A Second Chance -- Chapter 41

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

Three episodes in a week! I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them (and reading your comments): Dawn.

FRIDAY, June 3, 2016

School on Friday was a dull blur. At lunch Carly and Rachael sat at the table of the Grade Seven students who were organizing their movie night. The girls were thrilled that Carly would give up her Friday night to help, and they also took advice on rules.

Carly told them that Tony would bring pop and popcorn to the library if they wanted (they did) for the normal $2 fee. Rachael suggested that there be a rule that boys would kiss the girls on the cheek only at the end of the movie, with no lip kissing at other times. The girls look relieved at that. Grade Seven was a bit young for full kissing, and a rule specifying what would happen eliminated a lot of stress on both boys and girls. Handholding was allowed. They knew that some couples would probably ignore the rules, but it allowed those new to dating to have a guideline.

The girls had not arranged a film yet, and Carly suggested that they use the same film that the Grade Eights had the night before. She would send the links to the Charlie Chaplin YouTubes. The girls liked this. They had heard the Grade Eights laughing about their movie today. Rachel said they would have to get a different movie next week. Rocky Horror was not really appropriate to 12-year-olds. They decided on Sound of Music, and would check that the video was available when they got to the library.

Carly stressed that she was not cleanup crew: the girls would have to assign tasks, and Rachael made a list of duties for the girls to assign.

Rachael did say that Carly would introduce the show, and outline the kissing rules, which relieved the girls, none of whom liked speaking in public. Carly winked at Rachael, realizing that this would earn her more votes for Top Girl.

After school, Rachael rode the bus home with Robert. The bus driver started to object until Rachael offered her a bribe: a paper sack containing three of her home baked cookies. She was waved to the middle of the bus, and sat next to Robert.

“You can get almost anything in the world, if you offer a few home-baked cookies,” Rachael said with a smile. Robert pouted: “Where are mine?” Rachael dug into her backpack and lifted out another bag of cookies, this one containing two. Robert greedily took one, and offered Rachael the other, but she turned it down, and Robert was chomping on it before the bus left the school.

Rachael noticed that the driver had eaten half of one cookie before the bus was loaded, then set it down as she pulled out from the school. She would pick up the cookie and take a bite at each stop, but didn’t eat while driving, which impressed the girl.

It took over a half hour before they reached the Jackson farm, at the end of the bus route. Apparently Archie’s farm next door was in the rural school district, but the Jackson’s were in the town district.

“These are really good, Miss,” the driver said, taking a bite out of her last cookie as they left the bus. “You can ride this bus anytime.”

“If I bring cookies,” Rachael suggested.

“No, anytime. But I wouldn’t object to cookies if you have them.”

Rachael and Robert walked up the long laneway to the house, after Robert had picked up the mail. It was about a quarter mile lane, but Rachael enjoyed being out in the country air in the spring. Robert noted that it was not so enjoyable in the winter with a blizzard blowing in your face, making the walk take three times as long and much more annoying.

Finally they got into Donna’s kitchen, and Robert’s mother gave a little shriek when she saw Rachael. “Oh, so cute,” she squealed. “Robert said you changed your hair, but I didn’t think it would look so nice. It looks so glamorous.”

“Thanks. I made cookies. For before dinner,” Rachael said. “I got a text from Mom that she wanted to bring rolls. Is that okay?”

“I got a text from her, and that saves us from having to make biscuits. There will be 18 of us tonight, so we will be in the big dining room.”

“Wow, that’s a crowd,” Rachael said.

“We have had more. Remember, we usually have seven just with the Jacksons. There are the four Barrons, and five from the Watsons, Ruby’s family. Then there is Archie and Maddy, Peter’s girlfriend.”

“Can I help?” Rachael asked.

“Thanks for asking, honey,” Donna said. “But Ruby will be here shortly and Teri, Mrs. Watson, always chips in too. I know Robert brought you out early to see the animals, and to ride. Are you still planning on entering the Farmers’ Races on the 25th?”

“Three weeks away?” Rachael said. “I’d like to run Blackie, but I haven’t been on him for over a week. I’ll have to see how I do.”

“Robbie has set up a course out back. He’s been practicing every night for the past few weeks. It is a 5-mile cross country track at the races, and he says he is hoping to break 10 minutes with Blackie.”

“I will break 10,” Robert bragged as he came into the kitchen. “I usually get done in 10:20 or so, but Wednesday I made it in 10:02,”

“Well let’s go race,” Rachael said, dashing out the door. “I call Blackie. You can ride Chocky.”

In the stables Blackie snorted the moment she walked in. He recognized the smell of his favorite human, even after nearly two weeks. She grabbed a pair of apples from the barrel near the door, putting one in her pocket and carrying the other to the horse that was now dancing in excitement in his stall. Rachael opened the stall, and the huge horse nuzzled into her chest, and Rachael felt her energy flowing into him. She gave him an apple and he chomped on it as Rachael ran her hands over his legs, and all over his body.

