Louise didn’t sleep particularly well that night. Images of a laughing Melody, Dylan taunting her, and worst of all her father walking out the door with another woman kept floating into her dreams when she least expected them to. After tossing and turning until the early hours, she was finally jolted awake by a frantic licking on her face.
‘Layla! What? Oh, do you need to go outside?’
Layla bounded down from the bed as quick as she could in her condition, wagging her tail furiously. In spite of her tiredness Louise grinned at the beaming dog.
‘Okay girl, let’s get you outside. I wouldn’t crawl out of bed at this hour for just anyone, you know!’ Glad of the distraction from her nightmares, Louise crawled out of bed and bent down to give Layla a quick scratch behind the ears.
* * *
After letting Layla out into the back yard and napping fitfully on the sofa for a couple more hours, Louise dragged herself up and got dressed. She really needed to clear her head. She hadn’t been able to go on her usual early-morning jog the previous day; she and her mother had had to set off early to get to Appaloosa Plains. Frowning, she looked down at her outfit. She should’ve decided this earlier; denim was hardly the right material for a work out! About to turn to go back upstairs to change into her joggers, Louise heard a clatter coming from the kitchen before noticing the sweet scent of pancakes drifting through the house.
‘Ah, Lou! You’re up early!’ Kendra beamed at her niece as she casually tossed the pancakes sizzling away in her frying pan. ‘Hope you’re hungry! Strawberry pancakes for brekkie, there’s plenty of them!’
‘Actually I was going to go off for a run, I can grab something when I… Yes Aunty, yes I am hungry,’ Louise hurriedly corrected herself, remembering that her Aunt wasn’t a fan of skipping meals or ‘grabbing a bite to eat’. Meal times were a thing of beauty to her, not something to be quickly skipped over!
Kendra smiled at her with an eyebrow raised. ‘Good to hear! Besides, there’s no need to go prancing about the Plains for exercise my dear. I’ve got you helping your Uncle out with some of the newer crops this morning, and when you’ve finished there you can pop up to the grocers with some samples for them. Your Uncle’s been experimenting with new fertilizers, the crops are tasting better than ever!’
‘My friend’s Mum does that kind of thing too,’ Louise said without really thinking. ‘She used to help run a nursery in Sunset Valley before she moved to Bridgeport.’
‘Oh really? Poor dear won’t find much space for gardening in the big city! Which friend’s that then?’ said Kendra absentmindedly as she spooned some more batter into the frying pan. Louise froze.
‘Uh… Oh, no one you know,’ she said quickly. ‘So can I dig into these pancakes now, or do I have to wait for everyone else to come downstairs?’
* * *
Louise’s Uncle Arnie was a man of few words, but he was passionate about his farm. Louise had never seen anyone so dedicated to plants in all her life, not even Dylan’s Mum came close! As Louise trailed back and forth from the small plot Arnie had set aside for his experimental crops with the heavy watering can she watched as her Uncle gently tended to each one individually, barely noticing her presence as she got on with her work. Why doesn’t he just paint his thumbs green and get on with it? Louise thought fondly as she tried not to overwater the growing shoots, grinning as she watched her Uncle. She could’ve sworn he was talking to each one in turn!
‘Rightio Lou. I think we’re just about done here…’ Arnie appraised the lot carefully while Louise held her breath, hoping she’d done a good job. ‘You’ve done well this morning, girl.’ Louise beamed as her Uncle treated her to one of his rare smiles. ‘Rightio. I’ll pop and fetch Daisy’s saddlebags and get them filled up for you. Would you check her stable for me? It might need some fresh hay popping out.’
Louise’s heart dropped a little. ‘You mean… I’m riding Daisy? I don’t know Daisy that well… Can’t I take Tanner? Or walk?’
Arnie shook his head. ‘Tanner’s busy later, and it’s far too far to walk! Don’t be daft, girl. Daisy’s steady as they go.’ With that, he turned and went back into the house, leaving Louise stood on the patio trying not to look into the horses’ paddock, where Daisy was tucking into the salt lick. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Daisy, she just didn’t know her. Not at all, really… When she was in the country she usually rode Tanner, safe and reliable Tanner.
She couldn’t do it. It was too new, too strange, too unpredictable…
Oh, come on Louise. Get the stables out the way first.
