"Come on, Cinnamon," Heidi coaxed. The horse whinnied its refusal and shook its head. Heidi sighed and steered the horse around the fallen log. No matter what she'd done these past few days, she couldn't coax her horse to jump over it. Pushing a stray strand of her red hair behind her ear, Heidi looked up at the sun, trying to decipher the time. She was due back at the house at exactly 6:00. Her father would be disappointed if she were late. And she really didn't want her stepmother to take advantage of it and turn her father even more against her.
Turning her horse back toward the house, Heidi pushed her into a trot. She loved the feel of the wind against her face, whipping through her hair. She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed in content. This was something she could do for the rest of her life. She felt so free that no one could tell her what to do. She became one with the body beneath her. She moved with Cinnamon, feeling the muscles bunch under her legs when the horse picked up speed. She was almost home and wanted to take advantage of the last little stretch. She pushed Cinnamon as fast as she would go.
Approaching the stables, Heidi reined Cinnamon back. She scanned the area, spotting her father standing with crossed arms and a frown on his face. She winced. Apparently she hadn't made it back by six. Wondering how late she actually was, Heidi checked the sun once again. She knew she'd been pushing her father's patience lately, but when she was on Cinnamon, time was irrelevant. One day she'd been gone from early morning after breakfast till later that evening. Her father had been furious, even after Heidi explained she'd packed a lunch. She hadn't told anyone and that was the main issue. He'd been worried. He always worried and sometimes it drove Heidi nuts.
"Where have you been?" her father asked.
"I'm sorry, father. I didn't realize the time. Am I really late?" Heidi dismounts and pats the side of Cinnamon's neck.
"Late? Heidi, you are over an hour late. It's nearly eight. The cook tried to keep your meal warm, but by now it's hard as a rock. It's what you deserve for disobeying me. What time did I tell you to be home?" Her father was angry and Heidi knew she had to tread carefully. He'd been threatening to take Cinnamon away from her and there was no way she would let that happen. Cinnamon was her only friend around this place. Her father didn't allow her to go to school with the other young girls and everyone avoided her.
"You told me to be home by six, sir," Heidi responded, looking down at the ground.
"You can't keep doing this Heidi. Your mother was very upset you missed the family meal," Duncan shook his head. Heidi's eyes flashed.
"She is not my mother," Heidi murmured.
"You will still show her respect by being on time for dinner," Duncan commanded. "Don't let it happen again, or this time I will make good on my threat and I will sell Cinnamon."
"Father, you wouldn't," Heidi gasped.
"I would and you know it. Now get inside and eat. I'll take care of Cinnamon." Heidi handed her father the reins and then walked slowly toward the back door. She really didn't want to run into her stepmother. Heidi and Stella did not get along. What her father saw in her, Heidi would never know.
She opened the back door, but stopped. Turning and running back to the stables, she found her father carrying her saddle into the tack room. He looked up as she approached. She tucked her hair behind her ears and toed the ground nervously. "I'm really sorry father. Please don't take Cinnamon away from me. She's the only friend I have. Sometimes I just lose track of time and my head is in the clouds. I'm sorry."
"Oh Heidi," Duncan sighed. He pulled his daughter into his arms. "You know I would hate having to take Cinnamon away from you. You must learn though. I was about to go after you. What if an Indian had taken you? Some of the men have been whispering about sightings getting closer to our neck of the woods. I wouldn't be able to handle you getting taken. Please be more careful."
"I will father. I'm sorry I worried you. I'll try to be better. I'm sure no Indian would want me. I'd be nothing but a bother," Heidi smiled. Her father shook his head and headed back toward Cinnamon's stall.
"Go eat before it gets even colder." Heidi knew the smile on her father's face meant hope.
The cook was waiting in the kitchen when Heidi made her way there. Luckily she hadn't run into her stepbrother or stepmother. Both were seriously out to make her life miserable and she avoided them at all costs.
"You're late again," Cook scolded. "Did you see your father?"
"I'm sorry. You know how it is. And yes, father already scolded me. I'm just trying to avoid the stepmother."
"I tried to keep your food warm, but there's not much I could do," Cook responded. "I don't know why you can't keep track of time just once. This is a never ending cycle. You're going to give your father a heart attack if you don't come back. Please be careful, Miss Heidi."
"Thank you for trying," Heidi said honestly. Ginger, the cook, was someone that Heidi could possibly call a friend. When Heidi was younger, Ginger would allow her in the kitchen to try out different recipes and sometimes the results were disastrous. It was always fun and Ginger never minded. She'd always try to salvage whatever she could. "I'm really trying to get better. I understand father's worries about the Indians, but none have ever come this far. Our farm is safe."
"You never know, Miss Heidi. Those Injuns are getting desperate. Your father wants you to be on guard."
"I know. I'll try. You know how easily they hide. I'd probably be feet from one and not even know it." Heidi got a thoughtful look on her face and Ginger noticed.
"What are you day dreaming about, Miss Heidi? I hope no Injuns."
