“You say that’s old, you’ll have my grannies taking some shots at your bones.”
He laughed, stepped back, and gave the paint another rub. “Maybe so, but I’m taking that winter break like we talked about. Heading to see my brother in Arizona, me and the wife. Right after Christmas, and through to April.”
She didn’t wince, though she wanted to. “We’ll miss you and Edda around here.”
“Winters get harder when the years add up.” He checked the paint’s hoof, pulled out a hoof pick to clean it. “Not so much call for trail rides and such in the winter. Maddie can step up, manage the horses for a couple months. She’s got a good head on her shoulders.”
“I’ll talk to her. Is she inside? I’ve got to go in, talk to Matt anyway.”
“In there now. I’ll get Three Socks ready for you.”
“Thanks, Abe.” She started out, walked backward. “What the hell are you going to do in Arizona?”
“Damned if I know except stay warm.”
She walked around inside the building. Starting in spring right through till October, the big, barn-like space would hold groups gearing up for white-water rafting, ATV jaunts, trail rides, cattle drives, and guided hikes.
Once the snow got serious, things tended to slow down, and now the space echoed with her boot steps as she crossed to the curved counter and the resort’s activities manager.
“How ya doing, Bo?”
“Doing, Matt, and that’s enough. How about you?”
“Quiet enough we’re catching up on things. We’ve got a group out cross-country skiing, another shooting skeet. Family group of twelve’s taking a trail ride tomorrow, so I gave Chase the word on that. He said Cal Skinner’s back, and going to handle that end.”
She talked to Matt about inventory, replacing gear and equipment, then pulled out her phone with her notes to discuss additional activities for the Jackson wedding.
“I’ll be sending you an e-mail with all the details. For now, just make sure you block all this out, pull in whoever you need to cover it all.”
“I got it.”
“Abe said Maddie was in here.”
“She’s in the ladies’.”
“Okay.” She glanced at the time on her phone before pocketing it. She wanted that ride to see the grannies, then really had to get back to the office. “I’ll wait a few.”
She wandered to the vending machine. Jessica was right—she should drink more water. She didn’t want water. She wanted something sweet and fizzy. She wanted a damn Coke.
Damn that Jessie, she thought, plugging in the money and taking out a bottle of water.
She took the first annoyed swig as Maddie stepped out of the restroom.
Bodine headed over to the horsewoman. She thought Maddie looked a little pale, a little tired around the eyes despite her quick smile.
“Hi, Bo. Just back from the trail.”
“I hear. You okay? You look a little peaked.”
“I’m fine.” After waving it away, Maddie puffed out a breath. “Do you have time to sit a minute?”
“Sure I do.” Bodine gestured to one of the little tables scattered around the room. “Is everything okay? Here? At home?”
“It’s great. Really great.” Maddie, a lifetime friend, sat and pushed back the brim of the hat that sat on the chin-length swing of her sunny blond hair. “I’m pregnant.”
“You’re— Maddie! That’s great. Isn’t it great?”
“It’s great and it’s wonderful and amazing. And a little scary. Thad and I decided, why wait? We only got married last spring, and the plan was to hold off a year, maybe two. Then we said why do that? So, we dived right in.”
She laughed, then tapped Bodine’s water. “Can I have a sip of that?”
“I puked three times a day the first couple months. First thing in the morning, lunchtime, and dinnertime. I get tired quicker, but the doctor says that’s how it goes. And the puking should let up altogether pretty soon—I hope to God. I guess it has, a little. Just now I was queasy, but I didn’t barf, so that’s something.”
“Thad must be doing backflips over the moon.”
“How far along are you?”
“Twelve weeks come Saturday.”
Bo opened her mouth, closed it again, then took the water back for another gulp. “Twelve.”
After sighing out a breath, Maddie bit her bottom lip. “I almost told you straight off, but everything says how you should wait to get through the first three months, the first trimester. We haven’t told anybody but our parents—you just have to tell them—and even then we waited until I had four weeks in.”
“You sure don’t look pregnant.”
“I’m gonna. And truth is, my jeans are so tight in the waist already, I’ve got them hooked up with a carabiner.”
“You do not!”
“I do.” To prove it, Maddie lifted up her shirt, showed Bo the little silver clip. “And look at this.”
