Bumps in the Road

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Chapter Seven

“Hey, Pa?” Emily asked, stuffing her hands into her pockets.

It was the middle of the day, and nothing drastic seemed to be happening on the ranch. Pa was at the kitchen table doing paperwork. His glasses were perched on the edge of his nose, but he often looked over them to read something on the paper. Emily had snuck away from the work outside because she wanted to ask something of her grandpa. She was just nervous about what he would think about it.

“Hmm?” Pa responded, scribbling something onto a piece of paper.

“I was wondering if I could go into town for a little while?” Em said slowly, chewing on her thumbnail.

“What for?” the old man requested.

“Well, I was wondering if –”

“Darn these people! They make these papers so difficult to read with their small print!” Pa outburst. He glanced over at his granddaughter, and then motioned for her to come closer. “Read this for me.”

Emily scooted over to the kitchen table and picked up the paper Pa was trying to read. It was paperwork for the ranch, she noticed, which meant she wouldn’t have any idea what it was talking about. But as long as Pa didn’t ask her to clarify anything, she would be fine. So the girl read the paper out loud for her grandpa, and then gave it back. He proceeded to scribble something down, and Em just watched him for moment.

“Pa?”

“What?” the old man grumbled.

“Can I go into town for a while?” Emily asked again.

Pa squinted at the paper and wrinkled his nose in the process. “I don’t care. Just be back in time to do chores.”

Em was shocked at first. She honestly hadn’t expected Pa to let her leave the ranch due to the fact she was in town just a few days ago. Emily didn’t argue, though; if she questioned him, he would probably change his mind. The girl quickly exited the house and marched outside. Once she was outside, though, she realized she didn’t have a way to get there. She could walk, of course, but that was a long way for her. There was always the rusty truck she could drive, but that thing slightly terrified her. And then there was Gypsy. Would it be weird to ride a horse into town? Did people still do that? Emily had seen cowboys do it in the old western films, but did cowboys still do it today? She continued to question the idea as she walked into the horse pasture and called out for Gypsy. The horse immediately came to her – which Emily was not expecting – and obediently followed her into the barn. Em had seen Jackson saddle the horses before, but she had never done it herself. It looked pretty easy when he did it, though, so it couldn’t be that difficult.

Emily got a halter and tied Gypsy up to a pole in the barn. She then retrieved the saddle, the blanket, and the bridle. The girl threw the blanket on the horse first, and then attempted to put on the saddle. The saddle was a lot heavier than Em had anticipated, so it took a couple tries to get it into place. Gypsy just stood still, waiting for the girl to finish saddling her up. Emily eventually got the saddle on Gypsy’s back, and then fastened it with the strap underneath. The next piece to put on was the bridle. Emily hated the idea of putting the metal bar in Gypsy’s mouth, but the horse didn’t seem to mind it when Jackson did it. So, with a deep breath, Em approached her horse and placed the metal bar in front of Gypsy’s mouth. The girl expected the horse to immediately bite down on it, but nothing happened. Emily wasn’t sure what to do; she just stood there and stared at the horse.

“You have to put your thumb in her mouth,” a voice came from the barn door.

Emily abruptly turned towards the noise and saw Brian walking up to her. “What?”

“You have to put your thumb in her mouth in order for her to take it,” Brian explained.

Emily made a face of disgust. “Who would do that?” she requested.

“Us,” the man replied. “Here, let me show you.”

Brian took the bridle from Em and brought it up to Gypsy’s mouth. He then proceeded to stick his thumb into the horse’s mouth until she opened it up. Brian was then quick to slide the metal bar in and fasten it with a strap that went over Gypsy’s ears. The man then took the time to make sure all of the straps on the saddle and bridle were properly fastened.

“There,” Brian commented, wiping off his hands. “She’s all ready.”

“Thanks,” Em mumbled.

The girl untied the horse from the post and led her outside. She walked Gypsy into a clear spot and then retrieved the stool she used the last time. Brian watched as Emily stepped up onto the stool, and then threw herself onto the horse’s back. The man chuckled to himself when Em almost fell off, but the girl quickly readjusted herself so that she sat comfortably on the saddle. Brian walked over to Emily and Gypsy and moved the stepstool out of the way.