"It would be kind of neat to meet one. What if they speak our language? They are fierce fighters and protect their own. It's kind of romantic if you really think about it."
"Miss Heidi! Don't let your father hear such nonsense come from your tongue! Those Injuns are bad business. Stay away from them! I mean it."
"I know, Ginger. Sorry."
Heidi picked up the plate filled with meat, potatoes, and some green beans. Their garden had been plenteous this year and they were all excited about the corn. Last year their crop was ruined by a twister. Luckily it had changed directions and they hadn't lost the house. It had taken a lot of money and time to fix things, but they were back on track. It had taken a load off of her father's shoulders and she'd actually seen him relax lately. All was well on the farm. Heidi hoped it stayed that way.
As soon as Heidi sat down and took a bite, Stella waltzed into the room. Heidi kept her eyes on her plate and chewed slowly. Maybe if she ignored her, Stella would go away. That wasn't happening. Stella took the chair across from Heidi and cleared her throat. Reluctantly, Heidi met her stepmother's eyes.
"You missed dinner. I told your father to just let you go hungry, but he wouldn't go for it. If you were my kid, you'd have better manners. Your poor father, how could you do this to him?" Stella put all the blame on her. It wasn't her fault that she enjoyed horseback riding and spending time in the woods. Stella thought dirt was a crime against nature. She never got her hands dirty and heaven forbid she ever sweat.
"I'm sorry Stella. I'll try harder next time," Heidi replied. She wasn't going to respond to the comment about her father. At least Duncan was more understanding when it came to his daughter. She was just like her father when he was this age.
Stella's son, Charles, was a perfect angel. Well in Stella's eyes he could do no wrong. She was always comparing Heidi to Charles and Heidi was nothing like him. Charles excelled in all school subjects while Heidi struggled. Their teacher was boring and monotone. It bored Heidi just listening to his voice. She'd even fallen asleep twice while he'd been reading. Both times she'd been caught by Charles and he'd told his mother. Then it got back to her father and Heidi was reprimanded. She'd been unable to ride Cinnamon for two days. It'd been torture.
Don't get her wrong, Heidi enjoyed school. It was the teacher that was the problem. If he made things interesting and maybe did some hands on projects, Heidi would do much better. She loved reading and adored History.
"Don't let it happen again," Stella stood up.
As soon as Stella was gone, Heidi rolled her eyes and finished what was on her plate. The meat was fine cold, but the potatoes weren't as good and she had to force them down. Taking her plate back to the kitchen, Heidi told Ginger good night and started to her room. She passed Charles walking toward the back door. He was probably going to the outhouse.
Surprisingly Charles didn't see Heidi. At least one thing could go right that evening. Walking up the stairs and down the hall to her room, Heidi heard the back door open again. She peered back down the steps to see her father cross in the parlor. Moments later, Stella came out of their room and walked down the stairs to join her father.
"What is she up to?" Heidi mumbled. Stella was always trying to get Heidi in trouble. Looking at the door to her room and then back to the parlor door, Heidi knew she had to find out what was going on. She'd be careful and not get caught. It would be bad if she did and Cinnamon would definitely be taken away. She tiptoed back down the stairs and stopped just outside the parlor door. Pressing her ear up against the door, she listened to the conversation within.
"You have to be sterner with her, Duncan."
"She's just a child, Stella. She needs some freedom." Heidi heard her father pour himself a drink. She waited for Stella's response.
"She needs to be taught that she can't get away with everything. What will she be if she doesn't learn that? She will see being late as okay. That is rude. She disobeys you constantly and you barely reprimand her. That horse is a distraction. She's falling behind in her studies because she rushes through them so she can go outside and be on that beast. I think maybe it's time to sell Cinnamon," Stella told Duncan. Heidi barely kept from gasping aloud. Surely her father wouldn't go for this.
"I have Cinnamon lined up to breed with Tony's horse, Valiant. I can't sell her until after she gives birth. I'm scheduled to take her over tomorrow afternoon. I will talk to Tony and see if we can't keep Cinnamon over there. That will be punishment enough. Cinnamon will remain at Tony's place until we confirm she's pregnant. Will that suffice for now, my dear?" Duncan asked his wife.
Stella sighed. "I don't think it's what's best, but it's your final decision. She's your daughter. Acts just like you at that age."
Heidi pushed away from the door and walked back up to her room. Breeding could take days. There was no way that Heidi could go days without riding. None of the other horses had a close knit bond like Cinnamon and she did. It wouldn't be the same. Surely her father couldn't keep her from her horse? Cinnamon had been a present from her mother right before she'd died. They'd been together for six years now. Heidi had been twelve when her mother died. She still remembered everything about her mother and knew that Stella would never take her place.
Changing into her night gown and washing her face and neck Heidi walked over to her bed and kneeled beside it. She closed her eyes and laid her head on the bed. She breathed in the scents in the room and listened to the sounds all around the house. She heard footsteps come up the stairs and then a door shut quietly. That was probably Charles, back from the outhouse. An owl hooted near her window, causing her to start. She smiled and opened her eyes.