Louise spent the next half an hour carefully spreading hay out in Daisy’s stable and raking out any nasty bits. She had been hoping that the longer she took here would mean that her Uncle would get fed up of waiting for her and take Daisy himself, but…
‘Rightio Louise! I’ve saddled Daisy up for you and attached her bags. She’s waiting for you just outside the gate. Try and get a better price on the peppers and potatoes, at least! By, you’ve done a good job here, haven’t you!’ Louise nodded sadly and trailed out of the stable, walking slowly over to where Daisy was impatiently shaking her braided mane. Tentatively Louise reached out a hand and patted Daisy’s neck. ‘There’s a good girl… Good girl… You won’t run away with me, will you?’ she said soothingly, not entirely sure if her words were for the horse or for herself. Without warning, Daisy turned to look directly at Louise, straight into her eyes. Louise was rooted to the spot as Daisy looked her up and down, before reaching out and sniffing Louise’s own braided hair. Lou jumped as the great horse let out a sudden whinny, as if she was laughing, before nuzzling Louise gently.
Louise laughed herself, trying to calm her racing heart as she combed her fingers through her own braids. ‘I guess we do have a similar style, Daise! Come on, let’s get this over with.’ Climbing onto the fence, Louise carefully clambered onto the horse.
She didn’t feel as confident up here. Seemingly knowing her task Daisy slowly walked up the path onto the road, heading in the direction of the road up to the town. Louise clung on for dear life.
I can’t remember the last time I rode a horse, Louise thought as she gripped Daisy’s reins for dear life. I should’ve come up with Mum last time she came. And the time before that. She felt a little guilty as she remembered dismissing the notion without giving it any thought whatsoever, eager to stay at home with her friends. Well, Melody. Mels had always taken great pains to discourage Louise from leaving Bridgeport for any reason, even to see her family. Melody liked having her little sidekick around…
Louise shook her head, trying to shake the bad thoughts about her best friend from her mind. Melody was her best friend. She valued and respected her. Louise knew that…
Yeah right. Trying to convince yourself, more like.
Sighing, Louise suddenly looked around in shock. She’d barely been paying attention as Daisy plodded along; she hadn’t been guiding her or anything as she’d wandered through her thoughts. Anything could’ve happened! Where was she? Where had Daisy taken her?!
As Daisy turned a corner, Louise breathed a huge sigh of relief before laughing aloud. The grocers. Daisy had brought her to the grocers! ‘Oh, you clever thing, Daisy!’ Louise exclaimed as the horse walked right up to the post she stopped at on a weekly basis and began tucking into the bale of fresh hay scattered in front of the water trough. Tethering the horse up, Louise gave her a quick hug. ‘Thanks Daise,’ she whispered as she untied her saddle bags. ‘Sorry for doubting you.’
As Louise made her way into the shop Daisy munched the hay, feeling proud of herself. The girl had been scared of her; she didn’t know why but she definitely had been wary. Daisy didn’t mind. She knew that strangers could be wary at first, it was just a matter of winning them over. She’d felt the tight grip on her reins loosen as she walked, carefully keeping her pace slow as she guided the girl in the right direction. She’d done a good job, she knew that. The girl had said so, and you didn’t get hugs and kind words for anything else!
Daisy liked that girl, she decided. She was kind, if a little anxious. And they had the same hair. That was always a good thing.
Forty-five minutes later Louise came out of the shop feeling elated. The shop owner had been delighted with the taste of the samples her Uncle had sent over, and Louise had successfully bartered to get a higher price for all the produce! She could hardly believe it. Back in Bridgeport she wouldn’t have dared, she knew that. Here, though, something seemed different… She’d been helping out at the farm, trying new things, and actually finding she was good at them. Her confidence was growing.
Her head held high, Louise walked over to Daisy to find her mother already standing there, playing with one of the horse’s braids. ‘Ah! Louise! How’d you get on?’
‘Mum? What are you doing here!’
Anita grinned. ‘Kendra asked me to pop to the restaurant and pick up some paperwork for her. So? How did you get on?’
‘Um… Well, I guess. I got a higher price on everything.’
‘Really? Oh Lou, I’m so proud of you! Your Uncle will be chuffed to bits.’ Anita smiled kindly at her daughter. ‘Say, while we’re both here why don’t we pop to that café over there? My treat?’
‘Seriously?!’ Louise’s face lit up, eager to spend a bit of time with her mother. She was always so busy back at home. When she wasn’t at the office until stupid o’clock she was locked in the study doing paper work. She treasured these rare moments when it was just the two of them… Well, apart from the car ride over here. Louise cringed. She’d been such a brat!
‘This key lime pie is delicious,’ Anita proclaimed as the mother and daughter settled on the porch with their treats. The café was fairly quiet considering the time of day, the lunch time rush already over with, so the two had the outside seating area to themselves. Louise nodded in agreement.
‘Anyway, Lou… I must admit. I’m not here just for pie. I was wondering, is there anything you wanted to talk to me about? About your father, I mean…’ Anita trailed off tentatively as Louise put her fork down and fidgeted with the belt of her dungarees. ‘I know it all happened so fast. It must’ve seemed like a whirlpool to you.’ Seeing that her daughter’s anxiousness at the situation, Anita sadly took another mouthful of pie.
