By Patty Wilber
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CALLIE’S STAR by Patty Wilber
CHAPTER TWELVE–CHANGE IN PLANS
Callie didn’t know how long she lay there with visions of herself lying low over Cloud’s neck as they pounded after the shiny black shadow that danced ahead of them. The two of them were about to capture the elusive stallion for the first time in history. Callie could see Jeff and Luis standing near the corral trap with their mouths drooping in the dust, and she could hear the amazed comments of the other ranchers. “A girl,” they were saying, “That learned to ride just this summer, and she caught him all alone!”
Callie hugged her pillow tightly until she could feel the goose down feather shafts poking her cheek. “If only I could GO!” she said to the pillow, punching it once. She mashed her eyelids together, wishing she would fall asleep, so everything would fade away. Then when she awoke, perhaps she would find that it had all been a bad dream.
“Or not,” she muttered.
There was a tap on the door, and Callie tried to ignore it, but it came again, louder. “It’s me, Jeff,” said a low voice. “Can I come in?”
Callie rolled over and sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Yeah,” she said, with out much enthusiasm.
The door eased open and Jeff stepped in. His blue eyes were sparkling, and a grin hovered around the edges of his mouth, but his voice was solemn. “Dad wants you downstairs.”
Jeff shrugged and looked at the floor. The shadow of a grin threatened to break into reality.
Callie didn’t notice. Her thoughts were whirling like a dust devil, throwing ideas against the inside of her skull. “Do I get to go??? Don’t be stupid… But what does he want???”
Her thoughts tumbled over each other all the way to the kitchen door. She paused there and ordered her brain to be quiet. When she walked in, she wanted to at least appear calm.
Aunt Martha, sounding quite pleased with herself, said, “Have a seat.”
Nervousness made her legs feel like overcooked noodles and they could barely hold her up. Callie got to the nearest chair and sank onto its hard surface. Jeff stood in the doorway.
Nobody said a word for a full minute, and Callie nearly died right there, waiting. Finally, Uncle Bob spoke, and Callie heard his voice as if from a distance. “I know you really want to go on the round-up, Callie.” Callie swallowed and blinked hard, determined not to cry. “So I’ve talked it over with Jeff and Martha, and changed my mind. You can go.”
Callie looked back at Jeff. His smile was so wide that he looked like the Cheshire Cat. Then Callie looked at Aunt Martha, still unable to believe her ears. When Aunt Martha nodded ever so slightly, Callie sprang from the straight-backed chair, and hugged her uncle with the grip of a grizzly bear. “Thank-you! Thank-you! Thank-you!” she cried.
“Whoa, young lady,” said Uncle Bob, peeling her arms from around him. “There’s still a catch.”
Callie barely heard his words. She was floating on happiness.
“I meant what I said about lack of experience, Callie,” Uncle Bob continued, and the serious note in his voice made Callie come down to earth and listen. “You have to be ground crew, which means feeding and watering the horses, and maybe even helping the cook a little. You’ll ride there and back, but that is all.”
“That’s it?” said Callie, beginning to float again. So she didn’t get to actually round-up. She’d be there, part of the dust, the sweat, and the excitement. “Fine. Great. SUPERB!” she said, engulfing Uncle Bob in another tremendous squeeze.
Then she turned to her aunt and said, “Thank-you.” Their eyes met for a moment, and Aunt Martha reached across the table to touch Callie’s arm. Aunt Martha squeezed gently.
Inside Callie an ember of warmth she’d left untended ever since her last day in Chicago, rekindled itself.
Callie jumped up and looked for Jeff and his grin. He was leaning against the doorway smiling at the tips of his boots, and Callie started toward him.
“One more thing, Callie.” Uncle Bob’s voice halted her, and she turned to face him. “You won’t be able to take Cloud.”
Callie looked back at him, frozen in place. “He did make it to the ridge and back,” she said.
“We may need a spare horse, and Cloud just doesn’t have the speed of younger animal.”
Callie had to agree with Uncle Bob, remembering how quickly Jeff and Punkin had caught Cloud the day they raced from the pond, so, she gathered her disappointment into a knot, and held it in her clenched fist. She willed her voice to be even, and asked, “Which horse will I ride, then?” There were only two to choose from.
Aunt Martha said, “I am going to stay home this year and write. In peace and quiet, for once.”
Callie looked open-mouthed at her aunt who said, “Well, I would have been here if you’d stayed, anyway. So, you can ride Flower.”
“I thought she was spooky!” Callie blurted and her voice held a trembling note. She kicked herself mentally. “But, I think I can manage,” she said quickly.
“Well, O.K., then!” said Uncle Bob. ”Now why don’t you two go down and check on your tired horses.”
“And drop off the lettuce scraps with the rabbits, O.K.?”, added Aunt Martha.