Gina bolted upright in the bed. When she realized where she was, she laid her head back down on the comfy pillow. No sounds of her younger, twin brothers arguing over what to watch on TV. It was Sunday, and the smell of apple chicken sausage tickled her nose. A real breakfast! No scrounging around trying to find remnants of cereal after those two brats had free rein over the kitchen. I wish I could just live forever at Kuhaylah Arabians! Gina rolled off the bed onto the floor. She stretched before slipping on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and headed into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Antonia,” said Gina as she retrieved a couple of plates from the cabinet and carried them to the table.
“Good morning,” said Antonia.
The morning news was playing in the background on the small television on the kitchen counter as Gina finished setting the table and Antonia finished cooking. Gina helped Antonia make the plates with eggs and sausage and Antonia set another plate on the table with toasted English muffins that were already dripping with butter. Antonia turned to shut off the TV because she preferred talking during meals, when a breaking news story announced a missing boy.
The local news reporter, Nancy Hill, appeared on the screen. All blonde hair and blue eyes…a walking cliché.
“A boy has gone missing,” she announced maintaining her serious reporter face as she continued. “I’m here at Connie’s Creatures, a local petting zoo, where the search is underway for a five-year-old boy that disappeared from his church group who were here to visit the sweet farm animals as part of the Mother’s Day Out program that the church runs for single mothers. The boy’s mother has just arrived,” said Nancy with a gleam in her eye.
Seconds later, Nancy Hill, shoved a microphone in the face of the distraught young mother.
Antonia turned off the television. “That woman has no shame,”
“You know her?” asked Gina.
“She used to cover horse shows and the like. She always loved it when someone was injured. The more serious, the better.” Antonia continued, “That animal farm is near here. We need to help with the search after we feed the horses.”
Antonia walked over to a side counter and picked up her cell. “Go ahead and eat. I’m going to call Lucas.”
“Lucas Remington, the sheriff’s deputy you’re friends with?” asked Gina.
Antonia nodded as she said, “Hello Lucas. Yes, I heard. We’re going to help with the search after we feed the horses. Gina’s with me. Okay, I’ll call you as soon as we’re done. Let me know if you need horses.” Antonia clicked off the call and slid the phone in her pocket.
Gina finished her last forkful of eggs and took her plate to the sink.
“We’ll clean up later. Pull on your boots and let’s go.” Antonia grabbed a chicken sausage with one hand and ate it as she opened the back door with the other and strode toward the main barn which housed the mares. Gina slipped her feet into her steel-toed cowboy boots, her barn boots as she called them and came flying out the door behind Antonia. Even in a hurry, she looked graceful in Gina’s eyes as she scrambled to keep up.
Several scoops of feed later, the mare’s barn was done, and they headed to the smaller stallion barn. Spirit, the younger resident stallion, Flame, and the two geldings, Ambush and Blaze, whinnied in unison as Antonia and Gina arrived.
Antonia walked straight to Spirit and held the beautiful face the black stallion offered over the stall door in her hands, placing her forehead to his. He became a kitten in her hands. It always looked to Gina as if they were communing telepathically. She couldn’t help feeling jealous every time they did it.
Flame nickered softly to her. “I know. You want your feed,” Gina whispered. She walked to the feed bin, lifted the lid with one hand and grabbed a scoopful with the other. She closed the lid after retrieving the scoop and then crossed the narrow barn aisle and entered Flame’s stall. He immediately attacked the grain after she poured it in the corner bucket. The sun peeked through the small windows up high in the stalls and Flame’s bright red coat glistened with spots of gold and copper. Gina couldn’t help wishing he was hers and she could one day share the same bond with him that Antonia shared with Spirit. Flame lifted his head, turned toward Gina and nuzzled her chest with his soft nose, then returned his attention to the bucket.
“He’s bonding with you,” Antonia said, as if she were reading Gina’s mind.
“What do you mean? He just turned for a second.”
“When a horse stops eating feed, one of their favorite things, to greet someone, that means they care about that person,” said Antonia.
Gina took one more look at Flame before stepping out of the stall and allowed herself to imagine for a moment that he was truly hers.
“Ok, let’s go feed the retirees. They’re already gathered up front,” said Antonia, breaking Gina from her thoughts.
Gina loved how Antonia called the southwest pasture horses, retirees. They earned their retirement she always said. The feed buckets for the pasture horses hung on the fence just west of the stallion barn, so they didn’t have far to walk. Antonia had poured feed into a wheelbarrow that she rolled over now as they walked toward the fence. They both grabbed a scoop of feed and emptied them into a couple of buckets before wasting no time to scoop up some more feed. This was a process that had to be done quickly to minimize the breakout of fights. A few minutes later, all the horses were happily munching away in their individual buckets, but then Gina noticed one of the buckets had no one attending to it.
“Oh my gosh, Antonia! Where is Timmy?!” Gina exclaimed.
“I just noticed that too,” said Antonia. “I’ll saddle up Spirit, you get Freedom from the other barn, and we’ll ride out to find him.”
“Something really bad must have happened! Timmy is always with the herd! Oh Antonia…” tears streamed down Gina’s face.
“Gina, we don’t have all the facts yet. When you worry and then something happens, you suffer twice. Go get Freedom, girl.”
Gina ran to the mares’ barn to get Freedom. Stop crying! Antonia’s right. We’ll find Timmy. The seasoned mare had finished her feed and was happy to see Gina to take her out to the mares’ pasture as per the usual routine. Gina slipped her halter on her in the stall and as she exited the stall, she turned left in the barn aisle to head to the pasture.