Maddie lifted her cap, bending her head to show a good inch of brown roots bisecting the blond. “They don’t want you dyeing your hair. I’m not going to take off my hat until this baby comes, I swear. I haven’t seen my natural-born color since I was thirteen and you helped me color it with that box of Nice’n Easy.”
“And we used some to put a blond streak in my hair that ended up looking like a slice of neon pumpkin.”
“I thought it looked so cool. I’m a blonde in my heart, Bo, but I’m going to be a pregnant brunette. A fat, waddling-around, peeing-every-five-minutes brunette.”
On a laugh, Bodine passed the water back. As she drank, Maddie stroked a hand over her as-yet-invisible baby bump. “I feel different, I really do, and it’s a kind of wonder. Bodine, I’m going to be a mother.”
“You’re going to be a terrific mother.”
“I’ve got my mind set on that. But, well, there’s another thing I’m not supposed to be doing.”
With a nod, Maddie drank again. “I’ve been dragging my feet there, I know. Jeez, I’ve been riding since I was a baby myself, but the doctor’s firm on it.”
“So am I. You went out on the trail today, Maddie.”
“I know it. I should’ve told Abe, but I thought I should tell you first. Then he’s talking about how I can take over for him while he’s gone this winter. I didn’t want to say because he really wants this trip, and I could just see him putting it aside.”
“He won’t put it aside, and you won’t be in the saddle until you get the all clear from your doctor. That’s it.”
Biting her lip again—a sure sign of anxiety, Maddie twisted and untwisted the cap on the water bottle. “There’s the lessons, too.”
“We’ll cover them.” She’d figure it out, Bodine thought. That’s what she did. “There’s more to the horses than riding, Maddie.”
“I know it. I already do some of the paperwork. I can groom and feed and drive the horse trailer, drive the guests to the Equestrian Center. I can—”
“What you can do is get me a list, from your doctor, of the dos and the don’ts. What’s on the do side, you do—what’s on the don’t side, you don’t.”
“The thing is, the doctor’s awful cautious, and—”
“So am I,” Bodine interrupted. “I get the list and you stick to it, or I let you go.”
Slumping back, Maddie sulked. “Thad said you’d say just that.”
“You didn’t marry an idiot. And he loves you. So do I. Now, you’re going home for the rest of the day.”
“Oh, I don’t need to go home.”
“You’re going home,” Bo repeated. “Taking a nap. After the nap, you’re calling your baby doctor, telling him—”
“Whatever. You tell her to make up that list and send it to you, to
copy me. Then we’ll go from there. Worst thing, Maddie, you switch a saddle for a desk chair for a few months.” Bodine smiled. “You’re going to get fat.”
“I’m kind of looking forward to it.”
“Good, because it’s gonna happen. Now go home.” Bodine stood, leaned over to give Maddie a hard hug. “And congratulations.”
“Thanks. Thanks, Bo. I’m going to tell Abe before I leave. Tell him you’ve got it all covered, all right?”
“In fact, I’m telling everybody. I’ve been dying to since I peed on the stick. Hey, Matt!” Rising, Maddie patted her belly. “I’m pregnant!”
Bodine had time to see him boost himself right over the counter and run over to lift Maddie off her feet.
Parents got told about babies first, Bodine thought as she went back outside. But there was a lot of family around here.
As she rode, Bodine worked out what had to be done, what could be done, and what made the most sense to do. Losing two of her key horse people, one until spring, one for a solid eight months, created a puzzle. She had the pieces; she just needed to find the best way to fit them into the whole.
Snow trickled, thin and scant for now, a harbinger of what would come. She liked the smell of it, the way a hawk glided through it overhead, and a fat rabbit hopped up, vanished, hopped up, as it raced across a wide, white field.
She nudged Three Socks into a quick, bright trot then, reading him, let him stretch it into a lovely, rolling lope. She spotted one of the maintenance trucks rumbling down the road from the High Timber Cabins, and gave herself and her mount the pleasure of taking the longer route around, where the world opened up to the view of white mountains rising up into a soft and pale gray sky.
For a while, she let her mind empty. She’d solve the puzzle, fix the problem, do what had to be done.