“Have fun,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing.”

“Thanks,” Em replied, tipping her hat.

Brian watched as Emily instructed Gypsy to walk forward. There was a slight breeze as Em and Gypsy made their way off the ranch and into town. It was almost strong enough to lift up the girl’s cowgirl hat. Emily was nervous about riding the horse by herself, but Gypsy seemed to know how to do everything without being told. Jackson would be proud… She hadn’t told Jackson where she was going. They were working a job together, and she left when nothing drastic was going on. Would he be upset with her? Em pulled back on the reins and stopped the horse. They were halfway to town, but Em suddenly didn’t know if she wanted to go. She turned around and looked in the direction of the ranch, contemplating about heading back. Jackson would be waiting for her. But then again, her life didn’t have to circle around Jackson. She needed to figure out what she believed. She needed to talk to someone who understood. So Emily nudged Gypsy with her heel and the horse began walking in the direction of town. They eventually reached their destination, and Em hopped off of the horse. She looked around for a spot to tie up Gypsy, and saw a good sized tree that would do the job. Once Gypsy was tied to the tree, the girl walked up to the door of the building and nervously walked inside.

“Hello?” Emily called out once inside the church.

A shuffling noise came from a room in the corner and then the pastor emerged. “Hello?” he looked at Emily quizzically. “What can I do for you?”

“I…um…had a few questions about…about your message,” Em stammered.

The pastor’s face brightened up a bit. “I would love to help you with your questions! Why don’t you come back to my office and we can talk?”

He turned around, his thumbs resting on his huge belt, and marched back to the room in the corner. Emily shuffled behind him. Once she entered his office, she noticed that it was a lot messier than she had expected. With the way he was dressed during church service, she expected him to be neat and clean. But his office said otherwise. There were papers scattered everywhere, and used coffee mugs on every flat space. Em couldn’t tell where the top of his desk started, or if there were cushions to sit on on the couch. She stood in the doorway, stunned, as the pastor gathered up some of the lose paper.

“Sorry for the mess,” he apologized, clearing a space on the couch for Emily. “Would you like some coffee or tea?”

“Sure.”

“Which one?” he chuckled. “Coffee or tea?”

“Coffee.”

The pastor scooted past her and out of the office. Emily walked over to the couch and pushed some more stuff out of the way before sitting down. She sat there and waited, rocking back and forth. The pastor seemed to be gone longer than expected, which made Em feel slightly uncomfortable. She started to stare off into space by the time he returned. He was juggling two cups of coffee when he entered his office. He handed one cup to Em and took the other for himself. He sat behind his desk – it was hard to see him due to the papers on his desk – and took a sip of his coffee. Emily took a sip of hers, too, but nearly spit it out. It was missing sugar and peppermint, which was the only way she drank it. She placed the mug aside and looked at the pastor, who was staring at her with too much excitement.

“So?” he started. “What can I help you with?”

“Well, Pastor –”

“Charles, please,” he interrupted.

“Well, Charles,” Em began again. “I found myself constantly thinking about your message. The message about love and loss.

“Ah, yes,” Charles sat back in his chair, his large belly sticking out. “I give that message about once a year.”

“What makes you want to give it? Don’t you think it could be a little personal?” Emily inquired.

Charles rubbed his forehead and then took a sip of his coffee. He loudly put his mug down on his desk and then looked up at Em. “Well,” he began, “every time I give that sermon, at least one person comes to talk to me about it. I think it is personal,” he continued, “but I think that’s why it’s important.”

Emily didn’t quite understand what the pastor’s point was. How does something so personal as losing someone make for a good sermon? Why would people want to be reminded that God took away their loved one? How could people still praise God once someone lost a parent or a sibling? Emily just couldn’t understand. She didn’t want anything to do with God. He had killed her parents and taken away her sister. And now her grandpa was getting sick. Who would want to worship a God that caused such pain?

“Um… Emily?” Charles looked at the girl. She had her hand resting on her mug, and was staring off into the distance; she hadn’t said anything for a couple minutes. “Emily?” the pastor raised his voice.

Emily jerked out of her thoughts and looked at Pastor Charles. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

“What were you thinking about?” the man asked.

