Thirteen Years Later
I watched Cody hold the reins while Mary Beth put a foot in the stirrup.
“Careful!” I hissed.
“Everything’s fine,” Cody replied calmly.
“It’s only fine if you’re careful.”
“She’s being careful. She’s doin’ exactly what I told her to do.”
“Mom, stop it! You’re making me nervous!”
I clenched my teeth to keep from commenting again. Watching my eldest daughter ride a horse by herself for the very first time was nerve-racking. She had ridden plenty of times in the same saddle as me or one of her fathers, but by herself was totally different. And even though Cody insisted twelve years old was plenty old enough, I wondered if we were rushing things.
Mary Beth stuck her toe into the stirrup and hopped once, twice, and then finally on the third time she was able to climb up and throw her leg over the horse.
“Atta girl!” Cody said. “Just like we practiced.”
“I did it! Mom, did you see me do it?”
“You did it,” I repeated. “That was good. Okay, just a little walk around the pen…”
“Becca,” Cody said. “We talked about this. We’re going out on the property.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you should stay in here to start. How does that sound, sweetie?”
Mary Beth groaned like the teenager she almost was. “Mom.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll stop.”
Cody opened the gate and kissed me on the cheek. “I won’t let anything happen to her. You know I won’t. So stop worrying, all right?”
“It’s impossible for a mother to stop worrying. But I’ll trust you.”
“Good enough.” He climbed atop his own horse, and then gently guided them through the gate. “Just like that, Mary Beth. See how the horse responds to your gestures? As long as you tell him what to do, he’ll listen to you.”
I watched with pride as they rode toward the ranch property. She looked so much like her father, blonde hair spilling down the back of her neck, unable to be contained by her cowboy hat. I knew he would take care of her, just like I knew he loved her every bit as much as I did. But that didn’t stop me from worrying all the same.
Their shapes shrunk in the distance as they climbed a hill, then disappeared over the other side. Dozens of wind turbines spun gently in the distance, like huge pinwheels beside the mountains. Between them and the solar panels, we hadn’t needed to use energy from the grid in almost a decade. Blake still complained that they ruined the view, but that was just Blake being Blake.
Shouts from the chicken yard finally pulled my gaze away from the hills. My three youngest boys, Robbie, Tommy, and Sam, were running in a circle around the chicken yard while being chased by a very angry Longhorn rooster. Mister Pam spread his wings wide while chasing Sam into a corner of the yard, crowing angrily at the boy.
It wasn’t the original Mister Pam. He died years ago. But Mister Pam Junior had the same ornery attitude as his predecessor.
“Stop teasing the chickens!” I said.
Tommy and Robbie simultaneously said, “We’re not!”
“We were checking for eggs!” Sam yelled.
“We checked for eggs this morning. Why are you checking again? Or are you lying to me, young man?”
Sam was the spitting image of Blake, with straight black hair and a round, permanently-smirking face. The boy looked like he had always gotten caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing, even when he was behaving perfectly innocent. He turned and ran away from Mister Pam, who continue chasing him and pecking at his back.
“Out.” I opened the gate to the chicken yard and pointed. “All of you, out.”
The three boys hurried through the gate. Only Sam had the good sense to look guilty about the entire thing.
I walked over to the crop fields next. We had expanded from two fields to four, and then to six. Mason was walking between the rows of crops with both girls on either side.
“…and the wheat will get grounded up to make flour, which we’ll use to make bread,” he was explaining.
“But we buy bread at the store,” complained Ashten. “It’s already made!”
“This way we can make our own,” Greta, her sister, replied. “Just like the vegetables, and the honey, and the milk, and the cheese…”
“But it’s a lot of work,” Ashten insisted.
“It’s a lot of work,” Mason told his daughter, “but that’s what makes it so satisfying. Now we don’t have to go to the store.”
“I like going to the store. They have candy.” Ashten’s eyes suddenly widened. “Can we make candy on the ranch?”
“There’s no such thing as a candy crop,” Greta scoffed.
“You don’t know that!”
Mason spotted me watching from the edge of the field. He rolled his eyes and said, “Your daughter keeps asking questions.”
“Your daughter is curious,” I replied. “Curiosity is a good thing.”
Mason turned back to the girls and said, “Keep picking the weeds, just like I showed you.” He walked over to the fence and kissed me on the cheek.
“That the best you’ve got?” I asked.
He grinned mischievously, then planted a deeper kiss right on my lips. It was interrupted by Ashten making a disgusted sound over in the field.
“Having a good day?” he asked me.
“Every day is a good day,” I replied.
He chuckled, then said, “I mean with Mary Beth and all…”
I pursed my lips. “She’s old enough to ride a horse. She’ll be perfectly safe.”
“You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself,” he pointed out.
“Maybe I am.”
He smiled. “How’s the writing going?”
I shrugged. “The new book is coming along. I’m not rushing it. Kind of have my hands full worrying about Mary Beth.”
“You’re a mom. Mom’s are supposed to worry, within reason.”
I still loved to write, but it was more of a secondary hobby rather than a primary job. I liked it that way, actually. My family came first. Whatever time I had leftover, an hour here and an hour there, I spent on my writing.
We had six children altogether, which had kept me busy these past thirteen years. It was more than I had ever expected to have, but with our big ranch and three dads? Six felt right.
No more than that, though. Four years ago I had made the guys all get vasectomies. The Cassidy family tree already had enough branches.
The sputtering sound of an engine filled the air, and then a four-wheeler came roaring around the shed. Blake was driving with Sam in his lap. They were absolutely adorable wearing matching black helmets as they shot across the yard.
Sam waved at his sisters in the fields as they shot by, prompting Ashten to complain, “Why doesn’t he have to work?”
Mason put an arm around me. “So you’ll fret about Mary Beth riding a slow-moving horse, but our five-year-old zooming around the property on that doesn’t bother you?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to make me worry more than I already am?”
He put up his hands. “Just checking, honey. Just checking.”
I playfully shoved him, and we laughed while watching Blake and Sam ride circles around Cassidy Ranch.