Bumps in the Road

By Katie M Dean All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Romance

Chapter Eight

Emily’s alarm made her bolt up in bed. After all this time, she should be used to the noise by now, but, every morning without fail, it nearly gave her a heart attack. It also spooked Joe, who was curled up on the end of her bed. He wasn’t supposed to sleep on the bed, but Em didn’t shoo him off. She simply patted him on the head as she rolled out from under the covers. The girl stretched as she investigated the contents of her closet. She pulled out a pair of loose jeans and a plaid button shirt. Emily slipped off her pajamas and wiggled into the jeans and shirt. She brushed her hair with her fingers, sprayed perfume on to her body, and skipped downstairs. Her morning routine had gotten a lot quicker since she moved to the ranch. Back in the city, it took at least an hour for her to get ready in the morning.

Joe trotted behind her as she made her way down the stairs. Muffled conversation was coming from the kitchen, and music was playing from the record player in the living room. Emily marched into the kitchen and snatched a piece of toast off the counter. She lathered it with grape jam and took a huge bite. She was finally starting to feel at home. Being around the guys didn’t make her nervous anymore; it actually made her feel comfortable and safe. Nibbling on her toast, Em plopped down next to Jackson at the kitchen table.

“Morning,” he smiled at her.

“Morning,” she replied with toast in her mouth.

Pa just then shuffled over to the table with coffee mugs hanging from his crooked fingers. He nearly dropped them on the table; good thing they were all empty. The old man then retrieved the pot of coffee and started filling the mugs. Emily stood up and wandered over to a cabinet, retrieving a jar of peppermint and sugar. Jackson just shook his head at her, still not understanding why and how she liked peppermint in her coffee. He quietly sipped from his mug as he watched Em drop several peppermints into her mug. Once all of the mugs were full, Pa fell into his chair and gulped his coffee down. Everyone just stared at him as he consumed the hot liquid, not even flinching from how hot it was. When his mug was empty, Pa wiped his mouth and mustache with the back of his hand and returned the mug to the table. Everyone was still watching him when Brian entered the kitchen.

“Everything alright?” the man required, noticing the awkwardness in the room.

“I think so,” Em spoke up uncertainly.

“You ready to go, Pa?” Brian asked, pulling keys out of his pocket.

Pa struggled to push himself out of his chair, his arms shaking. Once he was stable, he snatched his coffee mug off of the table and limped over to the sink. He rinsed out the mug and placed it on the counter. When Pa turned around, he had a frown on his face.

“Now I’m ready,” he grumbled, looping his thumbs through his belt loop.

“Alright then, let’s go.”

Brian jingled the keys in his hand and began turning around but was cut off by Pa’s voice. “I’m very capable of driving, you know.”

Brian turned around and looked at Pa gently. “Pa, we’ve already had this discussion.”

Pa raised his hand to silence Brian. “I know,” he declared. “You think I’m not as capable as I used to be. But I still know how to drive.”

Brian sighed with frustration. “If the doctor’s say you’re good, then you can drive on the way home.”

The old man grumbled to himself as he shuffled past Brian. He limped over to the door, slipped on some shoes, and then exited the house. The screen door slammed behind him, making everyone in the house jump. Emily stood up and cautiously walked over to Brian. He looked annoyed and tired. There were wrinkles in places Em had never noticed before. His hands gripped the car keys, and the corners of his mouth were turned down. Em also noticed that his shoulders and back were slumped over when he usually stood up tall. Brian looked over at the girl when she got to him, giving her a sad smile.

“What’s the appointment for?” Emily asked, curious.

“Multiple things,” Brian shook his head. Everyone at the kitchen table continued to drink their coffee in silence. They were all waiting to hear what Brian had to say about Pa’s condition. “His heart’s getting weaker. He’s starting to get forgetful. His blood pressure isn’t good. It’s getting harder for him to walk.” Brain rubbed his face with his free hand. “Basically, Pa is getting old.”

