The ride back to his ranch Chris kept thinking about the girl, who now owned the McGrover ranch. He could not fathom how she could have managed to convince his father to sell the ranch, but the most surprising was how she had managed to get all the ranch hands to work for her and O’Cauly had never seemed so out of control.
Reaching his home he took his horse to the stable and rubbed him down. Whispering to his horse, Chris thought of good old times when was in the ring facing the bull. It had been easier than the thought of facing the wisp of girl who had come into his life. Did she really come into his life?
With that question he walked in to his house, glad to be back home only to hear clatter of vessels. Wondering who must be in his kitchen, he hurried in to find Karen trying to put something in the oven and the entire kitchen looked a big mess.
“Karen, what are you doing?”
“Chris, you scared me. I had hoped to finish cooking your dinner before you returned.”
“Karen, I told you before too you needn’t bother about my dinner.”
“It’s no bother, I like cooking your dinner. Now why don’t you wash up and I will set the table for dinner.”
Not having been able to convince Karen for some time to not bother about him, Chris had given up and tried to enjoy her company but tonight he didn’t wish her company. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts of Rach. He felt anger towards her but there was an admiration too. He couldn’t believe that she had managed to get everything in order within a week’s time and she really did seem at home in the ranch. Wanting to know more about her Chris decided to talk to Joshua in the morning but first he needed to send Karen back to her house.
Karen had first walked into his house with fresh batch of cookies, the day he moved into his new ranch three years ago. Chris had slowly started enjoying her company and had considered asking her to marry knowing well why she kept cooking for him and taking care of his house. But something had always kept him from asking. Chris knew that Karen had been trying to get him to propose, but Chris could never do it.
Washing up Chris returned to the kitchen to find Karen serving the steak and mashed potatoes. Having longed for good meal Chris dug in making small conversation and thanking her for the dinner. Once dinner done, he sent Karen promising to meet her in the morning.
Rach sat in front of her dressing mirror trying to catch her breath. Even after a decade Christopher McGrover still had the same effect on her. Her heart was racing bringing back memories she had buried deep long time ago, but when everything came back to her it felt as if she was experiencing it right now, right here.
About a decade ago:
Rach still remembers the day when she had come home disappointed that Chris hadn’t noticed her. Walking up to her room Rach stopped in Kitchen to talk to her mother, who was cooking along with Amy’s mother. Hugging her mother Rach grabbed an orange and ran up the stairs. Her room was her haven. Although it was decorated in pink on her mother’s insistence, she had tried to cover the entire pink wall with the images of stallions, the farmhouse, the sunrise, sunset. All of them photographed by her. She had wished to become a professional photographer one day, but she knew that would not be no matter how much she dreamt of it, for she had to take care of her mother and support her in taking care of the ranch. Her father did not really care for the ranch as much as he did about the breeding of the prized horses to be sold at highest bidding.
Ted O’Cauly was never present in the house for his wife or for his daughter. Even with father it was like Rach never had one. A father, who loved and adored his daughter, no, that was not Ted. Rach sneaked into the stables to watch his men work on the wild horses and select the best ones to run the races and to be used in the roping and rigging events. She had tried few times to approach her father in his office only to be yelled at. Having faced his anger once too many she had stopped going to the stables, but spent most of her time walking across the lands of the ranch, running alongside the fence with the horses, milking the cows with Amy or capturing the beautiful life in her lens before she went back to her school again.
