“How could you not tell me? Both of you—how could you keep something like this from me?” Skyler stood in the hallway, between the stalls, with Aunt Cathy and Ty standing in front of her.

“We didn’t want you to worry,” Aunt Cathy finally said.

“It’s like you guys pretend not to know that I’m part of this farm. The minute I turned eighteen this farm became mine as much as it is Ty’s.”

“We should have told you and we’re sorry.” Ty glanced out the stable doors and said, “Look, I have to go. We’ll talk about this some more later.”

And with that, Ty strode onto the yard to meet a customer. Skyler didn’t know how much there was left to talk about. She could argue as much as she wanted; no one would take her serious until they saw that she could be trusted. And right now, she had no idea how to make them see that.

“Hon—” Skyler turned her head toward Aunt Cathy, who still stood in front of her. Skyler stared at Aunt Cathy, waiting for her to finish. After ten seconds of listening to Aunt Cathy stutter, trying to find an excuse, Skyler turned around and headed toward the house. It was time to prepare lunch; unfortunately, Aunt Cathy would be helping her.
***
Three horses stood in the pasture with their heads over the wooden fence. One horse lowered its head and started grazing, while the other horses stared into the distance. The smell of smoke interrupted Skyler’s thoughts, and when she turned her head away from the window, two black slices of bread jumped out of the toaster. Skyler heard Aunt Cathy walking toward the kitchen and quickly threw the two slices of bread out the door and popped another two slices in the toaster. Then she placed a hand full of chips in everyone’s plates, so it would look like she’d been working all along. Once again, Skyler was glad that Aunt Cathy couldn’t smell. Aunt Cathy did not need to know how many times Skyler had burned something. If no one else knew that she messed up on occasion, it didn’t bother her. She didn’t know if she could cook again, if they ever found out.

“Aunt Cathy?” Skyler spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread, and asked, “Isn’t there any other way to make money?”

“Honey, I don’t approve of this any more than you do. But your brother won’t listen to me.”

Skyler nodded. She licked the mayonnaise off her finger and placed the finished sandwich on a disposable plate. After she finished all three sandwiches, she carried the plates onto the table and got three cokes from the refrigerator.

“I hate to see those horses be shipped off to Canada for dog food—or even worse, sold in grocery stores.” Skyler sat down in front of her sandwich. “I know other people do it, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it.”

“I know it seems wrong. But do you have any other ideas?” Aunt Cathy sat down beside Skyler.

No, I don’t.

The door swung open and Ty walked through the door. He left his boots on the floor and hung his cap on a hook, then he sat down next to them. They bowed their heads and begun eating their food.
***
That afternoon Skyler walked to the pen behind the old horse shed, that should have been torn down years ago. Skyler climbed over the wooden fences and walked through the pastures, the damp grass soaking through her jeans. Soon Skyler’s speedy walk, turned into a single step every three seconds. A lump formed in her throat, not believing what she saw. She closed her eyes, hoping the horses weren’t as bad as they appeared, but when she opened her eyes, they seemed almost worse than they had before. Who would do such a thing? Who would abandon their horses?

Skyler climbed over the fence and walked around the horses. In total, she counted nineteen horses. They remained where they were, eating every inch of grass they could. What were now starved horses, were once loved pets or maybe even show horses. Her brother would be cold hearted to agree with what these people had done to their horses—he must be cold hearted. Skyler walked across the pen, lifting her chin as a flock of geese flew over her head. When she lowered her head, she saw a brown thoroughbred standing in the corner. It held its head high, staring at the thoroughbreds in the pasture.
Slowly, Skyler walked toward the horse, when she reached hearing distance, she softly spoke. “You want to be out there with them, don’t you?” Still the horse stared into the distance. He wasn’t as skinny as the rest, but not in top condition either.

She stepped to the front of the gelding, making sure he could see her. Then she stepped to the side and ran her hand down his mane. At this the gelding whinnied and Skyler stepped back. Skyler stepped in front of the horse to read its face. The gelding threw his head up and down, then stopped midway and gave her a smile.