Emily took all of this information in as though her life depended on it. Well, her life did depend on it. Pa was now her legal guardian, and when he was no longer able to take care of her, she would have no one. She was under age, which meant that if Pa became unable to care for her, child care would ship her off to who-knew-where. Pa was the only family she had left. Granted, she hadn’t known him for very long, but he was her family. And she was his family. If Pa’s heart gave out, or if he started forgetting stuff – important stuff – then she would be all alone. They would put him in a hospital or nursing home, leaving Emily by herself. The fact that Pa had illnesses that continued to get worse made Emily’s knees give out. She had to hang on to the wall to make sure she didn’t fall over. Brian, noticing Em’s reaction to the information, placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” he smiled down at her, “I’m not going to let anything happen to him. He’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

This time, Emily was the one to give a sad smile. Brian patted Em’s shoulder, and then marched out of the house, making the floors shake. The girl waited until he was outside, and then she followed him. The screen door croaked as she opened it, and then she stepped out onto the porch, barefoot. She watched as the large man marched over to the rusty truck and climbed into the driver’s seat. Pa was sitting in the passenger’s seat, his arms crossed. Em could see him telling Brian something, but she had no idea what it was. It was probably something about him being perfectly capable and healthy. Brian shook his head in response, and then put the vehicle in drive. Emily stared as the truck drove away from the house and down the dirt road. It was soon swallowed by a cloud of dust, which meant the girl could no longer see it. She stood there a while longer, not sure whether or not she should go back inside. The sound of the screen door opening made Em jump, and she turned around to see who it was. Jackson – unsurprisingly – stepped out onto the porch and stood next to Emily. He brushed his hair back with his hand and then placed his cowboy hat on his head.

“He’ll be fine,” Jackson reassured Emily. “You’ll see.” Em didn’t say anything. Instead, she wrapped her arms around herself and stared off into the distance. She rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, letting the awkward silence fill the space. Jackson, realizing she wasn’t going to say anything, cleared his throat. “Well, I’m going to go check on the horses.”

The boy marched down the porch steps, his boots thumping against the floor. Joe was quick to follow him, his tongue out and his tail wagging. Emily watched them disappear into the barn, and then sat down on the glider. She pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. Even though her faith wasn’t very strong yet, Em secretly prayed to whoever was listening that Pa would come back from the doctor’s healthy. She prayed that he would always be there to look after her. She prayed that she would never be alone again. She prayed that she would always have a family and a place to call home. She prayed and prayed, squeezing her eyes shut and gripping the fabric of her jeans. No matter what happened, Emily did not want to be alone again. She had gone through so much that she couldn’t go through any more. Again, the screen door disturbed her thoughts and she looked up to see Johnny. He too was carrying his cowboy hat, which he was quick to put on his head. He looked over at Emily and gave her a smile and a nod. Emily smiled back.

“I know you’ve gotten a lot of unwanted information this morning,” the man chuckled, “but we could really use your help. Someone’s gotta clean out the barn. Someone’s gotta sort hay. Someone’s gotta fix fences,” he sighed. “There’s a lot of work that we could use your help on.”

Emily, realizing that sitting and stewing all day wouldn’t be good for her, nodded. “Okay. Just let me get ready.”

“Alright.”

Johnny jumped down from the porch and strutted towards the barn. Em stood up and went back inside. She slowly walked up the stairs and into her room. She found a clean pair of socks and slipped them onto her feet. She then made her way back downstairs and pulled on her boots. Before going back outside, Emily grabbed her hat off the wall and placed it on her head. Right when the girl was about to go back outside, she felt a nudge on her calf. She turned around and noticed Dusty was standing behind her and rubbing the girl’s leg with her nose. Em just smiled at the old dog; she stepped aside, opened the door, and watched Dusty shuffle outside. She curled up on the porch right next to the glider and fell back asleep. Emily petted the dog’s head before walking towards the barn. When entering the barn, Em noticed Jackson scooping out stalls and Johnny carrying hay bales from one side of the barn to the other. Once Johnny noticed the girl standing in the entrance, he dropped the hay bale he was carrying and walked over to her. He wiped the sweat off of his face with the back of his hand and then started talking.

