Red rays of sunlight spilled across the lush grass one morning. A wiry farmer stood ahead of an auburn colored barn as the Ford rattled nearer and placed a brown felt hat onto his head. He spat to the side and gave a nod of greeting when Gavin emerged from the truck with his children scrambling out of the back seat. "Lovely to see you brought the young ones along."
"A pleasure to see you, Mr. O'Sullivan," Gavin reached out to grip the man's leathered hand. "These are me children Ethan and Abby."
"Looking forward to doing business with you," Ethan said as he and Abby each shook his hand. The farmer grinned and tipped his hat with amusement.
"As with you, son," he waved them closer and turned to stride around the barn. "Let's go see the little ladies we're selling today."
Ethan and Abby moved close together as they swished through the grass, arms crossed and teeth chattering. Gavin peeled away his brown canvas coat and settled it around his children, who each slipped a single arm through a sleeve and huddled together with a smile.
"We have about fifteen heifers for sale at the moment," Robert O'Sullivan announced as he came to a gate attached to a wooden fence. "Most are well above the age of two and will probably go to small farms. By all means, tell me when you see one you're interested in."
"Can we climb up the fence to see?" Abby asked up at Gavin.
"No, that's not your—"
"Please, come," Mr. O'Sullivan grandly gestured toward his fence as a heifer softly mooed in the distance. The twins pulled themselves onto the slats and studied the cattle before them. "These are Jersey cattle. Except for the bulls, they are a mild and docile breed."
"I like that one," Abby pointed at the closest cow, whose velveteen hide was a rich autumn in the sunlight. A bell clanged softly around her neck when she lifted her head, grass drifting down from her lips. Gavin leaned his elbows on the fence and squinted.
"She is lovely. What is her age?"
"She is a young lass of one, and recently bred," Mr. O'Sullivan answered with approval. "Gentle and loving, but I have no way to know whether the breeding was successful or not at this time."
"What about one that has calved before?" Gavin asked and pointed toward a particularly sunny golden cow at the opposite end of the pasture. She mooed softly in response and flicked one ear. The farmer smiled and nodded approvingly.
"She is a kind one," he said and pushed open the gate. "What do you say I halter her for you and bring her closer so you can meet her?"
"Go raibh maith agat," Gavin nodded politely. He shifted his eyes to his children when the farmer strode away. "See her wide pelvis? That makes it easier for her to give birth."
"What's a pelvis?" Abby asked.
"I'll explain that later. The body of a Jersey is very concave, but strong. And there temperament is mild and docile. Watch her eyes when Mr. O'Sullivan goes to halter her."
They studied the small cow as she flicked her ears curiously. She watched the farmer with big brown eyes, which she promptly turned away as he drew near.
"So she's bashful," Gavin mused to himself more than anyone. She was not far away when the farmer caught up to her. She stopped meandering and allowed him to slip the red halter over her nose and promptly fasten the buckle. "But that imperfection will be smoothed out if she's a willing participant. See, here she comes."
When the farmer began to lead her toward the gate, she raised her head and began to reluctantly step forward. By the time she reached them, her she began to nose at the fence slats with curiosity.
"She's a beauty, if you ask me."
"She certainly does well on a halter. Has she calved before, and was she a decent mother?"
"Dropped one last Spring," answered O'Sullivan with a raised index finger. "And she nursed that calf with the affection of the best of them. That little one will soon be one of my dairy girls here."
Gavin considered this. He stretched his hand out to lay it on her forehead as he studied what seemed to be every bone in her small frame. "What do you say, children?"
"She is beautiful," Ethan remarked.
"I want to name her Lily," Abby answered simply.
"That's a yes," Gavin smiled and reached out to shake the man's hand with a strong pump before returning to the small cow. "And what do you say, young lady?"
As a response, Lily stretched her tongue up and into one nostril.
. . .
Today, we picked out a beautiful Jersey cow for milk production. I am also hoping she will continue to teach our children about responsibility and to not take the meals we enjoy for granted. Abby is enthused by the idea, and I think Ethan is as well. But he is still angry—at everything, myself included, and that makes it difficult to say. I've been praying for him. I know that is not something you're probably interested in, but I know it will do something for him. Abby is keeping him well in line. They miss you.
. . .
The first day of June was clear and warm, with buttercups lining the roadsides. The white school link bus rumbled to a stop beside an open field. Ethan and Abby thundered down the middle isle and leapt out of the bus to run to the wooden fence that surrounded the pasture.
"Soon as we get to the other side, I'll race you!" Ethan promised as Abby helped him squeeze between the slats with his sling.
"You got it!" She squealed and burst into a sprint with her twin close behind. Together, they made their way to the dirt path and continued down to the small white house, threw the door open, and skidded to a halt when they reached the kitchen.
"You seem excited," Gavin remarked blandly as he poured himself a glass of milk and managed to stifle a smile.
"Is she here?" Abby squealed. "Please, I want to see her again!"
"She is grazing in the pasture," Gavin smiled as she ran past, but caught Ethan with his arm and drew him back again. "You cannot milk her until your arm has healed. But Abby will show you how when it's ready to be used again."
Silvery clouds had pushed across the sky, and raindrops now sprinkled down. By the time Abby pushed aside the barn door to see the sweet brown eyes of a Jersey cow blink back at her, rain showered the pastures outside.
"Hello," Abby smiled and stepped closer to the cow. "I want to name you Lily. What do you think of that? And I wonder why Dad doesn't have you out munching down the grass?"
"Because he wants to make sure she's healthy first," Ethan answered as he came up behind her. "If she's not, she could spread something to the rest of the animals."
"Hmm," Abby considered this. "She seems healthy and happy enough."
"Yes," Ethan replied contemplatively. "Well, tomorrow you can spend time learning how to milk her and see what she's like while I sleep in an extra twenty minutes."
