Jun 082018
 

By Patty Wilber

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CALLIE’S STAR by Patty Wilber

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapters 5 and 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8

CHAPTER NINE-MUSTANG ROUND UP

They’d been at the pond for over two hours, and Callie was lying on her back, looking up at the ridge that formed the backdrop of Ridge Pasture and the Rocking W Ranch. “I’d like to ride up there,” she said.

“It’s a great ride,” said Luis, looking at Jeff. “We went up there once last summer.”

Jeff nodded in agreement and his eyes lit up. “Let’s see if we can go a week from tomorrow,” he said. “It’d take all day, but it’d be fun.”

“Yeah,” said Callie, looking first at Luis, and then at Jose. They both nodded. “We’d have to start at daybreak,” said Jeff, “And bring lunches.”

“And agua,” added Luis. “There is only one stream that crosses the trail.”

“Sometimes when it’s hot like it’s been this summer, that creek dries up,” Jose said. “Almost like a desert, it’s so dry….and hot.” He dragged his hand across his forehead, smearing off imaginary sweat. He fell to his knees. “Aqua,” he said. “Necesito aqua.” He was on his stomach now, stretching for the fictitious liquid that was just out of reach.

“Oh cut it out, Jose,” said Luis, prodding his dark-haired little brother with his bare toe.

“Oww!” said Jose. “O.K., O.K., already.” He got to his feet and brushed the dust off his chest, and jumped into the pond. Callie and Jeff sailed in after him.

“You know,” said Luis from the bank, “After the ridge ride, if we get to go, there’s only a few weeks until we have to bring in a few mustangs! The Forest Service called Dad last night.  The herd is getting too big again, and we need to bring some in for adoption.”

“That was a blast last year! I can’t wait to see the new foals,” said Jeff, climbing up onto Cloud’s ready-made, diving platform rump. He cannonballed in, making a water crater and sending water spraying like rain. He came up shaking his sun-streaked hair, so that it flipped off his forehead and out of his eyes. “This’ll be my second round-up!” he said proudly.

“Mine too,” said Luis from the bank.

“My zero,” said twelve-year-old Jose, with such a forlorn air that they all began to laugh. Even Cloud turned his head toward them and flicked his ears back and forth. Jake barked, ran along the bank, and then jumped in the water. He swam straight for Jose, licked him once in the face and headed for shore.

“Federal Mustang Service rules.  You have to be thirteen,” said Luis, trying to stop laughing at Jake long enough to use his best big brotherly voice, “Then you’ll get to go.”

“Thirteen,” thought Callie. “I’ll be thirteen in two weeks! That means…” She could hardly let herself think the words. I’ll be able to GO!”

“You know that’s where they got Punkin,” said Luis, looking at Callie. Her eyebrows shot up and she turned to Jeff. “You never told me that!”

He shrugged and sending a wave of water in her direction replied, “You never asked.”

She dove underwater and pulled at his ankles until he lost his balance and sank. When he surfaced, he motioned to Jose, and the two of them grabbed Callie and dunked her. She popped up laughing, and wiped her wet hair from her eyes. Instead of a counterattack on Jeff and Jose, Callie sent a spray of cool droplets toward Luis. Jeff and Jose send a barrage of their own and the three of them began to taunt, “Landlubber, landlubber,” until Luis retaliated by cannonballing right into their midst. Finally, gasping for air, they all climbed out onto the bank to rest. Callie picked a stalk of wild oats and chewing on the dry end said nonchalantly, “How old do you have to be to go on the round-up again?”

“Thirteen,” said Jose disgustedly. “Do you get to go?”

“Yep,” she said with a confidence she did not feel.

“You’re not thirteen,” said Jeff.

“In two weeks.”

Jeff sat up. “You never told me that!” he said.

Callie shrugged and threw her chewed grass stem at him. “You never asked,” she said.

“Lucky,” said Jose, and then after a pause, “Do you think your uncle will let you?”

“Sure. Why not?” asked Callie. Her veneer of confidence cracked a little and a crease of worry appeared on her brow.

“I dunno,” he said. ‘”Cause you’re a girl?”

“Dad wouldn’t care about that,” said Jeff. “All he cares about is how well you listen to directions and how well you can ride.” He paused for a minute, flicking a dry leaf from his leg. “But I dunno….”

Callie closed her eyes. She could picture it all so clearly. She and Cloud would capture the Outlaw for the first time, and then she would tame him slowly, like Uncle Bob did with Pitch.

“Maybe we’ll capture the Outlaw,” said Luis, as if he’d read her mind.

“Ha,” said Jeff, laying back onto his sun-warmed towel. “…but maybe…”

They all became quiet, dreaming of the elusive Outlaw, then suddenly a high-pitched neigh followed by the heavy thud of hooves, shattered the silence. Callie jumped and looked wide-eyed at Jose. They turned to the other two, and after an electric pause, Jeff broke in. His voice was very low, as if he didn’t quite believe his own words. “That must have been the horses pastured over there.” He pointed across the pond to a thick stand of scrub oaks which blocked further view. “Behind the trees,” he said.

They all laughed in agreement. “Yeah.”

“Probably.”

“Must’ve been,” said Callie, “But that was weird.” Goosebumps stood out on her arms. She got up, shook her towel and wrapped it around herself.  “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting cold.”

“It is getting late,” said Jeff. “Maybe we’d better head home.” He looked at Callie and she said, “O.K.”

Callie picked the bits of grass and dried leaves from her legs and slipped her jeans on over her swimsuit. As soon as she pulled her boots on, she swung her leg over Cloud’s broad back, and whispered sweet nothings to him.

Callie touched her heels to Cloud’s sides. He started into a gentle lope. Callie turned on her horse to wave at the Romeros, and stick her tongue out at Jeff. “Can’t catch me,” she said. She turned around and laid low over Cloud’s neck. “Get up, old boy,” she told him. Cloud accelerated to a smooth gallop, and Callie felt the warm wind rushing across her sunburned arms. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Jake bounding along beside her, and behind her she heard the quick beats of Punkin’s hooves as he easily closed the gap between the two animals.

“Not much of a challenge, Cousin Cal,” Jeff said, reaching over to poke her in the ribs.

“Oh well,” said Callie as they reined the horses to a walk. “He tried, didn’t you, Cloud?” Cloud jingled his bit and snorted, as if to say, “Of course,” and Callie leaned onto his neck and wrapped her arms around it. Her face was buried in his thick mane. She didn’t care one bit that he wasn’t the Outlaw.

Jeff shook his head and said, “Girls,” but he was rubbing Punkin’s neck just where the orange horse liked it most.

Chapter 10