“What?” Em didn’t want to share.

“What were you thinking about?” he repeated.

Emily took a drink from her mug – forgetting it was black coffee – and then traced her thumb along the handle. She didn’t want to share the fact that she was orphaned and alone. She didn’t want the pastor’s pitty; she didn’t need it. But Em also had the feeling that if she didn’t answer his question, he would just keep asking. So the girl took another drink and then faced Charles.

“My parents died in a car crash several months ago,” she blurted out. “And my sister’s in a coma.”

Pastor Charles was speechless for several seconds. It was so quiet they could hear the ticking of the clock. “I’m so sorry,” he finally said.

“Yeah, that’s what everyone says,” the girl mumbled.

“That’s why you’re living with your grandpa.” Em nodded. “Well, I understand now why the message seemed personal to you.” Em nodded again. “Would you like to talk about it?”

“I just…” Emily trailed off. “I just don’t understand how you could stand in front of a group of people and tell them that it’s okay if people die. That God has a plan for everyone. That everything that happens is supposed to happen.”

“I understand –”

“No, I don’t think so. You can’t tell me that I’m supposed to be an orphan. You can’t tell me that I will never laugh with my sister again. You can’t tell me that this is God’s plan and expect me to be okay with it,” Em ranted.

She felt tears in her eyes, so she quickly reached for a tissue; she sniffled and wiped her face with it. Pastor Charles simply watched her without saying anything. He let her clear her tears and blow her nose before speaking up.

“You’re right,” he declared.

“What?”

“You’re right. You have no reason to believe in a God that would take your family away from you. Its cruel and unforgivable.”

For some reason, what Charles was saying disappointed the girl. She wasn’t expecting him to tell her that it was okay that she didn’t believe. She didn’t expect him to tell her it was unforgivable. She did expect him to convince her that God is all powerful and that everything happens for a reason. She secretly wanted him to say that. But those words never escaped the pastor’s lips. Instead, all Em heard was that God was cruel for leaving Emily all alone.

“Wait,” Em interrupted. “Aren’t you supposed to tell me that God has a plan and that I should just trust him?”

“Well, is that what you want to hear?” Pastor Charles looked at her.

“I…”

“Look, Emily. I could tell you that God’s got a plan for you and that everything will eventually work out. But even if I tell you that, you may not believe it. But you do believe that God’s been cruel to you. Unfair. Am I right?”

“I guess.”

“So no matter what I say, you will still have your beliefs.” Charles paused and looked at the girl, who seemed tiny on his couch. “But I believe that God does have a plan for your life. And I believe that he is still watching over you.”

“How can you say that?” Emily demanded, playing with a button the couch.

“Because I know what’s happened to you, and I can see where you are.” Em gave him a quizzical look. “I mean that you could be in a worse spot than you are. You could’ve rebelled. You could be in jail right now. But you’re not. God sent you to your grandpa because he knew you would need him. God sent you to me because he knew you needed to hear these words. Now, I can’t make you believe these things, but I can tell you what I believe. And, I think deep down, you want to believe them, too.”

Emily didn’t respond. She reached for her mug, brought it to her lips, but then returned it to the table. She looked at Charles, who was watching her. He seemed to have such faith in a God who allowed terrible things to happen in the world. He trusted him without question. And Charles was right; she secretly did want to believe. She wanted to have faith. She wanted to be able to trust that everything would be okay. But she honestly didn’t know how. How could she after losing everyone? How were people able to have unconditional faith even when things went bad? Em didn’t know. But she did know that she wanted to have that kind of faith. She wanted to have something, or someone, to trust in.

“I want to… have faith… but I don’t know how,” Emily explained.

Pastor Charles got up and walked over to a filing cabinet. He pulled a drawer open and reached in. After several seconds of searching, he finally revealed a tattered notebook and a worn-out Bible. He sat back down at his desk and offered the two items to Emily. Em took them and gently held them in her lap.

“The notebook has some of my favorite verses. And the Bible contains highlighted sections that I still have trouble understanding. There are also questions I fight with every day that are written in the margins. Maybe by reading through these, you’ll find the faith that you need.”