“Jackson and I can take care of everything in the barn,” he breathed. “You can start fixing fences if you want.”

“Fixing fences?” Emily questioned.

“It’s really easy. You take some baling wire and wire all of the poles back together. It’s just a temporary fix until we install new fences. And that might be a while,” the man explained.

Emily took in all of this information, uncertain on how the final project would turn out. She followed Johnny into a closet in the barn, and he retrieved a pile of baling wire. He then grabbed some wire cutters off a shelf and placed both items in Em’s hands. The wire was rough against her palms, and it left brown stains on her skin. She wrinkled her face in disgust, still not used to the idea of getting her hands dirty.

“Are there gloves?” Emily requested.

Johnny reached into his back pocket and pulled out a pair of leather gloves. “Here, you can use mine,” he declared. “They might be too big, but they’ll keep your hands clean.”

“Thanks.”

Emily put the gloves in her back pocket, and then fetched a bag for the wire and cutters. It was a dusty leather sack with spider webs all over it, but it would do. She carefully placed both items inside, and then slipped the bag over her shoulders. Her boots clomped against the floor of the barn as she walked through the building and out into the field. She placed two fingers in her mouth and whistled. Gypsy immediately came running towards the girl. Em led the horse into the barn and strapped the bridal onto her head. She was just about to go fetch a saddle when Johnny reappeared.

“Gypsy can ride bareback, if you want. It’s less of a hassle that way,” the man suggested.

Emily contemplated the idea of riding a horse without a saddle. She thought it be extremely uncomfortable. And how would she hold on? On the saddle, there was a horn to grip while riding. Without the saddle, Em would have to rely on the reins and Gypsy’s mane. To Em, that seemed very unsafe; it also meant less hassle with the saddle. With an uncertain breath, the girl grabbed Gypsy’s reins and led the horse out into the open without a saddle. She fetched a stool so she could easily climb onto the horse’s back. Emily had to pull herself onto Gypsy’s back since there was no stirrup to support her foot. Once she was on the horse’s back, she realized how uncomfortable it was to ride bareback. Gypsy’s backbone was cutting into Em’s butt, and it felt like she was going to slip off. There was a part of her that wanted to get off and get a saddle, but there was another part that was too lazy to get back off. With a shaky breath of confidence, Emily fastened the leather bag around her shoulders and moved Gypsy forward. The horse wanted to take off, but the girl held her back. Walking bareback, Emily figured, was going to be easy. Running bareback, however, was going to be a death wish.

Emily started with the fence that was next to the barn. Her plan was to follow the fence all the way around the ranch. She knew that would take a while since the ranch was so big, but it would give her time with her thoughts. Not that she needed time with her thoughts; it would just be nice to have some peace and quiet. She could really start to think about her spiritual life. Was faith in God something she truly wanted to pursue? Would it honestly answer the questions she had about her life? Nothing else was answering her questions, so maybe this would.

They came upon the first part of the fence that was broken. Emily pulled Gypsy to a stop, and then slid off of her back. The girl went to grab the gloves that were in her back pocket, but only one glove remained. Em looked around on the ground to see if it had fallen or got caught by the wind, but it was nowhere to be seen. Not only would she now have to do this job and get her hands dirty; she would also have to get Johnny a new pair of gloves. With a sigh of frustration, Emily opened the leather bag and pulled out the wire and wire cutters. She pulled the wooden fence back together and wrapped the wire tightly around the posts. After twisting it several times, she cut the wire and filled up the bag with the extra wire. Em let the bag fall back onto her shoulders, and then climbed back onto Gypsy. She struggled getting onto the horse’s back since there was no stool to step up from, but she eventually succeeded. With a snort, Gypsy continued to walk along the fence line. The wind brushed through Emily’s strawberry blonde hair, making the sun bounce off of it. She was starting to get used to the rhythm of Gypsy’s backbone as she walked, and it soon became a comforting movement. With the sound of the whistling grass and the singing birds, along with the sensation of the cool breeze and the warm sun, Emily felt at ease.