Slowly climbing into bed, Heidi remembered her mother teaching her that little trick. It was her way of letting the day go and letting her thoughts quiet. It made her one with the house and the things around her. Heidi would now easily be able to fall asleep. Picturing her mother's face, she drifted off into the land of dreams.
Heidi was up before even the rooster crowed. It was still dark outside as she slipped into her slacks. She knew her father would disapprove, but was in too much of a hurry to deal with a dress. She pulled on one of Charles's shirts she'd taken almost a year ago. Her next item to make it on her person was a cowboy hat. It had been a gift from her mother to her father. Once Duncan lost his first wife, Heidi's mother, to a horse accident, he'd sworn off riding. He wouldn't even sit on a horse. He'd put his hat away and Heidi had found it months later. She'd always taken it when she went riding. Yesterday had been the first day she'd forgotten it.
Sneaking out of her room and down the stairs, Heidi stopped when a stair groaned loudly in protest of her weight. She winced and hoped it didn't wake her father. He was a light sleeper and would definitely wake if she made too much noise. He would keep her from going.
After making sure nothing stirred, Heidi kept going. She made it down the stairs in into the kitchen with no more mishaps. She grabbed an apple and a sack. She grabbed a loaf of bread, another apple, and a canister for water. She would love to take some cheese, but she didn't have time to worry about that. She had to get Cinnamon and ride away before her father woke. Today was the day he was taking her to breed.
Running out the door and to the stables, Heidi thought she wouldn't make it. The sun was rising and soon her father would wake to start his chores. She pulled the door open to the stables and ran to grab Cinnamon's saddle. She carried her load to Cinnamon's stall and pulled the door open. She hurriedly put the saddle on and then went to find the bridle. By the time she was done, the sun was visible and she could hear sounds from the house indicating the occupants were awake. She tied her sack to the saddle and her canister to the horn. She put her foot in the stirrup and then she was on Cinnamon's back and they were taking off.
Just as she made it through the door and was headed toward the trail leading into the woods, she heard her father open the back door. He called something, but Heidi faked that she didn't hear. By the time she made it into the woods, her father was forgotten and it was time for an adventure.
As she picked up speed, winding through the well known path, her hat fell back, the string the only thing keeping it attached to her. She laughed and enjoyed the moment. She had done it! She'd risen before her father and snuck out without him knowing! It was a good day.
She approached the small river that ran through the middle of her father's land. It was running fast today and she wondered if it'd rained somewhere the night before. She normally liked to soak in the cold water to avoid the heat. Today was no different. She'd just have to be more careful.
She stopped Cinnamon and slid off her back. She unsaddled her and set the saddle on a low hanging branch. After that she took off the bridle and ran her hands over Cinnamon's back. She kissed her horse's neck and then let her wander off. With a whistle, Cinnamon would come back. Heidi never had to worry about her wandering toe far. Cinnamon would graze and stay close.
Walking over to her sunning rock, Heidi listened to the sounds of the forest. A bird called to its mate and the water bubbled over the rocks. She smiled. This was her favorite place. She loved coming here and it was far enough away from the house she didn't have to worry about someone stumbling upon her after she undressed.
Sliding out of the slacks and shirt, she set the cowboy hat on top. She took off her under clothes, hiding them under the hat. Stretching, she loved the early morning sun's rays on her body. It made her hair stand out and made it bold looking. Her eyes always sparkled when caught by just the right light. She loved the green color her mother had blessed her with. It was from the same Irish ancestry that she got her temper, and red hair.
She stuck a toe in the water and shivered. It was colder than normal. She gasped the deeper she got. Maybe it was too early in the morning. The sun would be hotter later and the water would feel better.
"It's too late to back out now."
Heidi dunked herself under the water and came up with a gasp. Her nipples were pebbled and taut. Her skin was prickled with goose bumps. She shivered and started to climb back out of the water. It was too cold to stay in for long. Just as her foot touched the shore, a bird shot out of the bush next to her and she fell back with a scream.
Her body went completely under the surface and she felt the current start to sweep her away. She swung her arms, trying to find the surface. Her head broke the surface of the water and she gasped for breath. How had she gotten so far out that quickly? The water was picking up speed and she was headed toward the center of the river. She paddled toward the shore, but she wasn't making much progress.
Panicking, Heidi started to call out for help. She was too far away for her father or a worker to hear. Was she going to die here? She struggled to get to the shore. She was almost there when she saw a log floating toward her. She gasped and ducked under the water to avoid it. When she resurfaced, she'd lost all the ground she'd gained. She screamed in frustration. Her arms and legs were growing tired. She couldn't even see her clothes or her sunning rock. She whistled as loud as she could for Cinnamon.
She was sucked under and got a mouth full of water. She came up coughing and spitting the water out. Her hand reached toward the shore before she was pulled under. This time she didn't come back up.
Hello everyone! This is a new kind of story for me to write, but I'm enjoying it so far :) Of course I left you off with a cliff hanger! That's just how I roll! The next chapter is written, and Chapter Three is in progress. Enjoy :)