Emily was speechless. She looked up at the pastor but had nothing to say. Her focus went to the notebook and she carefully opened it. The pages slightly stuck together, and when she pulled them apart they made a wrinkling sound. The quotes were in the order of the Bible; Genesis quotes were first, and so on. There were coffee stains on some of the pages, and tape covered corners and edges. Em then opened the Bible, and found that it was in the same condition as the notebook. Questions and comments were written in the margins. Pencil and highlighter took up almost every page. And the girl noticed that there were a few pages that were taped back into the book. Emily felt bad taking these two items away from their owner, but she also felt special. It wasn’t everyday that Charles gave the two items away.

“Thank you,” Em breathed out. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“You don’t need to say anything. I just pray that they help you find what you’re looking for.”

Emily left Pastor Charles’ office feeling calm and full of hope. She honestly didn’t know what she expected when she first walked into his office. She didn’t know if he was going to lecture her about God’s grace and the plans he had. She didn’t know if he was going to send her to a Bible study or a Sunday school class. And she definitely didn’t know that he was going to give her an overused notebook and Bible.

The girl walked outside to find Gypsy grazing in the church yard. The horse looked up as soon as she heard Em walking over to her. She untied the animal from the tree and threw herself onto the saddle. She cradled the books with one arm as she held on to the reins with her other hand. Gypsy began walking as soon as Emily nudged her with her heel. They exited the town and began down the road that led to the ranch. The Texas sun beat down on them, and dirt began to rise around them from Gypsy’s hooves. Em protected the books by shoving them under her shirt. She then wiped the sweat away with her sleeve. She had half a notion to have Gypsy run the rest of the way home, but then she thought that that might be hard on the horse due to the heat. Em also wasn’t confident in her ability to hold on. The ranch house became visible, and soon so did the barn. Several horses greeted them as they neared the barn. Emily dismounted once they reached the house, and then she was greeted by Joe. She led the horse into the barn to take off the saddle and wipe her down. Afterwards, she was going to start going through the notebook and the Bible. Hopefully, she would find what she was looking for.

×

Pa was sitting in the living room with his glasses perched on his nose and a book in his hand. He licked his thumb and fumbled with the page – his crooked fingers giving him trouble – eventually getting it to flip to the next page. Dusty was sleeping at his feet, wagging her tail every once in a while from the dream she was having. Pa finished the chapter he was on, and then looked at his watch. He folded the corner of the page where he stopped and set the book aside. His hands shook as he reached up and removed his glasses, setting them on top of the book. The old man pushed himself out of his chair, slightly disturbing Dusty. He limped over to the record player and carefully placed a record on the disk. He guided the needle into place, and then let it play. Pa then shuffled into the kitchen to begin the preparations for dinner. He opened a cabinet that was over the stove and reached for something. His hunched back and short arms began hurting the more he stretched them towards the cabinet; he grumbled in frustration and looked around.

“Emily!” he hollered. When there was no answer, Pa ventured over to the stairs. “Emily?” he yelled again.

“What?” she answered from her bedroom.

“Would you please come help me?”

Again, Emily didn’t respond. Pa leaned against the railing and rubbed his forehead. He heard some shuffling and then feet pounding against the floor. Em soon appeared at the top of the stairs. Her jeans scraped across the steps as she bounced down them. The old man noticed that her black tank top barely covered everything important. He mumbled to himself, not fully agreeing with his granddaughter’s choice of clothing. She also wasn’t wearing any shoes, which made Pa notice her bright blue toenails.

“What do you need, Pa?” Em asked, seeming to be in an unusual cheery mood.

“I don’t remember you having polish,” he commented, pointing at her toes.

Emily looked down and smiled to herself. “I found some polish in the bathroom cupboard.”

“But that’s… that’s…” Pa started to get irritated.

“What?”

“That was Isabelle’s. And I didn’t give you permission to use it!” the old man exclaimed, turning away from the girl.

“Isabelle?” Em asked, puzzled. Pa didn’t answer. “I’m sorry,” she sighed. “Anyways, what did you need?”

“Can you get the pan from above the stove?”

“Sure.”

