While Connor gave Daisy driving lessons, Maria drove Mark and Susan over to Susan’s house and dropped them off. Then she took Andy to his house. “Andy, I’m gonna run an errand. Can I come back and hang out with you when I’m done?”
“Sure,” Andy leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I’ll be here,” he said and went inside.
Maria made a giant U-turn in the street and headed for the horse stables on the outskirts of town. She felt a tinge of guilt for not including Andy in her errand. “Maybe I should tell him,” she pondered to herself as she drove along. But this concern fluttered to the wayside when she saw the stable entrance.
She hopped out of her car and pushed the giant, squeaky gate open. Looking up into the dark sky, she quickly returned to the safety of her vehicle mumbling, “Thank God it quit raining. Hope those clouds don’t decide to bust a gut again.”
She drove a half mile down a lane covered with damp, fall leaves, lined with bare trees and came upon some cars parked against a sturdy white fence that she parked alongside. The fence encircled an open field of galloping horses. Watching them run stirred such a liberating feeling within her she had to pause and stare. “Magnificent,” she whispered in awe. She dug around in her bag for her camera. Catching the creatures in motion was difficult, but after several attempts, she managed to get one shot she liked.
Next, she climbed into the back seat and peeled off her clingy, wet running suit. She put on some dry jeans and her favorite Care Bear T-shirt. Andy had given her the T-shirt, and it reminded her of him. She wondered again if she had made a mistake by not including him in her secret venture.
She went to the trunk of her car and pulled out a bag of apples that she had stashed there for this very special occasion and stuffed them into her back pack. She found a discarded jacket in the trunk as well. Then she walked quickly down the lane towards the stables.
Damp leaves squished under her feet. Her wet running shoes echoed the mushy sound. “Double gross. Why didn’t I think to bring another pair of shoes?”
The nagging feeling that she should have brought Andy resurfaced. She turned around to glance at her car and estimated the distance. “Half mile to the car, half mile to the gate. I could be out of here in five minutes, if I want,” she comforted herself with this thought, turned back around and resumed walking.
Maria had zero experience with horses or stables. She had no idea how to locate Gary’s horse. She only knew that the name of his horse was Freedom, she was a red Palomino and Gary missed her.
The stables were huge, with shadowy, hay filled corners and ceilings as high as the sky. The largeness of the strange building gave her a queasy feeling. “Why didn’t I bring Andy?” she grumbled at herself for her stupidity. But she knew why she had not included him. He would have reminded her that she was supposed to stay away from the Adams family. There were restraining orders in place, after all. He would have talked her out of it because this was a dangerous family. She could almost hear him says those exact words in her head. “Now look at me Andy…” she spoke to him as if he were there, “I’m nervous and missing your confidence. I’m a piece of work, aren’t I?” She scolded herself, in his place, as she continued to look around with big, apprehensive eyes.
Every stall was full. She slowly moved forward, looking carefully at each horse. “What does a red Palomino look like? I’ve only seen Gary’s online photos. All these horses look like Palomino horses to me.”
“Hey there.” A stable boy emerged from one of the stalls, shovel in hand. He’d been shoveling manure and looked like he needed an excuse to take a break. His eyes and smile enlarged when he took in the sight of her. He might have thought her pretty had she not been looking so disheveled.
Maria gave him a quick once over, caring very little about his opinion of her appearance. “Well, I would like to visit Freedom, if you don’t mind.”
“Freedom?” He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Nobody’s been down to visit her in a while. Where’s Gary?”
“He’s been out of the country. How’s his horse?” Maria’s disheveled look turned into a concerned one.
Picking up on her tone, the boy jumped to reassure her. “Oh she’s fine, she’s fine, no need to worry. Are you here to take her for a walk?” He didn’t want anyone doubting his abilities as a top-notch stable boy.
“Well…hmm,” she had not thought of that, “Can I?”
“Sure, sure, I’ll fix her right up for ya.” Maria followed the boy down to a middle stall. He gently pulled a beautiful, glossy, auburn-red animal out. “This here’s Freedom.” The well-mannered creature blinked a shiny black eye at Maria while the boy saddled her up.
“Wow,” Maria whispered too softly for anyone but the horse to hear. Freedom’s ear twitched and turned in her direction. Excitement bubbled up in Maria’s heart. “Hey girl,” she cooed in the horse’s ear. “Can I ride you?”