She rode past the white tents of Zen Town, up the rise by the snuggled cabins they called Mountain View Estates, and wound around again to the road toward her grannies’ house.
It sat back from the road, leaving room for the gardening they both enjoyed, a white dollhouse with fancy blue trim, big windows to let in the views, and generous porches, front and back, for just sitting.
She rode the gelding around the back to the grannies’ little barn, dismounted. After giving him an appreciative rub, she tethered him.
She walked through the thin snow to the back porch, where she industriously wiped her boots on the mat.
The scent of something wonderful simmering on the stove caught her the minute she stepped inside. As she unbuttoned her coat, she walked to the pot to sniff.
Chicken and leeks, she mused, inhaling. What her grammy called Cock-a-Leekie.
She glanced around. The eat-in kitchen opened to a sitting area with a cushy couch, a few easy chairs, and a huge flat-screen.
The grannies loved their shows.
Some daytime drama with a pair of impossibly beautiful people currently played. She spotted the needlepoint basket—Grammy’s—and the crocheting basket—Nana’s—but neither of the women.
She checked in the guest bedroom/home office, found it tidy and empty.
She stepped out where a sitting room with its fireplace simmering like the soup bisected the two little bedroom suites.
She started to call out, then heard her grandmother’s voice from the right.
“I fixed it! Told you I’d fix it.”
Cora strode out of her bedroom with a shiny pink toolbox in one hand. She smothered a squeal, slapped a hand to her heart.
“Sweet baby Jesus, Bodine! You scared the life out of me. Ma! Bodine’s here!”
Tools rattling, Cora hurried over to hug Bodine.
UGG slippers, the scent of Chanel No 5, a body so slim and agile it belied her years clad in Levi’s and a soft, chunky sweater her own mother would have knitted.
Bodine drew in her scent.
“What did you fix?”
“Oh, the sink in my bathroom was leaking like a sieve.”
“Do you want me to call maintenance?”
“You sound like your grammy. I’ve been fixing what needs fixing most of my life. Now I fixed the leak.”
“Course you did.” Bodine kissed each of Cora’s soft cheeks, smiled into the sharp blue eyes.
“You got something needs fixing?”
“I’m going to be short two horsemen, but I’m working on fixing that.”
“That’s what we do, isn’t it? Ma! Bodine’s here, for God’s sake.”
“I’m coming, aren’t I? No need to shout.”
While Cora had let her hair—worn in an angled wedge—go to salt-and-pepper, Miss Fancy’s stubbornly remained the red of her youth.
At a few months shy of ninety, she might admit to moving somewhat slower than she once had, but she was proud to say she had all her teeth, could hear anything she damn well wanted to, and only needed cheaters for close work.
She was small, more round than plump. She favored shirts or caps with statements she surfed for and bought off the Internet. Today’s read:
THIS IS WHAT A
FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE
“Prettier every time I see you,” Miss Fancy said when Bodine hugged her.
“You just saw me two days ago.”
“Doesn’t make it any less true. Come on and sit down. I need to check that soup.”
“It smells amazing.”
“Needs another hour or more if you can stay.”
“I really can’t, I’ve got to get back. I just rode by to see you first.”
Miss Fancy stirred her soup while Cora put away her toolbox.
“Tea and cookies then,” Cora decreed. “There’s always time for tea and cookies.”
Bodine reminded herself she was eating healthier, avoiding sweet snacks, empty carbs.
“Cora and I baked snickerdoodles last evening.” Miss Fancy smiled as she set the kettle on a burner.
Why did it have to be snickerdoodles? “I could take time for a cookie. You sit down, Grammy. I’ll make the tea.”
She got the pot, the cups, the leaf strainers, as neither woman would lower themselves to having a tea bag in the house.
“Y’all are missing your show,” Bodine pointed out.
“Oh, we’ve got it recording,” Miss Fancy told her, brushed it away. “It’s more fun to watch in the evenings and zip right through the commercials.”
“I’ve tried explaining to her the show doesn’t have to be on and running to record, but she won’t believe it.”
“It doesn’t make a lick of sense,” Miss Fancy told her daughter. “And I’m not taking chances. I heard that Skinner boy’s come back from Hollywood, and working on the ranch.”
“You heard right.”