Emily proceeded to get a chair from the table and placed it under the cabinet. She carefully climbed onto it and grabbed the pan, handing it to Pa. She then put the chair back where it belonged and leaned on the counter, watching her grandfather. Every now and then he would rub his chest and grumble to himself. The grumbling wasn’t anything new, but Em was concerned about why he was rubbing his chest. She didn’t want to ask about it because he seemed to get irritated easily, and that was also new. Maybe she would ask Brian… Pa continued to shuffled around the kitchen, grabbing ingredients and cooking utensils. Emily continued to watch him.

“Is there anything else you need?” she eventually asked.

“No.”

“Well,” Em started, “if you need anything else, just holler.”

She turned away and headed out of the kitchen. She suddenly recognized the music on the record player and went over to look at the record sleeve. It was the song her parents danced to at their wedding. They used to play it on their anniversary. Her mom would also sing it when the girls couldn’t sleep at night. Emily didn’t realize it was such an old song. She gently put the sleeve back and made her way over to the stairs. Just then, the scene door screeched open and Jackson stomped inside. He hung up his hat and tugged off his boots. He anxiously ran a hand through his sandy colored hair and stepped all the way into the house. He walked across the living room and sat down at the kitchen table, not even noticing Emily.

“Hey,” the girl spoke up.

Jackson looked up at her once he heard her voice. “Hey,” he sighed.

“Is everything okay?” Emily took a step towards him.

The boy ran his hand through his hair again, and then rubbed his face. “Everything is now,” he clarified. “One of the horses got stuck in the fence at the other end of the ranch. It took all three of us to get her out.”

“Stuck?”

“There’s a section of barbed-wire fences,” the boy explained.

“Oh!” Emily was glad she didn’t have to help with that project. She could only imagine how much blood there was. And the cries of the horse were probably unbearable. “Is she okay? The horse?”

Jackson sighed, “Unfortunately not.”

Emily figured the details were pretty gruesome, so she didn’t ask any more questions. Instead, she got a cold glass of lemonade and gave it to Jackson. The screen door opened again and in ran Joe. His paws were covered in mud, and it went everything as he trotted into the kitchen. The dog had his tongue out, slobber dripping to the floor, and his tail was wagging so fast Emily couldn’t keep up. Jackson immediately bolted to his feet and cornered the puppy. He picked him up and swung him over his shoulders. Jackson proceeded to march back outside – not putting on his shoes – as Brian and Johnny walked in, chatting. They were also talking about the horse, Emily noticed. The two men were debating about which one was going to tell Pa. And, figuring it wouldn’t end well, Em didn’t want to have anything to do with the situation. The girl marched upstairs and into her room, away from the men.

Her bed was covered in paper and pens, along with the old Bible and journal. She wanted to start a journal of her own, but she didn’t have any notebooks, and she didn’t want to take one away from Pa. Em just decided that she would gather loose paper and that would work for the time being. Some of the loose paper had Bible quotes, some had reminder notes, and some had pictures. The majority of her bed was covered in paper except for one section where Emily sat. She walked over to the corner of her bed and picked up a piece of paper. On it was Proverbs 31:25 “She is clothed in strength and dignigty and laughs at the days to come.” Around the quote she had drawn flowers, hearts, and stars. So far, this was one of her favorite quotes. Em looked around the room, thinking about where she was going to hang the paper. The majority of her walls were bare except for the sticker-quotes. The girl found the perfect spot on the wall, but then realized she didn’t have any tape. With a slightly frustrated sigh, Em moseyed out of her room and town the steps. There had to be tape somewhere…

“It’s not a big loss, Pa,” she heard Brian say from the kitchen.

Emily reached the bottom of the stairs but didn’t move. All of the men were in the kitchen. She could see Jackson leaning against the wall, and Johnny was sitting at the table holding his head in his hands. Brian and Pa were not visible from where shew as standing, but Em could hear their voices. Brian seemed to be comforting Pa about something. He kept saying that it wasn’t a big loss, and that they had enough horses that losing one wasn’t a big deal. Just then, Emily realized he was talking about the horse that was caught in the barbed wire. And if he was saying it wasn’t a loss, then that meant…that meant… Em gasped and her hand immediately shot up to her mouth. She bolted up the stairs, making more noise than she intended. Jackson heard her and turned around to see her disappear upstairs. He pushed himself off of the wall and went after the girl. He climbed the stairs and shuffled into Emily’s room, but what he saw he did not expect.