This summer was different. Rach found someone she wanted to capture in her lens and with this thought in her head, the next morning she headed to McGrover ranch. Walking along the road she photographed few finches making merry near the bird feed, cows grazing on lazily and the early morning sun slowly spreading its light across the beautiful Wyoming pastures. Having captured these Rach reached the McGrover ranch house to see Sean wobbling and running as fast as he could on his small legs. He was the cutest baby she had ever seen. Just behind aunt Jenny came wiping her hands on her apron, which was part of her as much as the welcome smile on her beautiful face. Besides her mother aunt Jenny was the one whom Rach admired and loved. Running Rach picked up Sean and presented him with a small horse shaped wooden toy she had made in her crafts class. She spent the morning hoping to catch a glimpse of Chris, but to her disappointment Jenny informed her Chris had left before day break. With no hope of seeing him before she left for school, Rach took leave from Aunt Jenny and started her long walk back home. She had no interest to go back home so she took long route trekking along the country side. Having walked for half hour she took decided to rest on a boulder when she heard a neigh, wanting to know what it was she walked into the thicker woods and after a walk of few minutes came to entrance of huge pasture along a lake. She grabbed her camera and started clicking as the colorful butterflies’ fluttered across the flowers and then she stumbled across the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
Through her lens she saw Chris whispering to a stallion standing almost a foot over him in height. He ran his hand over its head and his other hand holding on to its bridle, then he buried his head in its long mane smiling and swung himself up on its bare back. The ecstasy on his face as he rode away was mesmerizing and infectious. Rach was filled with so much joy she feared she would burst with it at having caught the most wonderful moment in her lens. She immediately returned home and had her mother drive her into town to have the photos developed. While in the town she and her mother shopped few household items. Excited Rach picked up the photos from the shop and opened the envelope. The photos were amazing. Her mother was surprised at Rach’s talent at photography. As they walked out thanking the attendant Rach bumped into someone and all the photos scattered on the floor. She immediately started picking them up and then saw someone picking up the rest of photos. She stood up and started saying her gratitude before she saw it was Chris. He was looking at the photos with awe on his face. Suddenly someone grabbed the photos from his hands. It was Anabel, the town beauty.
“Hey, Christopher when did you get these pictures taken?” said Anabel
“I didn’t.” said Christopher giving the photos to Rach looking at her questioningly.
Rach was embarrassed at being caught to have snooped on his private moment and didn’t know what to say. She kept quiet and extended her hands to take the photos. But before she could take them back Anabel snatched the photos and said
“These don’t belong to her.”
“She may have taken them without my permission, but I don’t have the right to them.” Saying Chris returned the photos and greeted her mother.
Taking the photos Rach stood aside as Chris walked away with Anabel fuming at her. Anabel turned after few steps with a look of pure hatred in her eyes. Not wanting anything to do with her Rach returned home with her mother.
Ted was pacing in the house, waiting for his wife to return. All his plans were falling apart. The old man had returned with his lawyer and sitting in his office. He was worried if the old man would keep his promise or if he would go back on his word. Just as his anticipation increased he heard car drive into the driveway. Few minutes later Nicole and Rach walked in with their hands full of bags.
“Where did you go? I have been looking all over for you?” said Ted to Nicole
“We were shopping for groceries. Anything you needed Ted?”
Ted threw the chair in frustration. Rach screamed in fear and Nicole pulled her daughter behind herself protectively. It was the first time Rach had ever seen her father angry at her mother. Since young her father had always been out of the house or town when she came home to visit. Even though she had father he was always not existent from her life.
“What is wrong with you Ted?” shouted Nicole
“Ted O’Cauly can I see you in the office” an authoritative voice called from the office door.
Rach and Nicole turned to find Richard McBurns standing looking sternly at Ted. Upon seeing him Rach ran up to her grandfather and hugged him. He held her a moment and suggested her to visit her friends as he needed to talk to her parents. Wanting to know what it was but unable to disobey her grandfather she placed her bags on the table and walked out the house with her camera.
Richard sat in his office with Ted and Nicole opposite to him. He looked at the opposite wall for few minutes before continuing “I had a long discussion with my lawyer and I have come to a decision about this land and my other properties.”
“Papa, why are you doing that?” said Nicole and Ted waited impatiently for Richard to announce his will.
“It is time dear. Rach is growing up fast and I do not know how long I will be here to oversee the ranch and the businesses.”
“Don’t talk like that Papa?”
“What have you decided Richard?” asked Ted wishing his wife would leave the business talk to men.
Richard looked at his son-in-law and wished he had never brought him into his daughter’s life. He still cursed the day he had gone against his daughter’s wishes and killed her love. Not wanting to open old wounds Richard cleared his throat and said “I have decided to transfer all my wealth and the businesses to Rach. This house goes to you Nicole dear and Ted you will be compensated monthly with a sum of fifty thousand every month and you will have access to all my horses in the race to continue the trend of McBurns horses on the field.”
Ted stood up and walked out of the office without saying a single word. Nicole sat in silence fearing what Ted might do now. He was promised all this property before he had agreed to marry her. Her father thought she didn’t know, but Ted had made it very clear within few years of their marriage that he had married her for her father’s property. All his love he showed for Rach was nothing but piece of act to impress her father, but her father was very clever man. He had ensured that everything went to his granddaughter with his daughter as the guardian till she was of legal age. But what will Ted do? It was the question on her mind since he had walked out of the office.
