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Chapter Six: The First Ride

“Bella, you hold here on the reins. Typically, we walk on the horse’s left side. It’s a habit from the days of knights and sword fights. Good, we are going to go to the indoor arena. It’s covered and not as many bugs. Yep, just walk like that. Goldie will follow where you lead.” I can’t believe I am leading a horse!

The indoor arena is smaller than the outdoor. There are four jumps set up and some long poles in a row. I lead Goldie around the arena.

“What do I do now? My riding boots feel funny on my feet. Goldie nips my arm and I drop the reins.

“Ah, don’t drop the reins. If he decides to run away he can get caught up in them. Pick up the reins, good, and walk towards me and the steps I am standing next to. This is called a mounting block.

I walk Goldie to Fiona and she does some adjusting to the saddle and stirrups.

“Today you are riding English. I try to teach my students to learn how to ride both English and Western disciplines. Thank you, for waiting. I know you must be excited! To get on a horse, you will climb up the steps, put your left foot in and swing up and over like you are getting on a bike.”

I slid onto the saddle and it feels so strange. Ms. Fiona shows me where to put my feet in the stirrups and how to hold the reins. I smile at my mom and then Ms. Fiona tells me to give Goldie a little kick. We are walking!

I look around and can’t believe I am on a horse! Ms. Fiona’s voice echoes in the ring and I try to remember what she is saying.

“Good, good posture. Sit up tall. Look ahead. Plan your course, your path. Think about where you want to be. Hands need to be hip width apart. Good job. Heels down, breathing in an out. Think about how the horse is moving.”

I feel the how Goldie swings his legs, it is so weird! They way he moves is so different than how I walk. I could imagine I am riding by myself in the ocean or the woods.

“Bella, focus. I know this is all new but focus, feel the rhythm listen to his hoofsteps, listen to how to horse is moving, how the equipment moves with him. Good. Now, to steer, to go left: we look left, pull left, go left.  To go right: we look right, pull right, go right.”

Ms. Fiona steps away from Goldie and I look at her. She motions with her hands and her body. I try and follow what she is showing. Goldie wants to go into the middle of the ring but I look to the right and pull him to the right. Goldie walks to the right! I look ahead and Goldie walks towards the side of the indoor. Ms. Fiona is about five feet from me and is smiling.

“Good! Very good, that’s it. Scratch his neck, tell him good boy! See, riding is simple. You look where you want to go, you plan on where you want to go and the horse follow. My horses are all trained to listen to their riders. Goldie probably knows about 500 words.”

Goldie and I walk around the edge of the indoor arena. He tries to go towards the middle and I pull him back to the edge of the ring. Ms. Fiona has me turn Goldie around to go the other way and she tells me I’m doing great. We ride for a while longer and work on stopping by pulling back and saying ‘whoa but having to do that with pulling back and sitting down in the saddle. We work on it and then Ms. Fiona has me ride Goldie to her in the middle of the ring.

“Good job today, it won’t always be this easy but great first lesson!”


Chapter Five: The First Lesson

“Mom, what time is it? Is it time to go?” I waited while mom looked at her phone, then at me and then at her computer screen.

“It is exactly two minutes later than when you last asked me what time it was. You know how to read a clock. I need to finish this before we go or else I have to cancel your lesson. Bella, stop, please just go and tidy up your room.”

“OK, Mom, I’m sorry for bothering you. I just don’t want to be late. It’s my first riding lesson, I-” Mom looks at me. “I will let you get back to work.”

As I leave the kitchen I grab an apple and eat it as I climb the stairs to my room. It looks out over the back yard. In the distance I see some of the horses and Ms. Fiona leading one of them. The horse moves towards here and then she spins at it and smacks the horse hard. She makes the horse back up and I catch a little bit of her yelling through the window. All thoughts of cleaning my room are gone as I watch Ms. Fiona. She and the horse disappear behind a tree and are probably in the barn. Now, I am not sure I want my lesson.

“Bella! Time to go. Hurry up!” Mom’s voice carries up the stairs.