“Sorry girl. We have to find Timmy first. You’ll get to hang out with the other mares later.” Gina patted Freedom’s neck and then turned her the other way toward the saddling area.
Gina met up with Antonia outside the gate that led to the southwest pasture. Antonia on her black stallion, Spirit, and Gina on the dependable chestnut mare. Freedom was the first offspring of Spirit. And like all his children, she was beautiful; fiery chestnut coat, flowing tail, blaze, and all.
“Ok, let’s check the pond out front first,” said Antonia and they cantered out together toward the pond. What a sight they would have been to anyone watching. Two petite women riding magnificent Arabian horses, running with tails held high. One shimmering black in the morning sun and the other flaming red.
Timmy was not at the pond. They headed toward the south gate that led to the back riding trails. It was open this time of year, so they cantered through single file, Antonia leading the way on Spirit. Kuhaylah Arabians was over two hundred acres in size, so the search was cut out for them. They rode side by side on the main trail, walking now and watching and listening.
They both stopped in their tracks. They heard the faint whinny at the same time. Gina’s heart leapt into her throat, “Timmy’s alive!” she said out loud because she had feared the worst. She loved that little golden pony so much.
Antonia held up her hand, palm facing toward Gina. She was listening intently. Nothing. So, she called out, “Timmy!” There was another whinny in response to her query and this time stronger. It came from in front of them, off to the right, deep amongst the trees. Antonia urged Spirit straight into a gallop from a dead stop. Gina urged Freedom to follow. The red mare wasn’t as fast as Spirit, but she willingly followed at a good clip.
They slowed to a trot as they left the trail to enter the thicket. Halfway into the trees, Timmy came trotting up. He seemed perfectly fine, so Antonia said, “Timmy, you gave us a huge scare. Come here!”
Timmy looked at Antonia and just as it was with Spirit, it appeared that they were communicating telepathically. They continued to stare at each other for what seemed to Gina like several minutes, but in reality, lasted only seconds. Timmy shook his head, blonde mane tossing about his neck, then turned on his heels and trotted deeper into the trees. Antonia followed without saying a word. Gina followed too.
Timmy slowed to a walk as they entered a small clearing, Antonia and Gina slowed their mounts too. Timmy had stopped in front of a lone tree in the clearing. Antonia and Gina had both been temporarily blinded by the morning sun. Timmy stepped sideways, head down near the base of the tree and when Gina and Antonia urged their horses a few steps forward into the shade of the great oak tree, they saw what Timmy was looking at.
The little boy stirred, placed his little hands on each side of Timmy’s soft muzzle and kissed his nose. “Hello horsey,” he said.
“We found the boy,” said Antonia talking on her cell to Lucas. “He’s fine, just a few scratches and tired after his adventure,” she continued.
The little boy whose name was Caleb, he had informed them on the ride back to the house, was now munching happily on some leftover apple chicken sausage at the kitchen table.
“Ok, we’ll see you in a bit,” said Antonia before setting down the cell phone.
Antonia walked over and sat at the table with Gina and Caleb. “How are you feeling Caleb?” she asked.
“Great!” he answered with a mouthful of sausage. “I love Timmy! He saved me! And I love Freedom too! I never got to ride a horse before! Can I ride Freedom by myself sometime? I mean, it was fun riding with Gina, but I wanna try on my own!” Somehow the boy was smiling, talking, and eating all at the same time. Gina and Antonia looked at each other and smiled.
There was a knock at the back door. Antonia rose from the table and walked the few steps to the door, opening it and in stepped Lucas Remington, tall, dark, and formidable in his deputy’s uniform. He removed his hat as he entered, revealing the tight, jet-black curls clipped closely to his head. He was clean cut and smelled of leather and musk.
“Hi Lucas,” said Gina.
“Hello, Gina,” he said before turning his attention toward Antonia. His face softened when he gazed at Antonia, and Gina wished that someone would look at her like that someday.
“Hello Lucas.” Antonia smiled. “It’s good to see you as always.”
Lucas returned her smile and then faced the boy, his expression all business again. “How you feeling, Caleb?”
“Awesome!” said Caleb, now munching on an English muffin.
“That’s good to hear,” said Lucas now smiling at the boy. Lucas reached out his hand and said, “Let’s go see your mom now, she’s been worried sick.”
“Okay,” Caleb rose from the table and grabbed another English muffin on his way out.
“I’ll call you later Antonia and let you know how things went,” said Lucas as he turned to leave, holding Caleb’s hand.
Caleb stopped and twisting toward Antonia asked, “Can I come back and ride Freedom one day?”
“I would like that Caleb,” said Antonia. “Lucas, give my number to his mother, will you?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am,” Lucas, tipped his hat and stepped out the door with Caleb in hand.
After they drove off in the squad car, Gina asked, “Why don’t you go out with him, Antonia? He’s obviously in love with you.”
Antonia had her back to Gina as she continued to look out the kitchen window even though the car was no longer in sight, but then she turned toward Gina and for a split second the sun caught in her eyes and Gina noticed a slight shimmer, as if Antonia were holding back tears. But that wasn’t possible Gina thought, because Antonia was always strong, never emotional.
“Gina, we need to turn out the mares.” Antonia opened the back door and stepped out. Her voice was strong as always, no hint of sadness. Gina followed her without another word.