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Chapter Fourteen

"Have a good day. Give me a report on Joe. Bren and I will be over this afternoon."

I was leaning against the counter, downing some orange juice, and I couldn't help but smile. "Do you realize how much you sound like mom?"

Shel paused, her mouth dropping open. "No."

I laughed and nodded. "Oh yeah."

Before Shelby could deny it, Bren let out a large giggle. I looked over towards the table. She had a massive cinnamon roll in front of her and Shelby's laptop open.

"Your mommy should make cin-man rolls!" she declared.

"I like scam-bled eggies!" another little voice piped up.

"Me too!" Bren said. She yanked her fork into the roll and brought it messily to her mouth. "Mommy I want some scam-bled eggies too!" she said with her cheeks bursting. The little voice on the computer started yelling for a cinnamon roll.

"You won't even finish that whole roll," Shelby admonished.

"Who's she talking to?" I asked. Shel smiled.

"She's Skyping with Landon. Liv and I try to coordinate this once a week."

"Landon? Really?"

Bren's face poked up over the laptop. "He's my bestest friend!" she said. She sat back down and leaned towards the screen.

"Want to see my mousie?!"

I took that as my cue to leave. I grabbed my phone and jacket. Shel grabbed my elbow.

"You sure you're okay with walking?" she asked. I stared at her like she was insane.

"It's not like I'm walking a highway. It's what? A half mile? I'll be fine, mom," I teased. Shel winced.

"Oh my gawd, I do sound like her."

I giggled. "See you tonight!"

The screen door slammed shut as I stepped out onto the dusty drive. It was a beautiful, slightly-chilly summer morning. I shrugged into my jacket, slid my hands into my pockets and began walking briskly.

I know it seems obvious, but it smells different out in the country. In Florida, there's always a penchant smell of saltwater for those who live by the coast, but its smothered by urban development. In Sadieville, things were perfectly crisp. Dew hung on the grass blades and the breeze kicked up the smell of Earth.

Even a girly girl like myself could appreciate it.

The first thing I saw as I cut through the grass at the Richardson's was Addy walking towards the barn. I saw her pause, her hand sliding along her back and rubbing as if she was uncomfortable. I was going to yell out to her when her hand wrapped around to her stomach and she tilted her head towards the sky.

Her movement surprised me for a second. My pace quickened and I didn't speak until I was almost behind her.

"Are you okay?"

Addy turned around, clearly startled. "Ally! I didn't hear you!"

I smiled. "That's usually my excuse."

Her eyes crinkled at the corners and she laughed. I noticed her hand was now resting on her hip.

"Are you sure you're okay?" I repeated.

She suddenly looked tired, but she quickly recovered. "Me? Of course. I'm just getting old," she said with a laugh. She turned. "Joe's mucking. Let's go see how he's doing."

I followed her, but I had my doubts on how easily she had brushed me off. She was always joking that she would be a hundred and still mucking stalls, carrying hay, and riding horses. And, since she was only fifty, she still had fifty more years to live up to her promise.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to dwell on it. The unmistakable sound of Joe's voice came from inside a stall.

"What did you do, not shovel any fucking shit for a week just so I'd have more this morning? Oh my god this is the most disgusting thing in the whole world. I've got a callous on my hand from your shitty shovel. I'm done. I'm not doing any more."

"You've only cleaned two stalls," Addy said patiently. "You've got five more. You've been out here for an hour. You should almost be done."

"Fuck this!"

I heard the sound of an object hitting a wall. Joe rounded the corner. He stopped when he saw me.

"Did dad call you last night?" I asked.

Joe shoved his hands in his pockets and scowled. "Yes."

"He's worried about you."

"If he loved me I wouldn't be here."

"You're here because he loves you," Addy said. "You'll find I have a lot more patience than my husband." she held out the shovel. "Get back to work."

"I'm here to work too," I said. Joe grabbed the shovel back and held it with disdain.

"Yeah, big deal. The only thing you have to do is lead retards around a ring," Joe said.

"Joe, that's horrible. They're handicapped like--"

I didn't get the word me out. Addy had her hands on Joe's shoulders pinning them to the wall. She shook him, her face a mask of anger and tears.

"Don't you EVER, I mean ever let me hear you say that word again. YOU HEAR ME?!" she screamed in his face.

It's not often that I see Joe truly scared, but I can tell you that this was one of those moments where he stopped being a hardass and started acting more his age.

"Y--yes," he stammered.

Addy stepped back, shaking. Her hands clenched into fists.

"Is there a problem here?"

I turned. Kevin was standing right behind me, looking at Joe. Joe stared down at the ground. He turned concerned eyes towards Addy.

"Are you okay?" he said gently. They shared a look that I couldn't even begin to interpret. I started to become uncomfortable when Kevin broke the silence.

"How many stalls have you done?" he asked Joe.


"In all this time?"

"I'm sorry," Joe mumbled.

I think it surprised Kevin that he actually apologized. He glanced back at Addy.

"Well, hurry up okay? The girls need to get their work done. When you're finished come in the house for some lunch and then we'll start working on repairs."

Joe nodded. "Yes, sir."

Kevin patted my shoulder and walked over to Addy. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her softly. He held her for a long moment and then leaned close to her ear and whispered something. She nodded.

"I will."

After Kevin left, Joe worked faster at the stalls. Addy pointed towards some hay that had already been down from the loft.

"I'm going to start seperating this out. Can you get some pails of water?"

"Sure," I said. Addy knelt down, her hand falling to her back again. I grabbed a metal bucket and headed for the water pump.

Shelby had warned me that full buckets of water were heavy, but I couldn't have even comprehended just how heavy they were until I tried to lift them. It took both hands and even then I could only carry it an inch or so off the ground. I had taken a total of ten steps when a pair of hands swooped down and took it from me. I looked up in surprise. Joe looked embarassed.

"I just don't want you getting hurt," he said gruffily. "Go fill the next one." Before I could respond, he walked quickly away.

I smiled. It was times like these when I was reminded why I loved my brother.