“Just a second I am finishing making my bed.” I pull the covers in place and pick up my brand new riding helmet. I will have to ask Ms. Fiona why she hit the horse, there must be a reason why she hit the horse. Yes, there must be a reason.

I take the steps hurriedly and follow mom onto the back porch. I pull on my new riding boots and look at mom as she puts her phone in her purse.

“Mom, why haven’t you spanked me since that one time when I punched T.J. in the face?” My mom crinkled her eyebrows together and looked at me. “Have you punched your brother since that incident?” I shake my head “no”, and she nods.

“That is why, you remember that punching your brother means I will spank you. That right there is cause and effect. An If/Then statement. If you hit your brother then you will be spanked. I didn’t like spanking you. I hated it but I did what I thought would be the quickest and safest method for teaching you not to do something.”

“OK, I understand, thank you, for explaining it to me.” I buckle my seat belt and watch out the window as mom pulls onto the street. After the short drive we pull into the farm driveway and Ms. Fiona stops and waves at us as she unlatches a gate.

Mom parks the car and I hop out. I grab my purple helmet and wait for mom to get out of the car. Mom goes to put on a mask and Ms. Fiona smiles.

“We are outside, no masks needed. How are you all today?” I look at Ms. Fiona’s forearm and she has a large bruise on it.

“We’re good, how is life on the farm?” Mom smiles at Ms. Fiona as she waves us towards the barn.

“Everything is good, I can’t complain. You all head over to the barn. I just need to bring in this horse and then we will get Bella started.”

She takes the long rope from the gate and attaches it to a ring on the harness on the horse’s head. I follow my mom to the barn and we watch as Ms. Fiona walks the horse into one of the cages in the barn.

“Why do you put them in cages at night?” I watch as Ms. Fiona smiles and picks up another harness. She is standing outside a cage with a sign saying Goldie on it.

“Well, we call them stalls and the horses go in them at night for several reasons, the main one is because it makes it easier for humans to feed them and look them over. My stalls are all large enough for the horses to move around comfortably and if you look inside the stalls you will see that each horse can see each other because the top half of each stall is heavy duty welded wire. When I redesigned the barn, I designed it so that my horses would be happier in their stalls. I also have slow feeder haynets so the horses can eat hay through the night.”

I nod my head and watch as Ms. Fiona opens Goldie’s door. “So, whenever we want to work with the horses we use a halter, which is the thing we put on the horse’s head and a lead rope, this long rope attached to the halter. We never lead a horse without a lead rope. Watch as I put on his halter. See how I make sure the halter is facing the way it goes on his face? Get nice and close to the horse. It makes it easier to halter them.”

I nod and mom pulls me back towards the front of the barn as Ms. Fiona and Goldie walk out of the stall.

“Good, your mom remembers what to do. If someone is leading a horse, stand back. Give the person and the horse plenty of room. We are going to put Goldie on the cross ties now. See right behind you, that long red thing, yep hand me the end dangling towards the ground.” I pass her the end that has a clip on it and she snaps it to a square metal piece by Goldie’s mouth.

Ms. Fiona passes me a brush and she waves her hand in a circular motion. I follow what she does and then she is bringing out equipment from a room with a sign on it saying ‘Tack Room’. She moves too fast for me to follow and I step back and stand next to mom.

“I know a lot to remember. You’ll get the hang of it. Today, is all about being introduced to everything. I am putting on his saddle right now, why don’t you put on your helmet and have your mom help you get it fitted. It should fit similar to how a bike helmet fits.”

I put my purple helmet on and smile at my mom. “What happened to your arm?” I point to the large bruise on Ms. Fiona’s arm.

“Oh. Drake, one of my training horses nipped me when I was bringing him in. He got smacked and reprimanded for nipping. It is important to me that all of my horses are safe and easy to be around. I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

She puts a leather piece on the saddle and cinches it up like a belt around the Goldie’s belly. She pulls a leather harness thing off of a hook and puts it on Goldie.