Emily was lying on her stomach on her bed. Loose paper surrounded her; some of it was blank and some of it had scribbles on them. She had her nose buried on a book. Jackson couldn’t tell what the book was because her hair was blocking it. To her right side sat a notebook that Em occasionally looked at. The boy stood in her doorway for several seconds until he heard her sniffle and then saw her wipe her nose and eyes with her sleeve.

“You okay?”

Em jumped and jerked her head up. She immediately started cleaning up her bed. She gathered the papers together and then slammed the book and the notebook shut. Jackson got a glimps of the cover and realized it was the Bible. He took a couple steps into the room.

“What’re you doing?” Jackson asked, puzzled.

“Nothing.”

“What is all that?”

“It’s nothing,” Emily repeated.

“Doesn’t look like nothing.”

“It’s just a few things from the pastor,” she continued shuffling everything together.

Jackson took a couple steps closer. “The pastor?”

“Jackson –”

“Hey,” the boy took one big step and leaned over Emily. He placed his fingers gently under her chin and lifted her face so that she was looking at him. “It’s okay. You don’t need to hide anything from me. Or Pa, for that matter.”

Emily pulled away slightly and sighed. Everything was gathered into a messy pile in front of her. She had ripped some of the pages while gathering everything up, and now it looked like a pointless pile of papers. She honestly didn’t know why she tried to hide everything from him. He cared about her, maybe even loved her, which meant she didn’t have to hide it. But having a Bible sitting in front of her still made Em feel uncertain about the whole situation. The last time she had actually opened a Bible was difficult to remember. Maybe, though, she was hiding everything because it still didn’t make sense to her. She didn’t want people jumping to conclusions before she had made a final decision about her faith. She was sick of people making her decisions for her; she wanted to make this one herself.

“I know,” Em eventually mumbled.

“But?” Jackson inquired.

“But I was hoping to keep this to myself. This is something I need to figure out on my own. I’ve gone through so much in such a short amount of time, and I guess I’m just looking for a reason as to why. For some reason, faith and God seem to be the only reasons for anything,” Emily explained as she gathered the Bible, the notebook, and the papers, and shoved them into the bottom of her closet. When she turned around, Jackson was staring at her with a crooked smile plastered to his face.

“What?”

The boy took a step closer to her, which meant they were now inches apart. “You’re wonderful,” he smiled.

Jackson brushed her hair out of her face and then kissed her. It wasn’t a long, passionate kiss. It was a kiss that reminded Emily that she wasn’t alone. It was a kiss of comfort and hope. After the kiss, Em pulled away and buried her face in his chest. He stood several inches above her, so Jackson rested his chin on the top of her head. He wrapped his strong arms around her and just held her. He just held her and allowed her to be reminded that she could share anything with him. He wasn’t just a boy with a pretty face; he was someone who actually cared about her and wanted to help her in whatever way she needed. He was hers; it was that simple.

Emily breathed in Jackson’s sent. He smelled of sweat and horse. There was a time when she would have cringed from that smell, but now it was a comfort. Because of it, she knew that Jackson was near and that he wasn’t going to let her go. Em had never had that kind of comfort before. It disappeared as soon as her parents died. Of course she had Zach, but he was nothing compared to Jackson. Zach never truly cared about Emily. And she never really cared about him, either. They were simply people to each other; people they could fall back on and be around. But Zach never called when Emily got arrested. He never asked if she was alright. He was never fully there for her when she needed someone. At the time, Em thought he was the best person ever because he didn’t ask questions. But now, with Jackson’s arms holding her together, the girl realized that Zach was never the ‘real thing.’ He was just someone she used, and vice versa.

Jackson loosened his grip on Emily, but Em only gripped his shirt tighter. She wasn’t ready for the moment to be over. She wanted to remain in his safe arms forever. She groaned as he stepped away from her, his comforting sent getting weaker. Em brushed her hair out of her face and looked up at him. He was still smiling his ridiculous smile, which made the girl smirk.