After a long laugh, Skyler said, “You can smile too?” With this the horse shook its head. Again, Skyler laughed, stepping closer to scratch behind his ear. “Who would ever want to abandon you?”
***
“Skyler you had no business going back there.” Ty stood in the corral trying to count the horses before they loaded them onto the trailer.

Skyler leaned against the corral panels, eyeing her brother, when she said, “Why did you bring those horses here? Most people load them up in the mountains and head north; couldn’t you get caught easier this way?”

Ty pointed his figures in the air, double checking the head count, then he motioned for the men to load the horses.

“You couldn’t leave them out there, could you? You care about those horses. Why else would you bring them here where everyone could find out what you’re doing?”

“Skyler,” Ty faced his sister, “This is what has to be done.” Then he jumped over the corral panels and strode toward the office.
***
Skyler pulled the blanket up to her neck and curled up under it, then she threw the blanket off her body and stretched her legs out. She tossed side to side, images becoming vivid in her head. Hundreds of horses staring at her . . . horses running full speed toward her . . . horses rearing . . . next the gelding galloped through the herd. All the other horses vanished like ghost and the gelding halted two feet in front of Skyler. He lifted his head and smiled at her. His smile repeated in her dream—the same smile she’d seen earlier that day—over and over. Black ink marks became more vivid every time the gelding smiled. Black ink marks on his upper lip—black ink marks, black ink marks . . .

Skyler woke up, turned onto her back and stared at the ceiling, saying, “Black ink marks. Black ink marks,” then it all become clear. She jerked up and yelled, “Black ink marks!”

Skyler picked up her robe from the floor and slipped on her fuzzy slippers. Careful not to wake Aunt Cathy, she tiptoed across the house to Ty’s room. She turned the nob and opened the door. Skyler closed her eyes and took two steps into the room, whispering his name, until she heard his voice. Then she asked him a question; when he answered her, she knew he was up.

“Okay.” Once he was fully awake, she opened her eyes and walked to his bedside. “I found a tattoo on the gelding’s upper lip this afternoon.”

“So? Go back to bed.” Ty pulled the blanket over his head.

“No, don’t you know what this means?” Skyler clapped Ty’s shoulder, until he moved the blanket away from his face. “Think about it.”

“You found a tattoo on a horse. The owner liked tattoos so he tattooed his horse on the . . .” At this Ty fell quiet, but only for two seconds then he mumbled, “Upper lip. He tattooed his horse on the upper lip!”

Skyler slowly nodded, then said, “Yes exactly! The gelding is a race horse.”

“Yeah.” Ty nodded for five seconds then he said, “Now go back to bed.” Ty pulled the blanket over his head and dosed off.

That morning Skyler ran to the old horse pen. With every intention to make her brother see the potential in owning a race horse. But first she had to know what kind of race horse they were dealing with. Once she reached the gelding, she slowed her pace to a gentle walk, careful not to startle the horse. Not wanting to open the horse’s mouth, afraid it might spook him, Skyler smiled at him. The gelding stared at her. Skyler smiled again . . . and again.

“Fine, let’s try it the hard way.” Skyler placed her right hand underneath the horse’s mouth. Then she slipped her left-hand thumb between the horse’s lips and lifted his upper lip. The horse stood still, while Skyler read the five-digit registration number. She said it over in her head until she had it memorized.

Once she had what she needed she ran to the house, under the doorway, and into the living room. She opened her laptop and typed the registration number. Skyler stared at the screen, eyeing the circle in the middle. She tapped her fingers on the keyboard, then she tapped her feet on the floor. There! All the information she needed was in front of her eyes.

Her eyes followed the black letters on the screen. She wanted to make sure what she read was correct, so she read it three times. Then she shouted, “Guys! Aunt Cathy! Ty! Come here.”

Once the two of them stood in the living room Skyler looked at them and said, “We’re the owners of a champion race horse.”

To be Continued . . .

Could this newly discovered race horse make a difference in their farm’s financial status? If this horse is capable of racing again, will Ty be willing to take the risk?
Find out next Tuesday, right here, on The Farmer’s Daughter.

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