“There you go, miss.” The boy smiled politely.
“Mmm…well… I’ve never actually been on a horse before. Can you sort of, you know, tell me how to get on?”
“You won’t have a problem with this horse, miss. Gary’s horse is the sweetest one in the stables. He trained her real nice.” The boy laced his fingers together and held them out, indicating that she should stick her foot there and hop up. She did so and there she was, sitting on top of Gary Adams’ horse. She wondered if she ought to feel guilty for taking such pleasure in her secret, possibly illegal activity.
“Gary Adams’ horse,” she giggled to herself. She could hardly believe what she was doing. What was she doing?
“Wow, this is great. What do I do next?” She looked down at the stable boy for further instructions.
He shook his head. “City girls.” He took the reins and led the horse into the pasture and walked her around.
After they made one loop around the pasture, Maria dug her camera out of her back pack and tossed it down to the boy. “Can you take a picture, please?”
“Sure.” The boy made several clicking sounds to Freedom which she seemed to understand and the horse came to a halt.
“Umm, don’t take the photo of me up here, take it of the horse. Just get my legs in the photo, not my face. Can you do that?”
The boy gave her a strange look but agreed to her request. “Yea, alright.” He took two shots of the horse and Maria’s legs. “There ya go miss.” He handed the camera back to her.
“Take me back to the stables. I can’t stay any longer,” she quickly blurted out.
“Ain’t much of a walk,” he mumbled as he turned the horse around.
Inside the stables, the boy helped her down. Maria looked him over, wondering how much she could say to him. She pulled the bag of apples out of her back pack. “These are for Freedom and umm, I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention to anyone that you saw me here. Gary just misses his horse so bad I thought I’d drop by and see her for a minute. I could get in a lot of trouble if, you know, Mr. Adams found out I was down here.”
A light went on in the boy’s eyes. “I’ve never met Mr. Adams, myself. But I saw him on the news. They say he jumped bail. My Dad hates him, says he’s the biggest scumbag this side of the equator. So you don’t have to worry about us squeal ‘in. We take care of Freedom for Guinevere, not scumbag.”
“Guinevere?” Maria had never heard the name, it confused her.
“Gary’s mom a-course. Geez…,” The boy rolled his eyes as though anyone who knew Gary should know who Guinevere was.
“Gary’s mom, she’s here?”
“No,” the boy laughed, “Course not, she’s been gone for years. But that’s who we do business with. So if you hear from ’em, tell ’em Freedom is A-Okay, fine, right here, with us. No need for any worry ‘in at all. I’m Al, by the way.” He stuck out his hand in a friendly way.
Maria shook his hand but didn’t say her name. “It’s late, I really need to go.” And with that, she rushed out. She had to get back to Andy before he started wondering where she was.
On the drive back, she stopped at Family Mart to use the bathroom and get a snack. She caught a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror and was horrified at her wet-rat appearance. “No wonder the stable boy kept looking at me funny.” She brushed her disheveled hair, dabbed on a little make-up, bought a sandwich and was off and driving back to Andy’s place again.
“He’s gonna know I’m up to something,” she worried as she raced down the highway. “He always knows. What am I gonna say?” She thought and thought and thought, but still no acceptable answer came to mind. “If I lie, he’ll know that too. Then he’ll call Connor and complain about it. Connor of course will tell Daisy to talk to me, then all three of ’em will be breathing down my neck. I’ll never be able to successfully lie to all three of ’em.”
When she’d finished her sandwich, she stuffed the cellophane wrapper under the seat and turned on the music. Andy’s favorite CD was in the player. “Oh crap.” She turned it off quickly. Hearing his music made her feel even worse.
She pulled off the highway and crumbled. “Oh God, what am I gonna do? I wanted to see that horse sooooo bad. I just had to see it. I just haaaaaad to. Can you understand? Can you? I wanna tell Gary his horse is okay. Is that so terrible?” she pleaded through her tears, trying to convince God that what she’d done had been the right thing to do.”Andy cares about me so much,” she mumbled sadly into her hands. “It’s so hard to look into his eyes and lie. His eyes are so honest, they see right through me. He’ll know if I lie. He’ll be mad if I tell him the truth, I know it, I just know it.”
She cried a while longer then wiped her face off and stared sadly out the window at the passing traffic. She thought about her friends. Her mind wandered aimlessly through random memories of them. She loved her friends. Why couldn’t she just tell them the truth?