This is what home is supposed to feel like, the girl thought to herself.

She and Gypsy continued around the border of the ranch, inspecting the fence. Emily had to stop more often that she would have liked, but she got the job done none-the-less. The ranch was a lot bigger than Em had thought. She was so used to small places due to living in the city that big spaces often surprised her. If she had still lived in the city and came to visit Pa, the openness of the ranch would’ve made her feel sick and small. Now, though, it just felt like big welcoming arms. She didn’t feel out of place or different.

She felt…

“Home,” Emily breathed. “This, is my home.” Gypsy whinnied in response, and the girl leaned down and petted the horse’s neck. “Thank you, Lord,” she said for the first time, “for bringing me home. I never understood why my life has been so miserable. I honestly still don’t fully, but I’m beginning to. I didn’t belong in the city. I realize that now. I didn’t belong in the small apartments or the busy streets. I belonged out in the open where I could grow and fly. This – right here on the ranch – is where I belong.” Emily closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of the ranch, wrinkling her nose. “You could do something about the smell, though, God.”

They eventually made it back to the house. Jackson and Johnny were both sitting on the porch drinking lemonade when Em slid off of Gypsy’s back. She led the horse into the barn, took of the bridle, and then released her into the field. She dropped the leather bag with the wire and cutters in the closet where they belonged. She then made her way over to the porch and plopped down in front of Jackson. She removed her hat and brushed her hair away from her face. Emily then reached up, grabbed Jackson’s glass of lemonade, and took a drink.

“Um, you’re welcome,” Jackson scoffed.

“Thank you,” Em responded, returning the glass. “When will Pa and Brian be back?”

“It’s hard to say,” Johnny shrugged. “They have to drive about an hour to get to the clinic. Sometimes the appointments last hours, sometimes only thirty minutes. But they’ll be home by dinner, no doubt.”

Emily digested this information slowly. What kind of appointments took hours? What were they testing him for? Wanting to not worry any more than she already was, Em stood up and headed towards the screen door.

“I’ll be inside if you need me,” she stated, and then stepped into the house.

The girl climbed the steps to the second floor and entered her room. She opened her closet and sat down in the opening. Emily pulled out some loose paper and found a pen. Dear Lord, she wrote... The girl continued writing down prayers, hopes, and even things she was thankful for. She prayed for her grandpa’s health. She prayed that she would finally get a good life. She thanked God for never giving up on her. She also asked for the courage to be able to let go…of her sister. She wrote and wrote until she could physically write no more due to the cramp in her hand. Em then folded up the several pieces of paper that made the letter, and stuck them into her pillow case.

×

The moon was bright, and it filled Emily’s room with a white light. The girl tossed and turned, attempting to fall asleep. She was really tired when she went to bed, but now her mind wouldn’t stop worker. She kept worrying about her grandpa and his health. She went through every scenario possible, but they always ended with her alone. She couldn’t face the idea of being alone again. If that happened, she would end her own life... The thoughts of Pa getting worse and dying became unbearable, and Em started thrashing out in bed.

“No,” the girl yelled. “No. No! NO!”