‘I just… Why? What happened? One minute everything was fine, the next I come home from school to find half the stuff in the apartment gone? What happened?’
Anita contemplated the question. ‘Look, Louise. You’re old enough to know the truth, so I’m going to give it to you. I’m not going to sit here and bad mouth your father, because that’s not fair on you; at the end of the day he is still your father and I respect that. But I am going to tell you the truth. I found out… Well, your father was having an affair.’
Louise was stunned. ‘What?!’
Nodding, Anita continued. ‘I came home from work to find him in our bedroom with some woman… Well, anyway. I caught him. She left. I asked him what the hell was going on. He said it was my fault, I was never around, I was always at work, I was never there for him. I pointed out that someone needed to pay for all the bloody holidays he wanted to go on and things he insisted on filling the apartment with, and considering he wasn’t doing anything to help what did he bloody expect, and…’ Anita trailed off, taking a sharp breath. ‘I got a little carried away there. I’m sorry.’
‘Mum… I can’t believe it.’ Louise placed her hand over her mother’s shaking one and squeezed it gently. ‘I had no idea.’
‘Well. These things come out sooner or later. I suppose I’m grateful that I found out, that I wasn’t living in ignorance any longer. I just felt so humiliated.’ Anita wiped away a tear that was threatening to fall onto her cheek, putting on a brave smile for her daughter.
Louise smiled sympathetically at her mother. ‘You should have told me, Mum. I had no idea what was going on! I’d have been there for you. He’s the one who’s done wrong, not you!’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that sweetie. I could’ve been home more often. I could’ve confronted him about how much he was spending, we could’ve worked things out before it even came to this. I just buried my head in the sand and hoped everything would turn out okay in the end. The worst thing is that I wasn’t even surprised when I found out.’ Anita paused and took another bite of her pie, chewing it thoughtfully. ‘At least I can say I’ve learnt something, I guess. If you have something to say, just say it. Don’t bottle things up or hope for the best. Even if you get hurt, you’ll at least know. I’m not going to spend my life wondering what might have been. That’s something you can take heed of too, young lady!’ Anita tapped her daughter’s nose with the end of her fork. ‘You bottle up far too much. If you wanted to know what had happened with your Dad you should have asked me. Or him.’
‘I know, Mum. I just… You were so upset. I thought if I asked you, you’d get even more so…’ Louise trailed off, pondering what her mother had just said. Maybe she was right…
Mother and daughter sat and talked through everything for another half an hour, ordering another slice of the delicious pie to share between them, both of them wishing they’d sat down to do this sooner. As Anita paid for their food, Louise went back to Daisy who’d been waiting at the tether post patiently.
‘Sorry, girl. I hope you weren’t too bored standing here. I bought you a treat!’ Louise produced a fresh apple from her pocket, which Daisy gratefully took from her. ‘Just don’t tell Tanner, okay!’
* * *
By the time Louise and Daisy got back to the farm the sun was already beginning to set. Louise had decided to pay attention to the ride back, and went on a little detour around the route she’d used to take Tanner on when she was younger. As she rode Daisy back up the path to the paddock she felt the air around her grow colder, and so took her straight back up to the stables.
Taking off Daisy’s saddle and bridle, Louise smiled and waved at her Uncle who was brushing Tanner down in the other stable across the barn. ‘Wait for me after you’ve popped Daise to bed,’ he called over.
‘Now then, young Lou! Sounds like I owe you a huge thank you! I had a call from Jim at the store earlier, turns out I’m getting an extra twenty simoleons for every piece of veg I sell him! You’ve done good work there, kiddo,’ Arnie beamed at his niece, ruffling her braids.
‘Really?’ Louise grinned herself, pride swimming through her.
‘Indeed I am! You’ve done me proud, Louise!’ Rightio then, I’d better get in and get changed. Kennie’s cooking salmon for tea, it’ll be ready in half an hour. You can amuse yourself until then!’
Louise nodded and ran inside to fire up her Aunt and Uncle’s ancient computer. She wanted to check her Simbook to see if she had any messages. Well, to see if there were any pictures from the party the other night…
She giggled as she clicked her way through the images, starting out with her classmates self-consciously posing and trying to look cool before descending into a drunken madness as the night progressed. It seemed like literally everyone had turned up! Her heart skipped a beat every time Dylan appeared in a picture, a goofy smile plastered on her face as he beamed out of the computer screen at her. She grinned as Melody popped up more than a few times, clearly determined to be the centre of attention.
Then, her heart sank. She’d forgotten. How could she have forgotten…
A picture of Melody. And Dylan. Locked in an embrace.
How could she have forgotten…