“You don’t know for sure how a person will respond… until you ask them,” was the thought that slowly crept into her mind and lingered there. It mopped up her tears and gave her a glimmer of hope.
“Yea, I don’t know for sure what he’d say ’til I ask him.” She looked up to the sky. “God, do you think, maybe, he wouldn’t be mad? I mean, I really don’t know, do I?” As this thought took root, curiosity replaced dread in Maria’s mind and hope replaced fear in her heart. She punched Andy’s CD back into her player, letting his tunes remind her of him. Feeling stronger now, she pulled back out onto the highway and aimed for Andy’s house once more.
Maria tapped lightly on Andy’s front door.
“Well, look who’s here.” In a friendly manner, Ms. Victor pulled Maria inside the house. “Andy’s been waiting all day for you. He’s in the back yard playing his guitar.”
“Thank you, Ms. Victor.” Maria smiled as she passed through the house to the kitchen, where the back door was located.
“Would you like some tea, darling? You look a little worn out,” Cindy observed sympathetically.
“Do I? Well, this weather… maybe I do need some tea, thank you.” Maria made a pit stop in the kitchen with Andy’s mom. She chugged two glasses of tea down with no more than a breath in between. “I must have been thirstier than I thought.” She smiled. “Thanks,” she said as she set the glass in the sink.
Cindy reached up into the cabinet over her head and pulled out a tall plastic bin. “Andy made a new batch of his secret recipe trail mix. He’s got it all measured out in individual baggies, see?” Cindy pulled a baggy full of trail mix from the plastic bin. “Would you like some of this too? He swears that every vitamin needed for a healthy body is in one little baggy, but I don’t see how.” Cindy shook her head in disbelief as she held out a bag to Maria.
“Yes, please.” Maria took it. She looked down at the baggy in her hand, hiding her misty eyes. Andy would sometimes pass out trail mix during cross country practice at school. Everyone had heard his boasts about the nutritional value he thought his mix had. Even though he called it a secret recipe, it wasn’t really. All you had to do was eat it to know what was in it. Being reminded of his generous nature, Maria was now completely sure she was unable to lie to him.
“Are you okay darling?” Cindy gave her another concerned look.
“I’m fine. I’m just missing Andy is all. Can I go outside and see him now?” Maria got a hold of herself and smiled up at Ms. Victor.
“Of course, he’s just out there.” She pointed out the window to the porch area then placed her coffee cup in the sink next to Maria’s glass. “I have to go to work now, anyway. Tell him I’m leaving, would you?”
“Sure.” Trail mix in hand, Maria stepped out onto the back porch to see Andy sitting on top of the picnic table, strumming his guitar.
He looked up and smiled as she crossed the porch. “It’s about time Care Bears. I was miss ‘in you. What took ya so long? Hey, is that my jacket?”
He sounded so happy to see her, it dissolved the last bit of fear in her heart. She sat on top of the table next to him and playfully bumped her shoulder against his. “Yea, it’s yours. I found it in the trunk of my car. Your mom is leaving for work. Will you play me a song?”
He studied her face for a moment, taking in her sad tone and tired eyes. He resumed playing without a word. As he played, she watched the wind blow through the trees of his backyard and the squirrels scamper about in wet leaves, making sure the nuts they’d stashed earlier were still where they’d left them. There was no adrenaline rush sitting on Andy’s picnic table. No fearful excitement, like when she sat on top of the forbidden horse of Gary Adams. But Andy’s place was a peaceful one, she felt loved next to him. As his melody floated through her system, she opened up and told him about her “errand”.
Andy flubbed on a few chords as she spoke but he otherwise remained silent until the end. “Wow, I’ve never been on a horse.” Andy chuckled as he lay his guitar to the side when she appeared to be done.
Maria replayed the photos on her camera for him.
“That’s sorta dangerous mess ‘in around with the Adams’ family stuff. Don’t ya think so?” He gave her a concerned look.
She dropped her eyes from his. “Yea…I guess,” she admitted.
“Mr. Adams still hasn’t been found yet. Me and you…we’re supposed to be stick ‘in together. I honestly thought you were just heading up to the grocery store to get girl stuff. A 30 minute trip, max. It never dawned on me that I wouldn’t see you again ’til 5,” Andy explained his side of things.