“This is a bridle and we put the reins over his head before we take off the halter. I will teach you how to do this as well. For now, just watch and learn. Riding is about learning how to watch and prepare. Ok, so you hold the reins like this and walk next to him like this. And let’s bring him out to the big open area, it’s called an arena.

Chapter Four: The Meeting

The drive to the farm was the longest five minutes ever. As we pulled in Fiona was leading a large dark brown horse into the barn. The goats were sleeping in the evening sun light. They didn’t move as Fiona and the big horse walked by them. Mom stopped the car and looked around.

“I know I talked this place up when we moved in but I am having second thoughts now that we are here. Where is your mask, Bella? We need to have our masks on.

Mom looks around the car and grabs a mask. She puts it on and gets out of the car. I put on my mask, get out of the car and close the door. Mom stands looking at the small barn. Her freshly painted nails are gripping her forearms. We walk towards the barn and Ms. Fiona is yelling. Mom looks at me and I shrug.

“You, get over here, now! Don’t you run from me I need that paper. Don’t you dare eat that paper.” The voice echoes as the large goat with no ears trots out of the barn with a yellow piece of paper half in his mouth. He sees us and wags his tail as he trots over. I pull out a wheat thin and the goat stops and wags his tail.

“Good, grab the paper please, that is a write up for one of the horses from the massage therapist.” Fiona stands in the aisleway door as I shimmy the paper out of the goat’s mouth and give him the wheat thin. He seems to smile at me and goes for the paper. I hide it from him and he goes towards Fiona, looking for more treats.

“I have nothing for you, you bad goat.” Fiona scratches his back as he walks by her. She looks at my mom and me and smiles. Fiona has bits of hay on her sweatshirt, her hair is sticking out like a strange crown and she wipes her hands on an old towel. “OH, let me put on my mask.” She grabs a faded mask from her pocket and puts it on.

Mom clears her throat and takes another looks around. “Hi, I believe you met my daughter Isabella Longo? My name is Nina Longo. I wanted to see about getting Isabella set up with lessons or an after school program? We are new to the area and my daughter loves horses.” Mom looks around again and she follows Fiona as Fiona waves us towards the barn.

It is a large building with a long aisleway and at least 10 stalls. At the back of the barn is a large covered area. There is someone riding a horse around in a large circle in the space.

“Yes, we can get her set up. Her and her brother stopped in last week. I need to have you sign the waiver online. I can send you the link. What is your email?”

Mom gives Fiona her email and they start to talk about scheduling and pricing. I look into the stalls and the horses are in. One is muddy and looks like it could use a good brush. I look up and a tag on the top of the horse’s door say Goldie. He’s the pony I will ride.

“Goldie, come here, here Goldie” the pony looks up at me and then goes back to munching his hay. I feel something against my hip and a large brown and black body is next to me.

“Hi Igor, I have no treats for you but I can give you scratches. Ms. Fiona said you liked shoulder scratches. I can do that.

Mom is talking to Ms. Fiona and they seem to have known each other in middle school. I walk down the aisleway and take in the scent of horses and hay. The goats are in the aisleway as well. One of them is leaning against mom and mom gingerly scratches it as Ms. Fiona explains the goat loves her shoulders scratched and that that goat is her police goat. Mom looks at her watch and I know that look. It is time to go.

“Alright kid, we need to go and get your brother. Ms. Fiona said you can come for a lesson on Saturday. So, we need to make sure all of your homework is done before then. Can you do that? You will have three days. Oh, if you are good you can come and help out. How does that sound?

“That is amazing! Mom, you are the best ever. Thank you, so much! I am so excited!” I link arms with my mom and we walk back to the car. “Bye! Ms. Fiona. See you in a few days. Bye, Goldie! Bye, Igor!”

We get back in the car and take our masks off. I smile as mom drives away from the farm. Now, I just have to make sure my homework is done and that I won’t miss my lesson.

Chapter Three- The Plan

“Sweetheart, your birthday is coming up. October 10th is just a few weeks away. What do you want to do for your birthday?”