Ted was fuming with unknown anger and destroyed his own office at the stable. He threw everything on the floor and sat down on the only chair left unscathed in the room trying to come up with a plan to get even with Richard McBurns. Spending all night trying to come with a plausible solution Ted came to one solution and decided to act on it.
Rach was sitting in the kitchen with Jenny and Sean eating her dinner. Her mother called to inform Aunt Jenny that she needed Rach to stay at their house for the night. Rach was worried for her mother. She had never seen her father getting so angry and especially her grandfather. Rach knew something was not right at home, but didn’t know how to ask or whom to ask.
Jenny did not know what was happening at McBruns but she felt protective of Rach and wished to shield her from anything that might hurt her innocence. She assured Nicole Rach is safe at her home, she arranged the guest room for the night before serving dinner to the kids. John had joined them at the table and few minutes later Chris walked into the kitchen. Rach was uncomfortable but held her ground and sat at the table till dinner was done.
Later she climbed out her room’s window up to the roof to gaze at the stars. As she lay their praying everything would be better at home, she heard someone trying to climb up the ledge. She quickly sat up only to come face to face with Chris who was as surprised to find her there as she was to see him. A few moments later, Chris said “Can you give me a hand so I can sit up?”
Blushing Rach extended her hand “Yes of course Mr. McGrover”
“So you are the new friend Sean can’t stop talking about.”
Rach looked at him confused. Shaking his head he settled down pulling Rach to sit next to him. He was silent for long time just gazing at the stars.
“Sean loves the wooden horse you gave him”
“Oh, it was nothing. When I was returning from hostel, I remembered Sean loves horses so brought it with me to give it to him. I am happy he loves it.”
“What about me Rach?” What did you get me?”
Rach fell silent, not knowing how to reply. Chris laughed at her expression and said “I was just messing with you. May be you can give me something I ask of?”
“Well I do not have anything with me now. But I promise to give anything you ask tomorrow.”
“What if I say I want it now?”
Rach stood up and lost her footing on the roof. She started falling down the roof, before a strong arm pulled her and both she and Chris fell sliding down into the patio just below. Chris shifted such that Rach was above and he took the impact of the fall. They both stayed down for few minutes before Rachl came to her senses and tried to move away but Chris held her and kissed her forehead before releasing. Rach flush with anger and embarrassment stood up and tried to vent her anger on him, but he smiled and she did not know what to do. Chris stood up and then he did the unthinkable. He messed up her hair on her head saying “I was just messing with you kiddo. Anabel thinks you are attracted to me and me to you, but we know the truth right.”
Rach slapped his hand away more hurt by what he said than the pain of the fall. She stomped back to the room hoping she would never ever see him again. Locking all the windows and the door, she fell in a fitful sleep.
The next morning she returned home only to find her mother sitting with the doctor and the sheriff from the Owl Creek. Upon seeing Rach she stopped talking and came to her and hugged her tightly crying.
“Rach I need you to pack your bags. You need go back to school today.”
“But Mama, I still have two weeks of vacation. Why can’t I stay here until then?”
“Please try to understand dear. It is for the best.”
“No, I do not want to do. I want to stay here with you and grandpa.”
“Listen to me Rach Smith McBurns, you do not talk back to you mother. Now go and pack your bags. Thomas will go with you to the school. I need to take care of things here.”
Knowing her mama had made up her mind Rach walked up to her room to pack her things. After three hours her cab came and Thomas was waiting beside it. Just as she was getting in the cab, Chirs rode towards them as fast as he could and jumped down his horse in front of her.
“Rach are you leaving truly?”
Chris pulled out a small box wrapped in a pink paper. Giving it to her he suggested she should see it once he left and straddled his horse and rode away. Rach was confused by what had happened. She opened the box to find a beautiful charm, with horse shoes and small horses on it. It was the most beautiful gift anyone has given her.
Rachael opened her jewelry box and took out the charm. It felt warm and gave her solace in her lonely life. It was the only good thing to remember from her horrible past; which had taken her dear mother and grandfather away from her. The person responsible for it would pay dearly. She had made this promise to herself the day she learned the true face of O’Cauly.