“Oh, is that what you thought?”
“Yeah, I mean, girl stuff is the only thing you ditch me for, not that you need too. I think I’m old enough to handle a trip down aisle six in the grocery while you pick out tampons. But if you don’t wanna take me, I’m cool. I can wait at home. It’s not likely you’d run into Mr. Adams on aisle six. That’s what I was thinking when you said you needed to run an errand.” Andy let out a little chuckle at himself for being so very wrong.
“Yea, I did sorta give you that impression, on purpose. That’s not very honest. I’m sorry about that.”
“The next time you say you’re making an errand, I’m going to have to think more creatively.” He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tight. “I’m glad you’re okay though,” he whispered into her ear. “Would you take me along next time you decide to investigate the wild side?”
She looked up into his eyes. “Andy, I wanted to take you. I did, really, but I didn’t think you’d go. I thought you’d try to talk me out of it. I really, really, really, wanted to go. I don’t know why exactly. But that is just how I felt. Can you find it in your heart to somehow understand?”
Andy touched her forehead with his and smiled into her pleading eyes. “Well, this is what you do next time. Just tell me you wanna take me for a drive, see? You know I’d never, in a million years, say no, to that. Then you drive to where ever it is that you feel so desperate about going.” He dropped his lips to her lips and kissed her softly. “Then, you won’t be alone when you get there.”
“Wow. You didn’t respond at all like I’d imagined you would. I was thinking you might throw a fit.”
“Maria…” Wishing she understood him better, he tried to explain his past angry outbursts. “I know when there’s something wrong, even if I don’t know exactly what it is. When you tell me straight, I’m cool. But when you lie and tell me there’s nothing going on, that’s when I get pissed off.”
Maria laid her head back down on his shoulder. “That makes sense, I guess.” She sighed contentedly in his arms, relieved that she had managed to tell him the whole truth. She wondered now, why it had been such a hard thing to do. “I should quit ‘assuming’ that I know how Andy’s gonna respond.” Maria filed this experience away in her heart with the intention of never forgetting it. Her stomach made a sudden, really loud gurgling noise, bringing the conversation to a sudden halt. “Oh God, I’m so so sorry.”
He smiled, amused at her embarrassment over the unruly but otherwise completely normal sound. He didn’t know why Maria was such a tightly wound girl but he loved helping her unwind. “You sound hungry. Come on.” He picked up his guitar and gave her a loving tug towards the kitchen door. “I’ll make you something to eat.”
“You hate cook ‘in.”
“I hate cook ‘in but I love you. Now come on.” He gave her another tug.
“No, let’s go out. I’ll take you for a drive,” she playfully teased.
He turned around and looked her in the eye, attempting to read what he saw there. “O-k-a-y,” he said slowly, “Should I bring my BB gun?”
“No,” she giggled at his stunned look. “Let’s just go to the Shop-Smart Deli and get a sub. Do you think Daisy and Connor are still there?”
“No way, they’re long gone. They had to be at Palmer by three to help get the place ready for New Years.” Andy looked at his watch. “It’s after five, time to get my growl ‘in Care-Bear some dinner.”
When Andy and Maria entered the Shop-Smart parking lot, they immediately saw the long, black, zig-zag, tire tread marks on the pavement.
“Hell, yes!” Andy hollered. “What ‘cha wanna bet Dumbo made those!” He popped out his cell phone and pushed Connor’s name.
Maria pulled into a parking spot near the marks. She was laughing right along with Andy but she still urged him to be careful what he said. “Daisy gets her feelings hurt super easy.”
“Connor! I’m here at Shop-Smart with Maria. Please tell me these terrific tread marks are Dumbo’s!” He roared excitedly into the phone as he heard the news. “I knew it! I knew it! That’s great man! What do ya mean don’t make fun of her? These are beauties! Longest set I’ve ever seen! They go the full length of the store, man!”
Maria hugged the steering wheel, bottling up her laughter so Connor couldn’t hear her through the phone.
Andy hung up and hollered excitedly. “Come on, let’s get some spray paint Care-Bears!”
“Spray paint?” she questioned as they got out of the car. “For what?”
Maria followed Andy into the store. They bought white spray paint and returned to Daisy’s tread marks.
Andy, with great love and tender care, wrote:
DUMBO WAS HERE! SHE’S HERE A LOT SO WATCH OUT!