A hand petting a horse on the forehead. Stock photo

I looked at my mom and waited. She gave me the mom stare and I smiled. “How about a riding lesson?” I spun spaghetti around on my fork and waited.  “A riding lesson? No, party? No big old cake? Are you sure?” Mom looked at me and then ate another bit of spaghetti. “Yes, I am sure. You know I’ve wanted to ride for years. You and dad always said you would think about it.” Mom squints for a second as she swallows her dinner. “I just haven’t had time to go over and talk to Fiona. I don’t even know if she is taking on new students.”

“It’s still early, we can go over to the barn now and see the horses. It’s a perfect time to go since T.J. is with Uncle Rick and they are working on baseball.” Mom arches her eyebrow at me and sighs. “OK, we can go over but put away your dish and food. You’re almost 11 so, it’s time for you to start doing more. We’ll take the car and pick up your brother after.” I rush around and make sure everything is in order; I even take mom’s plate and rinse it before putting it into the dishwasher. After closing the dishwasher I turn to my mom and smile as she looks at her phone.

“OK! Done. Can we please go? I asked Fiona if I could stop by tonight, she said she would be around the farm until 8:30. It’s only six pm. Do we have an apple or carrot?” I opened the fridge and found two apples. I pocketed them and looked at mom.

“You stopped in three days ago. I don’t remember you going back over there. When exactly did you talk to her?” Mom fidgets with her phone as she grabs her keys and walks towards the front door. She stops and looks at me.

“Well, I emailed her on Monday about times to stop in, but she also walked her fence lines yesterday and I talked to her then. She walks the fences once or twice a week to make sure the horses don’t go through them. She tries to walk them more than that but she gets busy. Her goats were following her around like they were big dogs. The goats are huge!” Mom looks at me with slitted eyes. I smiled at her with my biggest grin.

“Why am I surprised? Thank you, for asking permission to go over in the evening. I don’t want Fiona to be caught by surprise.” Mom opens the front door and I follow her out. “She has goats, really? They don’t run and cause damage to the neighborhood? Wow. I always thought goats were wild and full of mischief.” Mom locks the front door and clicks the key fob to unlock the car.

“Yea, the goats are giant but act like dogs. One of the goats is named Igor. He will sniff your pockets looking for treats. Ms. Fiona told me that.” I buckle up and watch mom as she focuses on backing out of the driveway and onto the road.

After a short drive we arrive at the old barn. “The barn needs some work, doesn’t it?” My mom clicks her tongue as she parks next to an old shed with the roof half caved in. “Mom, I like it. You will too, I promise!”

Chapter Two: The Neighbor

“Mom, do I have to do school today? You promised me we would go over to the farm. It’s been a week since we moved here and we haven’t gone to the stables.” I spun around in my chair as mom brought a stack of waffles to the table. They were the frozen kind, not the fresh ones dad used to make.

Small one floor house. Stock photo

“Bella, don’t wrinkle your nose at the waffles. I am doing the best I can. Yes, you have to do school today. Just because we are dealing with a pandemic doesn’t mean we stop living.” Mom stopped short and bit her lip. T.J. kicked my leg and I glared at him.

“I’m sorry mom. I am excited for the waffles. They look great. Do we have syrup?” T.J. pushed the bottle of fake syrup to me and I pour some onto my plate and take two waffles. My brother smiles at me and we eat while mom drinks her coffee.

“Bella, how about this. If you can get your work done this morning, then we will walk over to the farm this afternoon. I have some meetings for work and I need to have quiet while I am on them but if we can all stay on task then we will take the afternoon and do stuff outside.” I smile at mom and finish off my waffles.

“You got it! I will even help T.J. with his work if he needs it. I did great in forth grade. Come on T.J. let’s get started in the living room.” I rinsed my plate and put it in the dish washer. T.J. followed behind me as mom took another sip of coffee. The living room still had boxes from our old house but our school desks were set up. It was weird not going to school. Mom said I would still make friends but then told me to make sure I had gloves and a mask on if we were in public. Dad would have known what to do. He probably would have made balloons out of the gloves mom had stockpiled. Uncle Rick kept telling mom things would be OK. How did he know if that’s true. Everything is so wrong.

