"There's my favorite sister-in-law's sister!"
I laughed as Dan ran up and picked me right up off of the truck seat. He set me down and gave me a hug.
"I'm Shelby's only sister," I reminded him. "And she's your only sister-in-law." Dan tossed back his head and laughed.
"You're too smart and pretty for your own good, Al."
Daniel Richardson was charming, muscular, tall, and gorgeous. Appearance wise, he was an exact clone of his dad. Personality wise, he was a mix of his mom and dad. His dark black hair was perfectly spiked, his green eyes sparkled, and his skin seemed perpetually tanned.
I would have scooped him up in a heartbeat if I didn't already know that he had a boyfriend in L.A.
"How are you doing?" I asked, trying to tamper the blush that had come to my cheeks. Dan walked around to the back of the truck and pulled down the tailgate.
"Good. Dad's keeping me busy. I'm heading to L.A. in a couple weeks."
"Really? What for?"
"I'm going for a month-long Shakespeare camp," he said happily. "Hayden and I are planning on snagging some lead roles."
Joe snorted as he scrambled out of the back. They stood side by side and silently began to carry out the boards. I hated the way Joe treated Dan. I had no idea where he had gotten his prejudices, but I knew for certain they hadn't come from mom or dad.
"Need some help?" I asked.
"No, we've got it," Kevin said. It was an amusing sight; both Dan and Kevin stopped and rolled up their shirt sleeves at the exact same time. Joe, wearing a dirty tank, didn't stop. He was taking his anger out on the wood.
"If you want, you can go check-in with Addy. She might have something," Kevin suggested.
"Okay," I said. I left the guys to the unloading and moved up the grassy lawn to the house.
I hadn't spent a lot of one-on-one time with Addy. In my mind, she was kind of like Annie Oakley; she was tough, spunky, and in control.
That's why, when I entered the house, I was surprised to find her crying at the kitchen table.
I immediately got that unsettling feeling that came bubbling to the surface whenever my path crossed trouble, sadness, or stress. My innate need to wallow in someone else's misery took over.
"Addy?" I whispered.
I hadn't seen it before, but when she looked up, I saw that she was clutching a cordless phone in her hand. She wiped the back of her eyes.
"Ally, sweetheart, I didn't know you were coming so soon..." she trailed off, her eyes fixing on the clock. "It's later than I thought."
"I'm sorry," I said, even though if asked, I wouldn't have been able to say what I was sorry for. "Kevin wanted me to come up and see if you needed any help--"
"Oh," she said. She grabbed a red and white plaid kitchen towel and stood up. "I've got dinner ready. I'm just going to throw it in the oven."
"Is everything okay?" I asked. She opened the refrigerator and seemed to stare blankly in for a moment. She closed it without getting anything out.
"Everything's fine," she assured me. She knelt by the oven and opened the door. I could see a large pot roast resting amongst a garnish of carrots and potatoes.
My intuition told me that I should keep talking it out of her, but my mouth didn't want to cooperate. Luckily, a little whirlwind swept through the house, and everything was momentarily forgotten.
"GAMMY ADDY! LOOK!"
Brenna's shoes smacked with each running step she took. She skidded into the kitchen, cupping her hands, a delighted smile on her face. Addy immediately broke into a radiant smile.
"What do you have, sweetheart?"
Bren was shaking she was so excited. She took a big huge breath and opened her fingers.
And that was when I lost it.
"I'm sowwy Aunt Awwy," Brenna said for the tenth time. She chased a potato around her plate, thrusting her tongue out of the corner of her mouth.
"It's okay," I said quietly. I shivered. Just the thought of those twitching whiskers freaked me out. I could almost hear it breathing from its shoebox home in the next room.
"It's just a barn mouse," Addy said. She reached over and played with Brenna's hair affectionately. "Good roast, pumpkin?"
"YUMMY NUMMERS!" Brenna declared.
"How was your first day as a world-famous stylist?" Shelby asked me. I dabbed at some gravy with a piece of thick French bread and smiled.
"Amazing," I said. "We went to a rehab center for teens and--"
"Rehab center?" Dan asked. "For drugs?" I noticed him steal a look in Joe's direction. Joe's middle finger flipped up his knife as he glared back.
"No, it's for kids who have physical impairments and their parents can't take care of them anymore," I explained.
"That's so sad," Shelby said softly. She glanced at Brenna, her eyes thoughtful and loving. I smiled. I had a feeling Shel was trying to picture life without Brenners. Whatever she saw wasn't as good as what she had now.
"I can't wait to go back tomorrow," I said.
"You're going back to the rehab center?" Addy asked. I shook my head.
"No. I think we go there once a week."
"Well, I think its great you're doing something so worthwhile," Kevin said. He smiled at me; I blushed.
"Speaking of worthwhile..." Addy said. "After dinner, I'll give you a rundown of what you're going to do here on Wednesday and Fridays." I thought about the mouse. I thought about spiders. I already knew I was going to hate working at the barn. Addy seemed to sense my lack of enthusiasm.
"I know Shelby told you that you were going to be mucking the barn," she said. Shel smiled and leaned back in her seat, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. I gasped.
"Did you lie to me?"
"Since you enjoyed the rehab center so much today, you'll be happy to know you're going to help me with my Reins of Life program."
"Reins of Life?"
"It's a program that pairs up gentle horses with kids and teens with special needs, anything mental or physical handicaps."
Addy nodded. "I just got licensed a couple weeks ago," she said proudly.
"My little equestrian," Kevin teased. He took her hand and kissed it.
Now I knew where Mason got his chivalry from.
"That sounds interesting," I said happily. Shel laughed.
"Manure's interesting," she said.
"HORSE POOP!" Brenna said. She swung her fork around; a huge chunk of carrot flew through the air and hit Joe's forehead. He swiped it off, his eyes wide. Then, with a grin, he chucked it right back at Brenna. She squealed, crawling under the table.
"You're mean, Un-cow Joe!" she declared. She wrapped her arms around my legs and wormed her way up between the table and me. She face planted right into my chest. I glanced at Joe. He propped his head in his hands and swished some gravy around.
"Tell me something I don't know," he mumbled.