Emily bolted up in bed, nearly throwing herself onto the floor. Joe was curled up in the corner of the room, but woke up to Em’s shouting. His ears perked up and he looked at the girl with concern. Sweat was dripping off of her forehead, and Em quickly wiped it away with her shirt. She reached over and turned on the lamp that was next to the bed. The yellow light made the girl squint, and her eyes had to take time to adjust. She draped her legs over the edge of the bed and slipped her feet into her slippers. She grabbed her robe and tied it around her body. Since Emily was wide awake, there was no point staying cooped up in her room. She shuffled out into the hall and hobbled down the stairs, her senses still not fully awake. Joe, who usually followed his humans everywhere, curled back up and fell back asleep. The girl’s plan was to head to the basement because that’s where Brian, Johnny, and Jackson lived. It was a fully furnished basement with a kitchen, showers, and individual rooms. Emily had only been down there once before to get something out of storage, but now she was going down there to talk to Jackson. As soon as she made it into the living room, though, a grumpy old voice made her freeze.

“Emily?” Pa inquired from his rocking chair.

“Who is it?” Em panicked even though she knew who it was.

“It’s just me,” the old man comforted.

Suddenly a light was turned on, and it filled up most of the room. Pa was in his nightgown, and his hair was sticking up in every direction. A mug was sitting on the side table with a tea bag dangling out of it. He continued to rock, staring at his granddaughter. She was standing speechless next to the stairs, her bare legs growing goosebumps. She had no idea what to say to him. Should she explain that she was going to go talk to Jackson? Would he think sneaking around in the middle of the night to talk to a boy was ‘okay’? Em opened her mouth to explain why she was up and about, but all that came out was a squeak.

“Can’t sleep, I take it?” Pa assumed, taking a sip from his tea.

“Yeah,” Emily sighed with relief.

“Me neither. Must run in the family,” he chuckled. “You’re welcome to join me. Would you like some tea?”

“Sure, thank you,” the girl responded, and then made her way over to the couch.

As Emily sat down, Pa pushed himself out of his chair, his arms shaking. The girl watched her grandfather carefully as he limped away from the rocking chair and stumbled into the kitchen. She heard a cabinet open, and then Pa grunting as he reached for a mug. Then came the sound of splashing water as he filled up the mug. The old man’s hands shook as he fumbled with the tea bag, but he soon ripped it open. Pa grumbled to himself as he limped back into the living room and over to his granddaughter.

“Here,” he said a little to sternly, shoving the hot mug at Em.

Emily took it cautiously, all the while watching her grandpa. He returned to his rocking chair and supported himself with unsteady arms as he sat down. The chair uncontrollably rocked backwards, but Pa didn’t seem to notice. He reached over and grabbed his mug of tea and drank from it. Emily and Pa sat in silence for quite a while. They didn’t have anything to say to each other. Em could ask him how his doctor’s appointment went since he never said anything about it. That might just make him agitated – or more agitated – and she didn’t want that. She could talk to him about the Bible and the notebook she got from the pastor, but that was something she wanted to keep a secret. Jackson knew, but that was because he walked in on her. She wanted that Bible and notebook to be her little secret. Pa, on the other hand, had no interest starting up a conversation. He was content with sitting in silence. People very rarely did that anymore; sit in silence. He thought it was a luxury to not have to carry on a conversation or have your thoughts interrupted. Why did people have to talk all the time? What was the point? Pa thought that more stuff got done if you fully thought about it first without talking, but not everyone liked that technique.

The two continued to sit in silence, sipping their tea. The awkwardness was getting so thick someone could’ve cut it with a knife. The rocking chair squeaked against the floor as Pa pushed himself back and forth, his feet barely reaching the floor. Emily was curled up on the couch, watching him. He drained his glass of tea before she had drunken hers half-empty. He let the glass drip empty into his mouth, and then he wiped his mouth and mustache with the back of his hand. He let out a small burp, and then looked around as though he was embarrassed about it. The old man cleared his throat as he pushed himself out of his chair and shuffled into the kitchen. With a shaking hand, Pa turned on the kitchen sink and rinsed out his mug. He dried it and put it away while Emily waited in the living room. He limped back into the living room, his socked feet scraping the floor. Pa looked worn, standing between the kitchen and the living room. His shoulders were slumped, and his back was hunched more than usual. His bushy eyebrows hung over his eyes, making his eyes droopy. The loose skin around his cheeks hung towards the floor, and his chin nearly touched his chest. Emily thought he looked so tired and worn out. Why he continued to work night and day, she didn’t know. What he needed was to retire so that he could take care of himself and relax, but also take care of Emily.