“Bella, I can’t log in. Can you help me?” T.J. smiled at me with three teeth missing. “Sure thing. Here you have to type this in, right here.”

“Thanks! I’m going to get my schoolwork done before you do!” T.J. put his head phones on and looked at the screen. I sat across from him at the work table and logged in.

“Good Morning Bella! Now, did you have any questions regarding yesterday’s school work?” Ms. Holmes smiled at me as I joined in on the group call. There were five other students in my session and we were working on reading today.

“Good Morning, Ms. Holmes. I was wondering what the story we read was about, did people really used to ride horses instead of driving cars? There is a horse farm behind my house and those horses don’t sound like the ones from the book.”

“Yea! I was thinking the same thing. I ride at a barn and the horses at the barn are not at all fearless. We can’t ride if it is too windy or rainy out.” My friend Abbey chimed in. She smiled at me and I smiled back. I missed hanging out with her and our other friends. Moving to a new place and not being in school made everything so strange.

A girl sitting at a laptop. Stock photo

“Well, I can’t really say for certain but I think because we use cars instead of horses, the horses we have are different than the horses that once were. We can talk more about that in science class. For today’s lesson. I would like you all to read the third chapter of The Pioneers and imagine being one of the characters. Write a diary entry about something that happened in the third chapter. Then submit the entry through the Google Classroom document and enjoy this nice day! See you all tomorrow.”

Ms. Holmes logged off and the screen went dark. All I saw of my friends was their faces for a few minutes. I sighed and got to work.

I clicked the submit button and stood up from my space. It had two empty cups and a half eaten bag of chips. The bonus about doing school at home was unlimited snack breaks and bathroom breaks. I took my things and put them away. It was time to find mom and get her to bring me to the farm next door.

“Mom! I’m done with school. Can we please go now.” I stopped when I saw the glasses. Mom only wore the glasses when her eyes bothered her which means she was in the middle of something important. She looked at me and I bit my lip. Not again.

“OH, honey, I am sorry. I can’t take you. Not today. Listen, can you please take your brother and go outside. I think you need to do something for P.E., right? Maybe go swing on the swing, do we have a swing set here?”

“No mom, we don’t. Is it OK if me and T.J. go over to the barn, I promise we will behave. I have my smart watch on. You can keep track of us that way.” Mom pushed back a stray strand of dark brown hair, almost the same color as mine but her hair was straight, mine had a weird curl to it.

“Hm, yes you may go, but be careful. You and your brother haven’t really been around horses before and if the owner isn’t around then don’t stay. We don’t need to run into issues. Tell me you understand.”

“Yes, mom, I understand. T.J. and I will go for a walk and we will behave.”

“Bella, thank you. You are a good kid. How did I end up with such good kids?” Mom sighed and looked back at the print out. I didn’t know what she did but it had something to do with numbers and getting frustrated with people who couldn’t add. I asked her what she did once and she gave me a really confusing answer.

“Come on T.J. mom said we have to go and do P.E. so, let’s go for a walk.”

“We’re going to check out the horse farm, right?” T.J. pulled his sneakers on and I nodded as I made sure to grab the spare key. “I dub thee king of the key. Don’t lose it.” T.J. rolled his eyes at me and opened the door outside. The early September heat hit us in the face and we pushed through it. Mom always said being a New Englander meant being hardy. So, we closed the door and walked towards the road. Cars zipped by and the mail person was off to the left humming to music only they could hear.

My fingers tingled with excitement as we walked along the sidewalk towards Dandelwind ln. “What is a Dandelwind?” T.J. asked. “No idea. Maybe they ran out of street names and started making names up. So what do you think, will the owner of the farm be nice or mean?”

“I dunno, what do you think Bella?”

“Well, based off of all of the books and T.V. shows, I think the owner is an old cranky man.”

“Wait, I am pretty sure mom said ‘she’ when mom told us about the farm. I think it is an older woman. I bet it’s an older woman. If I’m right then you have to unload the dishes tonight. If I’m wrong I’ll take out the trash tonight. Deal?” T.J. stuck out his hand and we shook. The bet was placed.