With a clap to her back, he disappeared into the pouring rain. As soon as he left, Butterscotch emerged from the shadows with a scratchy meow and brushed against her legs. She lifted the scruffy tomcat and lay her cheek against him. "Well, at least you'll keep me company."
His growling purr was a satisfying enough reply. As she set him on a bale of straw beside Taffy, she heard another set of heavy boots behind her.
"Does she seem all right to you?"
Abby returned to the Jersey and studied her a moment. Lily seemed to be content, chewing monotonously in the middle of her pen. She raised her eyes attentively when the girl approached and extended her nose ever so slightly before swaying her head away.
"She seems shy, but happy."
"I agree. When you awaken tomorrow, come out here and I will show you how to take care of her. As soon as I am positive she is in decent health, I will let her explore the field. "
"I think she would like that a lot."
"So do I," Gavin smiled and moved toward the door. "Come inside for supper soon. I harvested some of the strawberry crop this afternoon."
. . .
The rain diminished into a fine mist by morning, through which shined a rainbow. Droplets slipped and dripped from the leaves on the apple trees. By the time the sun rose again, a small white pickup truck rolled down the narrow dirt road and parked at the cottage. A woman pushed the door open and stood, running a hand through her ginger curls.
"Good morning," Gavin stepped down his wooden porch with a hand outstretched to shake hers welcomingly. "Ethan and Abby, this is Dr. Aileen Kelly."
"Good to meet you," Abby smiled shyly and shook her hand after Ethan.
"Thank you," Aileen Kelly smiled. "Now Gavin, why did you wait until you already purchased her for me to come see if she is healthy?"
"Mr. O'Sullivan is a reliable farmer and an even better man. It would have hurt him to know that I wanted to have her checked as a precaution."
Aileen smirked and nodded. "Yes, that explains it. You are right to trust him. I can't think of a time I have ever seen a problem with his stock. Still, you did well to call me out here."
"Let me show you our girl," Gavin said as he led the way toward the small red barn and gently swung the door open when they reached it. Their veterinarian eased inside the dim barn and squinted at the cow as she pleasantly chewed the grass hay granted to her.
"Well, she seems alert and bright-eyed," Aileen remarked as she drew near. "Come closer, lass."
Lily raised her nose and sniffed her hand with flared nostrils before returning to her hay and nosing it around in a pile. Dr. Kelly squinted as she analyzed each visible aspect of the little cow.
"We like to see an appetite. Abby, come closer and tell me what you see."
"Umm," the girl said tentatively as she stepped forward. "Well, she seems happy. And she's eating a lot. There's dirt in her nose. Is that a problem?"
"No, love, it only means she had it a little too close to the ground." Lily chewed pleasantly as Aileen Kelly pressed a stethoscope to her heart girth and listened to her heart rate. "She sounds exactly like she should. Come take a listen."
Abby smiled with pleasure as she accepted the stethoscope and heart the steady thumping of Lily's heart. She then passed the instrument to Ethan and watched him scrunch up his face in thought.
"I can't hear a thing."
"Move the stethoscope around a little," Dr. Kelly advised. She smiled when she saw his face brighten. "And now we need to examine some other things."
"Like what?" Abby asked.
"Well, why don't you lead her around the barn a little, so I can see how well she walks?"
Abby climbed over the fence panel and accepted the lead rope passed to her by Ethan. After she clipped it onto the bottom of the halter, Ethan swung open the gate, and the girl and the cow proceeded forward. Aileen nodded approvingly and stroked her hand along Lily's barrel.
"Yes, she seems healthy. I will ask for a manure sample before I leave."
"Why?" Ethan asked, appalled.
"So I can test her for parasites or other problems you and I couldn't see just by looking, lad."
"But you have no hesitation about putting her out in the field?" Gavin asked.
"Very little. As I mentioned earlier. Mr. O'Sullivan is a responsible farmer. Lily here shows no external signs of parasites. So I will leave it to your digression."
"Well, then," Gavin turned to his children and their cow. "Why don't you take her outside?"
. . .
Sunlight peered through the clouds and illuminated the wet grass, which Abby carefully picked through as she led Lily with a cherry halter. "Well, I have never owned a cow before," she admitted to the pleasant creature. "But I think we'll have a lot of fun together. My brother and I love animals, and by the looks of things, we'll all get along really well. And I imagine you've seen that my dad is really good with animals, too…"
The small cow pulled grass up with her teeth as she walked, eager to snatch any snack she could manage. Abby glanced at her rather indignantly and kept going forward.
"Can you think of anything but your stomach? Well, I suppose you're pregnant. So maybe not."
Gavin smiled as she stepped out of earshot and shook his head. "I appreciate your coming out, Aileen. The kids are already enjoying that cow."
"Yes, I see."
Abby pulled the lead up again and Lily raised her head. "Really, Lily, I understand that you're pregnant and all, but that doesn't mean you should eat everything in sight."
"Abbs, I got it!" Ethan came running from the house with a small container in his hands. Lily snorted uneasily and backed up, causing Abby to take a step back as well.
"Ethan, put that away and—"
But before Gavin could say another word, Ethan had stopped and drew a wand from the tube and breathed a stream of bubbles toward her. Lily reached out and touched one with her nose, blinking with surprise when it burst. Abby clapped her hands to her knees, giggling uncontrollably.
Gavin shook his head and chuckled. "Those children are endless amusement."
Aileen Kelly laughed and extended her hand. "Lovely to see you again, Gavin."
"Likewise," he answered and accepted it with a firm shake. As she made her way toward the truck with the last of her equipment, Gavin leaned his elbows on the top wooden fence slat and smiled at the sight of his children playing with their cow. It was almost perfect.