“Well,” Pa cleared his throat, “I think I’m going to head back to bed.”

“Okay,” Emily nodded uncertainly.

The old man gripped the railing with a wrinkled hand. He took one step at a time, making sure to be careful with each step. When he got towards the top, Pa nearly missed a step. His foot slipped and the old man fell towards the stairs. Em jumped to her feet, spilling a few drops of tea on the couch. She watched in fear as his face kept getting closer to the stairs. Even when Pa caught himself on the railing, Em didn’t breathe until he stood back up and made it to the second floor. He turned away from her, shaking, and headed towards his room.

“Pa?” Emily called out.

“Hmmm?” Pa’s head appeared over the railing.

“Are you okay?” she requested, looking up at him.

“Oh, sure. I’m just getting old,” Pa chuckled nervously.

“But,” Em began, not sure how to ask what she was thinking, “the doctors.”

“It’s nothing to worry about, Emily. I’m just getting old, and unfortunately illness comes with it.”

Pa turned away from his granddaughter again, intending to end the discussion, but Em’s voice stopped him again. “Pa!” The old man sighed and turned back around. “You promised, remember? You promised to always be there for me. You promised that we would always have each other.”

“Emily –”

“I have lost so much, Pa,” the girl choked. “You’re all I have left. You have to take care of yourself. If you’re sick, you have to take care of yourself. I can’t lose you, too!”

The old man sighed as he looked at his crying granddaughter. He was tired, it was the middle of the night, and he wasn’t in the mood for tears. Emily was right, though; they were all each other had left. If they weren’t there for each other, no one would be. With a slightly irritated grumble and a roll of his eyes, Pa limped back down the stairs and over to Em. He took a handkerchief out of his nightgown’s pocket and wiped away her tears with his old, but gentle, hands. Emily sniffled as they stood a foot apart, Pa several inches shorter than her.

“I know you’ve lost everything. I know I’m all you have left. And I promise I’ll always be there,” Pa comforted. “But I am getting old, Emily. And with age comes sickness. One of these days I’m going to bite the dust,” he grumbled, “and leave you. But until then, I’ll be right here.” Emily wiped her eyes with the handkerchief and then blew her nose. “You understand me? I’ll be right here until my last breath.”

Pa took Em’s face in both hands and kissed her forehead. He gave her a weak but reassuring smile, and then shuffled back over to the stairs. The girl watched him disappear upstairs, and then she was alone in the living room. She looked around, wiping her nose with her sleeve even though she still had the handkerchief. Her grandfather’s words gave her a sense of comfort, but she still had to live with the fact that he was getting old. He was going to die sooner rather than later, and she had to make her peace with that.

The girl turned towards the basement door but no longer felt the need to go find Jackson. All she needed was a comforting talk with her grandpa, not Jackson’s strong arms. Although she would never object being held by him, it wasn’t what she needed in that moment. So, Emily turned away from the basement door and remained standing in the middle of the living room. The house seemed a lot bigger when it was absent of the business of the work day. Everything was so still and quiet. There were shadows in places that were usually lit by sunlight. The kitchen sink constantly dripped, but Em had never noticed it before due to the noises of the work day. The floorboards creaked as she walked the boarder of the living room. There was only one lamp on now because Pa turned the kitchen lights off when he went upstairs. The girl’s shadow danced on the walls as she walked around the empty, quiet space. The stillness of everything actually became relaxing to Emily. She could hear herself think. She could clear her mind of any unwanted thoughts. She could breathe in the calm air and be reassured.