After what seemed like forever, we found the driveway for Dandelwind Equestrian. The sign was tipped sideways and faded but this driveway was the only one without a house.

“What do you think? We follow it?” T.J. nodded and we walked down the dirt road. In the distance someone cursed loudly and T.J. and I looked at each other. He smiled at me and I rolled my eyes.

“Just because that sounded like a woman doesn’t mean she is the owner or older. She sounded like mom’s age.”

“Mom’s older.” T.J. giggled and we came around a bend in the road. In front of us was a small barn with what looked like a small house attached to the side of it. In the courtyard was a large playscape and goats were jumping on it. There was a goat with no ears that saw us and ran towards us.

“Ah! Killer goats! Bella! It’s huge. It has horns. It is coming for us. What do we do?”

“T.J. don’t run.” I looked around “Uh, hello. We are neighbors we wanted to come and find out about lessons.”

“Igor! Get over here.” “Hi Kids! Don’t worry, he is friendly, he is coming to say hi. They are like big dogs. Just scratch him on the shoulder.” The goat the size of a great dane stopped in front of T.J. and looked at us. I reached out my hand and scratched the goat’s shoulder he wagged his tail and stuck his face into my armpit.

“Sorry, he’s a bit weird. His name is Igor and he loves people. Ugh, hold on, let me put on my mask.” The woman was tall and stout. She looked like a farmer and wore a pair of riding pants that had strange stains on them and a dirty t-shirt.

“My name is Fiona. Welcome to Dandelwind. You all are interested in lessons? I don’t teach much anymore. Not since the pandemic hit but I do have a few lesson horses. Where are your parents?”

“Bella, we forgot our masks, mom is going to be so mad.” T.J. whispered as he gingerly touched the goat. Igor turned and T.J. scratched by his tail. The goat wagged it and T.J. smiled.

“Come on, I will show you around.” Fiona waved her hand at us and we followed as the big goat ran to catch up to her.

“We just moved into the house on the backside of your property. It is that little white house. The single story one. My mom is working. Our dad is…”

“Our dad is dead.” T.J. blurted out as Fiona turned and looked at us. She rolled her shoulders and nodded. Her blonde hair caught the sunlight.

“I am sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is difficult. It will get better over time. Before you can sign up for lessons I will need to meet your mom. Typically, I don’t like having kids here without their parents but you are neighbors so I guess that is OK.”

“Here is Goldie. He is my star lesson pony. He might be small but he is mighty. He’s taught kids of all ages. Here, give him a carrot.”

I took the small carrot piece and held it out to the pony that stood with his head over the fence.

“Hold it close to his face, you kind of want to shove it up at his mouth. I promise he won’t bite you. Igor, get. Not for you.” The large goat was back and jumped up on Fiona. “GET DOWN. DOWN, YOU MISERABLE GOAT. Sorry, he is a pain. My fault.”

T.J. looked at Fiona and backed up a few steps. I smiled at her and reached to scratch Goldie on the nose. The pony backed up.

“Ah, it is better to scratch him on the neck, like this. I have to get back to work you are welcome to look around but do not go into any of the paddocks. The horses in the pasture by your house are my mustangs. They are still feral, so they are pretty but they aren’t friendly. Let me know when you leave. I will be in the barn cleaning stalls.” Fiona pushed a large black wheelbarrow into the barn and T.J. looked around.

“Mind your fingers, don’t try feeding the horses. The goats don’t bite.” The older woman disappeared and we walked back towards the paddock where three horses ate from a large round block of dried grass.

“What are they eating?” T.J. asked as we looked at the three sleek creatures. ” I think they are eating hay. Do you think Fiona would teach me how to clean stalls? I wonder how many horses are here.”

“Well, there are at least four horses. Bella, I’m tired. Can we please go home? I’m sure mom will come back with you.”

“We just got here. But fine. It doesn’t seem like Fiona has much time for us anyways. Yes, you win I will put the dishes away tonight.”

