“Mrs. Carter,” Mr. Foster remarked when the door to Andi’s room had clicked shut, “is there a problem between Andrea and you? Or with her brothers or sister? Her marks have dropped dramatically over the last few days. They are getting dangerously low in math and English. Twice I’ve caught her asleep. I know she’s been asleep more often than that, but”—he smiled—“her loyal friend, Cory Blake, manages to tap her on the back and keep her awake most of the time.”
Elizabeth shook her head, stunned. “Andrea’s been falling asleep in class?”
“Most every day this week,” Mr. Foster replied.
“I wasn’t aware—” She broke off and glanced in the direction in which her daughter had run. What is going on?
“Has she been ill?” the teacher asked.
“No,” Elizabeth answered. “At least, I don’t think she has.” She shook her head. “No. She hasn’t. Thank you for coming all the way out to the ranch, Mr. Foster,” she said. “But if you’ll excuse me, I think I should check on Andrea.”
“Not at all, Mrs. Carter. In spite of our earlier differences, Andrea is one of my best pupils. I do not want to see her studies suffer from some emotional or physical problem.”
“Thank you for your concern.” Elizabeth showed Mr. Foster the door.
He replaced his hat, bowed politely, and left the house.
Elizabeth closed the front door then turned toward the staircase. She gazed up thoughtfully, drew a concerned breath, and started up for her daughter’s room.
“Andrea,” she called out softly as she opened the door.
There was no reply. Elizabeth turned the knob and entered the room. Andi was lying on her bed, fast asleep. “Andrea,” she whispered again.
Still no reply.
She’s truly asleep, Elizabeth realized with surprise. It frightened her. Andrea never spared a moment inside when she could be out with Taffy. And to sleep in the afternoon? Unheard of!
Elizabeth reached out and gave her daughter a gentle shake. “Andrea!”
She was unprepared for the response.
Andi awoke with a gasp. She flew from her bed on sprang for the door. “No!”
Then she blinked. Mother was looking at her with a look of undisguised shock. Andi returned to her bed and sat down, head bowed. I’m in for it now.
“Andrea!” Elizabeth drew Andi beside her and wrapped a loving arm around her shoulder. “What in world is troubling you? It must be something serious, am I right?”
Andi shook her head vigorously. “No, Mother. Nothing’s bothering me. Honest.”
Elizabeth chuckled and squeezed Andi closer. “Andrea, sweetheart, you have never been very good at lying. Remember the time you tried to make me believe that those kittens in your bed had just found their way up to your room all by themselves?”
Andi nodded, but she didn’t look up.
“It was a pretty convincing argument,” Elizabeth said, “but your eyes gave you away.” She reached out and lifted Andi’s chin. “Just like they’re doing now.”
Andi bit her lip and said nothing.
Elizabeth sighed. “You have your father’s eyes, Andrea—that clear, striking blue. Eyes that cannot lie. You might lie with your mouth, but your eyes will give you away every time.” She let go of Andi’s chin.
Andi’s head fell back to looking at the floor.
“You’re in trouble, sweetheart. Bad trouble if I don’t miss my guess. It’s the only explanation for your strange behavior lately. You’re afraid of something . . . or you’re protecting someone. Which is it? Trouble at school? Trouble with the ranch hands? What is it? Let me help.”
Andi shook her head. Then she looked up into her mother’s face. Tears swam in her eyes. Then she burst out words she hadn’t said since she was six or seven years old. “Oh, Mother! Why did Father have to die? I wish he was here, right now. I wish he was alive. I need him. He’d make everything all right. I know he would—”
“What are you afraid of?” Elizabeth broke in. “Can’t you tell me? Or Justin?”
Andi shook her head. “Especially not Justin. Please, Mother. Don’t make me tell you. I promise I won’t write any more notes. I’ll be so good you won’t even know I’m around. But please leave me alone. I need to work it out by myself.”
Elizabeth sighed, clearly unconvinced. “We’re a family, Andrea. What’s hurting you hurts everyone in the household. We love you and want to help. Believe me, sweetheart. Whatever it is, we can help you.”
“No, you can’t. Not this time.” Andi clenched her fists and dug them into her coverlet. Then she looked up. “Please! Leave it to me.” She blinked. Tears dribbled down her cheeks. “Please?”
Elizabeth squeezed Andi’s shoulder and stood up. She nodded. “All right. For now. I’ll give you a few days to work it out on your own, but—”
“But,” Elizabeth said firmly. “If you keep losing sleep, or if you become ill, I will get to the bottom of this, no matter what it takes. Do you understand?”
Andi nodded eagerly. “Yes, ma’am.”
Hopefully, by the time Mother followed up on her promise to dig deeper, the whole matter would be resolved.
Oh, please, God, let it be resolved, Andi prayed as she watched her mother leave the room.
“Well, what do you say?” Cory’s voice was serious, his blue eyes wide with concern. He, Jack, and Rachel sat on barrels just outside Goodwin’s mercantile. Andi was nowhere in sight.
“I dunno, Cory,” Jack said with a shake of his head. “If Andi finds out what we’re up to, she’ll be spittin’ mad. She could give us lots of trouble when she’s riled up.”
Rachel agreed. “It’s not right to spy on people, Cory. Especially our friends. Andi’s my friend—one of my best friends. I can’t go sneaking around and watching what she’s up to.”
“But there’s something very odd going on with her, and nobody’s doing a thing about it. We’re her friends. Sometimes friends have to do things they know will make somebody mad. She’s in some kind of trouble, and I’m going to find out what it’s all about.” He scowled. “Even if she’s mad at me for a month.”
Jack tossed the rock he was holding into the horse trough. It splashed and sank to the bottom. He sighed. “All right, Cory. I’m in. I’m sick to death of Andi’s crankiness. If we don’t help find out what’s going on, she might get stuck acting that way. Then I won’t want to be her friend anymore.” He slid from the barrel. “What’s the plan?”
Cory looked over to Rachel. “How about it, Rachel?”
She shrugged. “I suppose I’m in too. I just hope she forgives us when she catches us.”
Cory grinned. “She’ll never figure it out.” He motioned his co-conspirators closer and lowered his voice. “Now, here’s what we’ll do . . .”
READ CHAPTER 11
READ CHAPTER 11