“Now what?” Emily inquired, chewing on her thumbnail.

“Now I think we better go downstairs and eat dinner. Pa’s probably getting annoyed because we’re taking so long,” Jackson responded with a chuckle.

Emily nodded and wrapped her arms around herself. She didn’t want to go join the men and hear about what they did to the horse. Hopefully they just wouldn’t talk about it. Jackson noticed her uncertainty and stepped closer to her. He gently kissed the top of her head and then wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“Come on,” he suggested.

Emily wrapped her arm around his waist and they exited her room together.

×

Pa’s hands were shaking as he cleared the table. The glasses rattled together and the plates were nearly dropped. Emily quickly jumped up and took the dishes away from him. She suggested that he wash and she’d dry and put everything away. Back home, Em hated doing the dishes. She hated all of the house chores, actually. Her parents would nag her all day about vacuuming or doing dishes, and Em always refused. But here on the ranch, the chores almost felt like second nature. She would have never offered to help with meals or dishes back home. On the ranch, though, it just felt natural. She didn’t even have to think about helping; she just helped.

“Thank you,” Pa mumbled, shuffling over to the sink.

As Pa and Emily did the dishes, the three men put the food away. They then wandered into the living room – the dogs paddling along – and waited. Dishes didn’t take very long, and soon everyone was in the living room. Pa sat in the rocking chair and rocked back and forth, his hands folded together across his chest. Brian had pulled out the newspaper and was noisily flipping through the crinkly pages. Johnny was sitting next to Dusty and was gently brushing the top of her head with his fingers; the dog’s tail was slapping against the edge of the couch. Jackson and Emily were sitting next to each other on the floor. Nobody had anything to say to each other; the quiet was almost deafening, though. Em got so irritated by the silence that she eventually jumped to her feet and declared that she needed to go to bed early. All of the men watched her escape upstairs, but Joe trotted after her.

The girl shuffled into her room and flopped down on the bed. Joe marched into the room and sat down at her feet. His heavy panting made Emily sit up and pet him. His tail immediately began to wag. She simply chuckled and shook her head at how happy the dog was. Joe remained in his spot as Emily got up and walked over to her closet. She pulled out all of her papers, plus the notebook and the Bible. The girl plopped down on the floor and spread everything out in front of her. Joe, curious as to what she was doing, moseyed over to her and sat done next to her, sticking his wet nose in her face. Emily instinctively pulled away.

“Joe!” she exclaimed. The puppy simply looked at her, wagging his tail. Em reached over and rubbed his ear. “I guess you can help me.” In the last couple days, Emily had really warmed up to the dogs.

Emily continued to sift through her pile. She found her pens and began to study. She studied the highlighted parts in the Bible. She studied the sloppy notes in the notebook. If there was a verse she really liked, she would write it down on a loose piece of paper. Emily really wanted a solid notebook for herself, but what she had now would just have to do. Em worked – and Joe watched – until Pa interrupted with a knock on her door.

“I just wanted to let you know,” the old man began, “that Brian is taking me to the doctors tomorrow, so Johnny will be in charge of things on the ranch.”

“The doctors? Is everything okay?” Em got to her feet and walked over to her grandfather.

“Everything’s fine,” Pa nearly snapped. “It’s just a check-up.”

“Okay…”

“Anyways, everyone’s gone to bed. I suggest you do the same,” he suggested gently.

“Okay, goodnight,” Em offered uncertainly.

“Goodnight.”

Pa shuffled away from the girl’s room and into his own room. The door squeaked shut behind him as he slowly closed it. He then limped over to his bed and supported himself as he sat down. The old man rubbed his face with his hand, exhausted from everything that had been going on. He knew he was getting worse, but he didn’t realize how much. Pa groaned as he gripped his chest, sighing. He would just have to deal with the fact that he was getting old. With that in mind, the old man undressed himself and slipped on his nightgown. He sorted out his medicine and gulped them down – one at a time – with a glass of water. He then kissed the picture of his wife goodnight. Pa carefully laid down in bed and pulled the covers over his chest and up to his chin. He hated going to the doctor’s, but he wanted to remain healthy for Emily. Well, healthier.

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