Skyler jogged to catch up with her older brother, Ty, and asked, “Why can’t I see him?”

“Because.”

“Why not?” Skyler’s legs kept a steady speed in order to keep up with Ty. “Would you slow down and answer my question.”

Ty halted and turned his head toward Skyler. “That horse doesn’t concern you. I’m begging you, do not go in there.”

Skyler took a step back and folded her arms across her waist. After taking a deep breath, she said, “Okay, I won’t.”

Ty waited five seconds before he nodded, turned his head and headed down the hall. Skyler sighed, and turned the opposite direction to the stall she had been cleaning, when her brother showed up with a horse trailer behind his pickup. Why would her brother bring a horse to the stables that no one was supposed to see? If something wasn’t supposed to be seen, you kept it out of sight. Only her brother would bring a secret horse to an active horse farm. One day she would show her brother that she knew how to run a horse farm. One day he would let her call the shots and work alongside him. But she had to wait for the right moment to prove to him that she could do it, otherwise she’d look like an eager child. And that was exactly the opposite of what she had in mind.

Skyler loaded the last pile of manure into the wheelbarrow and drove it down the hall, on her way to the manure pile. Halfway down the hall she heard something—or someone, fall in what sounded like the office. Skyler left her wheelbarrow in the middle of the hall and ran to the office.

“Aunt Cathy?” Skyler stood underneath the doorway, wondering why her aunt laid beside the office desk and why all the record books laid on the floor. “What are you doing on the floor?”

“Well I thought I might take a nap.” Aunt Cathy rolled her eyes, then used her hand to push herself off her belly.

“Here let me help you.” Skyler rushed over to her aunt’s side and took her arm, wanting to steady her wait.

“No, I got it.” Aunt Cathy placed her hand on the desk and pushed herself up. “I was reaching for the record book on the top shelf; when I couldn’t get it, I stepped on the bottom shelf, but I guess”—Aunt Cathy paused to catch her breath— “It didn’t support my weight.” A small chuckle left Aunt Cathy’s lips, as she bent down to pick up the journals.

“Why didn’t you just use the stepstool?” Skyler pointed to the stepstool that sat pushed against the wall.

“Oh.” Aunt Cathy turned her head toward the wall, leaving her lips open. She licked her upper lip, then closed her mouth and focused her attention on Skyler. “We have one of those?”

Skyler nodded, her lips forming a slight smile.

“Well, now I know for next time.” With a smile on her face, Aunt Cathy gathered the books off the floor, while Skyler lifted the bookshelf. “A nap would be nice though,” Aunt Cathy mumbled under her breath.
***
Skyler watched Ty pour orange juice in a glass and grab one granola bar from the pantry. Then he picked up his phone from the buffet table and walked to the breakfast table. He let out a deep sigh as he sat down. He sat his orange juice and his phone on the table, then he leaned back against his seat and unwrapped his granola bar. After that he picked up his phone—probably scrolling through Facebook— and ate the granola bar.

“Why not?” The sound of Skyler’s voice startled Ty, causing him to drop his phone.

After Ty picked up his phone Skyler asked again, “Why not? Why can’t I see the horse?”

Ty stared at Skyler from the corner of his eye, while further unwrapping his granola bar. After a few seconds, he said, “Because.”

“That’s what you said last time and you know that’s not an answer.” Skyler looked around the house. “And where’s Aunt Cathy?”

“She had an early appointment at the chiropractor. And I know it’s not the answer you want, but I really can’t tell you any more.” Ty took a drank from his orange juice.

“What’s wrong with her? Is this because she fell off the bookshelf? I asked her why she didn’t use the stepstool.”

“Yeah, she hurt her back. She’s getting older and older every day. I don’t know how long she’ll be able to help out.” Ty drank the rest of his orange juice, and walked to the counter.

“She’s only forty-four.” Skyler picked up her cereal bowl and brought it to the sink. While Ty leaned against the fridge, finishing his granola bar. “She’s just clumsy and spirited. She’s always been like that.”

“Well those two words should never go together when explaining someone’s personality.”

“Yeah well . . . wait!” Skyler leaned over the sink to get a better look out the kitchen window. “Why is Bob walking that dreadful horse. Is that our horse? It looks like it’s never been fed.” Skyler started walking toward the door. “Oh, Ty. The poor thing.”

By this time Skyler was out the door, sliding her boots on. Ty stood under the doorway, trying to explain. “Skyler, wait. Skyler . . .” But Skyler wouldn’t listen, instead she marched toward Bob.

“Bob, let me take him.” Skyler took the lead rope from Bob and took a good look at the horse.

When Ty reached Skyler, she asked him, “Why is this horse so skinny. Where did you get him from?”

Ty reached out to pet the horse, as if wondering how to answer her question.

“The truth would be nice.”

“Fine. I bought him, and nineteen more, from an old man, who lives about an hour from here.”

“What do you plan to do with them?” It was a simple question, but one she feared the answer for.

“I was thinking I might sell them.” Ty stared into the distance, while still petting the horse.

“To?”

“A guy who buys these types of horses.”

“A guy who buys them, then sells them in super markets?” Skyler waited ten seconds. “Answer me!” she yelled.

Ty turned his head and glared at Skyler. “Yes!”

Now Skyler waited longer. All the employees remained where they were; none of them working. Instead they stared at Ty and Skyler. Obviously, they had heard everything. Skyler didn’t care what they thought though, she cared about the horses and the cruel people—like her brother—who did this to them.

“Why?” Skyler’s eyes filled with tears.

“It’s what has to be done.” Ty grabbed the lead rope out of Skyler’s hands and led the horse to its hidden pen. Skyler stood in the middle of the yard, watching her brother walk away. After everyone went back to work, she walked into the house and finished the breakfast dishes.
***
“2014, 2015, 2016 . . .” Skyler whispered to herself as she scanned the record books. “2017 . . . Uh-huh!” She grabbed the record book off the shelf and wrapped her sweater tighter around her waist, as she sat down in the office chair. She flipped through the journal, but had no idea what she was looking for. She should have paid better attention in math class. There! The farm’s income from the last five months. Three pages in, her fingers went numb, her heart raced and her head hurt. She wanted to stop reading but she couldn’t.

“What are you looking for?” Aunt Cathy stood underneath the doorway, studying Skyler.

Skyler looked up, fog rolling off her lips when she said, “We’re about to lose the ranch.”

Aunt Cathy straightened her body and nodded.

 

 

To be continued on October 8th, 2019

 

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