Smiling boy. Stock photo

Chapter One: The Farm

A small barn nestled in trees by a mountain

“Sweetie, I know that the past few months have been hard but punching your younger brother will only add to your grounding from the tablet. Stop with the faces. I need you to take a deep breath. We are here. It’s smaller than our old home but look at the backyard!” Mom looked at my brother and me through the rear view mirror. I folded my arms and kicked the back of her seat pointedly. T.J. giggled next to me as I looked away from the mom stare.

“OK mom. I got it. But this house is only one floor. Please, tell me I get my own bedroom.” I pushed at my hair that always fell in my face. My mom opened up her car door and stepped outside. My brother and I looked at each other and sighed. Ever since Dad died mom sounded so fake.

“Bella, look, past mom. Do you see that? Is that a horse? Like from T.V.?” T.J. pointed towards the back of the house where something large stood on the other side of the worn out wooden fence.

“OH Man! Yes, it might be!” I grabbed the door handle and almost fell out of the car. T.J. snickered as I pressed the seat belt release. Mom smiled at me and tilted her head.

A horse in the distance standing by trees. Stock photo.

“DID YOU KNOW WE WOULD HAVE HORSES IN OUR BACKYARD?” I grabbed my mom and hugged her and she wrapped her arms around me. T.J. slam the car door shut and looked at mom “what about a BMX race course, that was totally on my list of things we should have. Why do we get horses but not a bike course?” Mom pulled T.J. to her other side and ruffled his hair.

“There is a park down the road. No BMX course but it does have a lot of paths that you can ride on. These aren’t our horses but that is a small horse farm where they offer riding lessons. I haven’t had a chance to go and speak to the owner but the neighbors to the right said the woman is nice. Bella, you will have to ride your bike to the entrance. You cannot get to the barn from our backyard. Come on, help me get the boxes out of the trunk and we can get pizza and talk about what colors we will paint your rooms. If you two are good and don’t squabble I might even get ice cream.

I peered at T.J. behind mom’s back. Ice cream was on the table. That was one of Dad’s bargaining chips. During the last month Dad only liked to eat lime sherbet. He said it kept his throat cool. The day dad died he offered me his lime sherbet. I told him he should eat it. I was so mad when my Dad wasn’t at my 5th grade winter concert. I thought he was just being lazy but afterwards I heard my mom tell my grandma that Dad had passed away in his sleep. That was six months ago. Now, we were living in a new town, in a new house because the old house was too much for mom to handle. T.J. and I begged mom to keep it but she didn’t listen. Having horses in the backyard was a little cool.

“Hey, Kiddo! Do you need help?” Uncle Rick’s booming voice made me drop the box of books I was bringing in to the house. “Hi Uncle Rick! No. I don’t need help. Does mom know you are here? Dad’s best friend smiled at me but it wasn’t the smile he used to share with dad. It was like he was smiling for me and T.J. but that was it.

“Yes, I picked up the last of the stuff from your old house. It’s in the trailer. Where is your mom?” I pushed back my hair that always got in my face and shrugged my shoulders. “She should be in the house. Did you know that we were moving to a place with horses?” I gave Uncle Rick my best mom stare but Uncle Rick just cracked a real smile and laughed.

“You aren’t quite there with that glare. Yes, I knew. No, I didn’t tell you because your mom wanted to keep it a secret. If you are all set with your box, I will start unpacking my trailer.” Uncle Rick turned around and I picked up my box of books and yelled for my mom.

“Mom! Uncle Rick is here. Mom! UNCLE RICK IS HERE!”

“Bella, one time is enough. I do have a cell phone that Uncle Rick called when he was down the street. Thank you, for letting me know. Hurry up with that box of books.”

“Yes, mom. I am coming. Do I get the room that looks out at the horse pasture? I promise I will never hit T.J. again.” My mom goes back into the house and I follow behind with my books.

“Maybe, but let’s let your brother pick his room. I have a feeling you will be at the barn more than you will be home. I’m hoping they have a horse we can both lease. I was like you when I was younger. Grandma can tell you all about how my room was covered in horse posters.”