the room with a glorious golden color. Still, as soon as I remembered yesterday’s events, my heart grew heavy again. I picked my way slowly downstairs and into the kitchen. No one was there.
I stepped outside and the morning air greeted me. As did Cory, who was hauling hay out from the barn.
“Good morning, Andi!” He said cheerfully.
“Good morning,” I muttered.
He stopped and wiped his hands on his shirt. “I have something to tell you.”
“I found you a job.”
“You what?!” My mouth dropped open.
“I think you’ll like it, but you don’t have to take it. It’s in Clovis, not far from where Chad lives, and some friends of mine are starting a ranch. It’s a horse ranch, but a different kind. They’ve got riding horses and they want to open up as a ranch that teaches children to ride. I’m not sure of all the details, but they need trainers to teach the children to ride. They’d include rent and meals as a part of the pay, but if you wanted you could stay at Chad’s, it’s only a short walk. And you can bring Taffy along, if you want.”
“Really?” I squealed. “That’s wonderful!” A smile burst across my face as I tried to catch my breath. Cory handed me a piece of paper with more information. “Oh my goodness! I’ve gotta tell mother!” I shoved the paper in my pocket and ran inside. “Mother!” I shouted until I found her.
“What is it, Andrea?” She said.
“Oh Mother, look what Cory did! He found the perfect job for me,” I blurted out all the news to her.
“My goodness,” She breathed. “That’s wonderful. Did you thank him?”
And then it hit me. I hadn’t thanked him for anything. I rushed back outside and into the barn, where I found Cory. “Oh Cory,” I said, my face aglow. My heart beat faster than it ever had around Henry Wilson. Cory had been there, he’d been there all along and I’d never thought much of him. Why hadn’t I? “I’m taking the job. Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, Andi.” He said, as he stuffed his hands in his pocket and grinned. His eyes weren’t as nice looking as Henry’s, but they were so much warmer and inviting. “You won’t leave Fresno for too long, will you?”
“No,” I said. “Not for too long.” And then, not being able to help myself, I threw my arms around him. “Thanks again, Cory.”