Emily eventually found her way over to the bookshelf, and she started scanning all the titles. She barely recognized any of them; they were all old like Pa. She ran her fingers along the books and stopped at one titled Black Beauty. It wasn’t a very thick book, and on the cover, there was a picture of a black horse. For reasons unknown, Em opened the book, its pages making a crunching sound as they separated. Inside the cover was a signature and a note written in a fainted pen. To my dearest Isabelle; my everything. May God bless you, love you, and keep you safe.

“Isabelle?” Emily whispered into the night. A floorboard groaned behind her, and Em spun around on her heels, eyes wide. Joe was sitting behind the girl, looking up at her with his puppy dog eyes. “Oh, hello.” Em knelt and patted the dog’s head. “What is it?”

Joe raised his ears as he turned his head towards the screen door that led outside. Curious, Emily stood up and wandered towards the door. The screen door squeaked as she pushed it open and stepped out onto the porch. The night air was cool, making Em pull her robe tighter around her. She looked towards the barn and noticed a small shape lying in the field. Wearing just her slippers, Emily stepped off of the porch and made her way over to the barn. Joe remained on the porch, watching the girl. Em got to the barn and pushed open the door, waking up all of the horses. Their ears perked up as she shuffled through the building and out into the field. Outside, curled up in the grass, was a small colt. His head jerked up as soon as he heard Em. He stood up on shaky legs as the girl made her way over to him.

“What are you doing out here, little guy?” Em held out her hand. “You need to come with me into the barn.”

She eventually reached the terrified creature and took his small face in her hands. Em shushed him and reassured him as she gently led the colt into the barn. His tiny legs were shaking the whole time, and he immediately collapsed into an empty stall. Once Em got the gate to the field all the way closed, she made her way out of the barn. She patted Gypsy’s nose on her way out, and then slid the door shut. Joe was still sitting on the porch as Emily jogged back to the house. She shivered as she stepped inside, but the puppy shoved past her and ran into the living room. Pulling the Black Beauty book out of her robe pocket, Em shuffled into the living room. Noticing a figure standing in the kitchen, the girl stepped back and gasped in shock. The figure turned around, holding a glass of water.

“It’s alright,” Jackson reassured her. “I just came up to get a glass of water.”

“Oh,” the girl sighed, blowing a piece of hair out of her face.

“What were you doing outside? In your pajamas?” the boy asked with a chuckle, taking a drink from his glass.

“There was a colt in the field,” Emily replied as though it was nothing. “I led him back into the barn.”

“Oh. Well, I guess that makes you a proper rancher,” Jackson raised his glass and winked.

“What?” Em questioned, pulling her robe tighter around her, fully aware that the majority of her legs were bare and her face was all blotchy.

“Going out into the fields in the middle of the night in your pajamas,” Jackson explained to a confused Emily. “It makes you a proper rancher because you care more about the animals than yourself.”

“I see.”

Jackson shook his head and chuckled at the face Emily was giving him. He emptied his glass and returned it to the counter. The boy marched over to Em and embraced her, the warmth of his skin seeping through his thin t-shirt. It was a quick hug because Jackson suddenly kissed the girl’s cheek and went back to the basement door.

“Goodnight, Em,” he smiled, and then disappeared downstairs.

Again, Emily was left alone in the living room, but not completely alone; Joe was with her. The girl wandered over to the couch and curled up on the worn-out cushions. She grabbed a blanket and threw it over her, becoming nice and warm. She rested her head against the arm rest of the couch and opened the fragile book. Joe hopped up on the couch with Emily and proceeded to lay on top of her. The girl was going to push him off, but he looked so cute and comfy, so she let him be. Em, not being much of a reader, began to read Isabelle’s book. She absorbed every word, but her eyelids slowly became droopy. The book started to slip out of her hands as her head fell back against the arm rest. The book eventually fell out of the girl’s hands and landed on her chest, marking the page where she left off.

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