This is the fifth of an 11-part short story based on the characters of author Susan K. Marlow’s Circle C Adventures and is posted on her blog https://circlecadventures.blogspot.com/

Part 5.

Chad’s family is beautiful. They welcomed me without a second thought.

Supper was wonderful.  Ellie found Chad’s family friendly and refreshing, a welcome reprieve from Mrs. Stewart’s stony glare across the table.  She said as much to Andi.

They were sitting together in the parlor after supper. Andi’s formal manners had faded away as she became more comfortable with Ellie.  Andi laughed.  “I know Mrs. Stewart, and I know exactly what you mean.  I’ve gotten that look before, especially if I’m doing something she doesn’t see as proper.”

Ellie joined the laugh, a little ruefully.  “I got a lecture last night; it was awful.”

“Really?”  Andi looked curious.  “What did she think was improper?  You don’t seem at all like you would be caught riding astride in a split skirt, which was the offense I committed.”

Ellie shook her head.  “Mrs. Stewart thought I shouldn’t have let your brother walk me home from school.”

Andi looked surprised.  “He walked you home?”

Ellie flushed.  “Yes, we haven’t seen each other in a long time, and he wanted to hear how my brother, Jem, was doing.”

Andi didn’t look convinced.  “Oh.”

Ellie changed the subject.  “You love horses, I understand.”

“Oh, yes, I do!  I could talk for hours about horses.  I want to learn to trick ride, but Chad won’t let me.”  Andi’s voice grew sad.  “Riley said he would teach me, but only if Chad agrees.”

“Riley.  Isn’t that the young man you were with when Chad introduced us?”  Ellie asked.

Andi nodded, and Ellie wondered if there was more to this than met the eye, but Andi didn’t appear conscious of anything more, so she pushed the idea away to consider further.

Ellie looked over at Chad who was in an animated discussion with his younger brother, Mitch.  He motioned with his hands as he made his point.

Andi followed her gaze and grinned.  “Get Chad talking about the ranch, and he’ll never stop.”

Ellie aimed a smirk at Andi.  “I see that.”

Busy observing Chad’s forceful gestures and triumphant grin as he finished an argument, Ellie failed to notice the raised-eyebrow look that passed between Andi and her Mother, Elizabeth.

The clock struck eight and Ellie started with surprise. She had stayed over two hours! Much longer than she had intended. She stood.  “I should go.”

Andi rose as Elizabeth came to stand beside her.

“Please, come again soon.”  Elizabeth said.  “It has been delightful to have you.”

“Thank you.”  Ellie said gratefully.  “I will, if I haven’t over-stayed my welcome already.”

Elizabeth smiled warmly.  “Not at all.  We look forward to your next visit.”

Chad stood up, finally noticing the time.  “I’ll tell Diego to hitch up the team.”

On the way home, Ellie again remembered the look Andi had given her when they first met.  Does she think…that I might be setting my cap for her brother?  What an…awful idea.  It is awful, isn’t it?  Never mind, Chad would never think of me, he has a ranch to run.  And I think Andi has her own affairs to look to in the love department.

“Chad?”

He glanced over at Ellie, the moon throwing light over his face.  “Yeah?”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

Ellie hesitated, wondering how to frame the question. “Are Andi and Riley…” She left the sentence hanging.

Chad chuckled.

“Riley is.  Andi’s completely clueless.  I think.” He shook his head.  “I don’t know how she doesn’t see it.  You saw it in one evening, but I guess the closer you are, the harder it is to see the big picture.”

Ellie nodded, then took a deep breath.  “Andi told me she wanted to trick ride.”

Chad looked at her out of the corner of his eye.  “I assume she also told you I said no.”

“She did.  Why did you say no?”

Chad hunched his shoulders, placing his elbows on his knees. “Our father was killed when he was thrown from his horse in a ranch accident.  I’m not about to let Andi get hurt doing the same thing.”

“But I thought Andi already helped on the ranch.”

Chad shifted; he knew where this was going.  “She does, but trick riding is different, it’s…unnecessarily dangerous.”   His voice rose.  “She’s my little sister, I won’t let her go off and hurt herself over some fool trick.“

Ellie tried a different angle.  “Riley seemed like a trustworthy young man who would be careful.”

“No amount of careful is going to prevent an accident.” Chad said with finality.

“Chad, an accident can happen at any time, in any place. Riding a horse is always dangerous, whether you’re trick riding or not.  Andi wants to learn so much, that if you have certain conditions, I’m sure she would be happy to agree to them, as long as you let Riley teach her.”  Ellie told him.  “At least think about it, please.”

There was a long pause.

“Alright.  I will.” Chad relented.

Ellie smiled in relief, but was caught off guard at his next words.

“As long as you promise to ride out to the ranch some Saturday and spend the day.  Andi really enjoyed your company.  I could tell.”

Ellie was flattered.  “I’ll try.”  She promised.