She examined him closely, looking into his body, and found only one small flaw. It was a tiny tear in a tendon of the right rear leg, probably caused by too much running. She fed energy into the leg, and felt the tendon heal until it was good as new. The weakness must have been there before, but made worse by all the running Robert had done on him.

She looked up and saw that Chocky was all saddled and ready to go. “Are you planning to run bareback again?’ Robert asked.

“No. I was just was waiting for some big strong man to take down that saddle that weighs almost as much as I do.”

Robert walked over and pulled down the big saddle, and thrust it up onto the black’s back, a major accomplishment for him, and he puffed out his chest as he buckled it on, proud that Rachael hadn’t seemed to notice how he struggled with the weight.

Rachael was putting the reins on the horse at the same time, and Robert looked on in awe. The horse was actually helping her put the painful bit in, when he usually fought being reined.

Soon they were both out on the track Robert had laid out. “I don’t know if this is how the course will run, but it should be something like it. After the races all the young boys like to run the course for the next day or two, until they take it up, so I’ve been running them unofficially for years. This will be the first time I have raced the under 16 group. I won pony class when I was 10. Of course, after winning, my pony was no longer eligible in later years.”

They got to the start of the track. “Do you want to walk the track first?” Robert suggested.

“You’ve run Blackie on this track for over a week, right? He will know the way. Time me.” With that Rachael and Blackie darted off down the track, with the Rachael using her powers to sense what the horse was expecting. They made good time around the track, without pushing, and after several minutes she saw Robert at the start point.

Robert was fairly impressed with a time that was going to be under 11, remembering that his first time over the course had been in the low 13s. But Rachael didn’t slow down as she approached, but instead seemed to speed up. She had a maniacal grin on her face as she streamed past, and Robert barely remembered to click the timer. He looked down and saw it was 10:55. He then looked up, and saw that they were nearly out of sight.

Rachael was feeding a need for speed into Blackie, and he was replying by giving his all. The girl was lighter than the boy, and that helped buy a few seconds. But mostly he just trusted her more, and worked harder. Soon they were approaching the boy again.

Robert thought that they were going for a third lap as they ran past him at a blazing speed, and he clicked the lap timer, and saw that they had made the long circuit in 9:12, a minute faster than his normal times. He looked up, and saw that Rachael was pulling Blackie up, letting him cool down a bit as they trotted back to him.

“How did we do?” Rachael asked sliding down from the horse. “It felt really fast. Especially the second lap.”

“10:55 and 9:12. Amazing. I can’t break 10,” Robert said.

“You will,” Rachael said. “I weigh less than you do, for one thing.”

“You were glued to him going around corners. I think the way you leaned into the corners is something I need to try. What are you doing?” Rachael was running her hands up and down the horses legs and flanks.

“Running builds up toxins in the muscles, and a gentle massage releases them,” Rachael said, not mentioning that she was also looking closely at the formerly torn ligament, which now seemed fine after nearly 20 minutes of hard work. She was sure it would be fine for Robert to ride in his practices.

“Don’t you be trying to beat my time,” Rachael warned as she climbed back onto the horse. “I’m lighter than you.”

“And Blackie loves you, and just tolerates me. He still won’t let the twins come close to him. JJ and Dad can handle him well. Dad’s even been riding him over the course. He can’t break 11 minutes, but that still should be enough to win the seniors. It won’t win the open though.”

“The twins still haven’t made friends with him?” Rachael said as they trotted back to the farmhouse. “I was hoping one of them would be able to race the under-20 class.”

“You want him to run in all the races?” Robert asked. “That is five races and nearly an hour of hard running over two days. That’s a lot to ask of a horse.”

“Blackie is a lot of horse,” Rachael said. “You could run the under-20, couldn’t you? Or does running the under-16 disqualify you?”

“No, I can run both. Under-20 starts about an hour after the under-16 ends. The Powder Puff runs first, at 1 a.m. theoretically. Usually they take off at 1:15 and it will take 20 minutes for the last horse to come in. Although apparently you will be at the finish line more than 10 minutes before that.”

“And what happens Sunday?”

“First up is the pony race. Lisa wants to run Duchess in that. It will be her first time. It is on a smaller half-mile course. Then come the seniors, and finally the open.”

“Blackie can do it. Three races the first day, and then two on Sunday.”

“Who will run the open? Me?” Robert asked.

“You could if you want to,” Rachael said. “If not, I will run it.”

Robert whistled. “You run it. It would piss all those farmers off if a 13-year-old boy beat them, but imagine if a 13-year-old girl does. Plus you are faster than me.”

They were back at the stables, and they unsaddled and brushed out their mounts. Chocky didn’t get much of a ride, but she was pretty lazy and didn’t mind. Blackie enjoyed his run with his girl, and nuzzled her before she left. An apple appeared out of her pocket, and he graciously accepted it, sad when she left the stable with the boy.

Back in the farmhouse first Rachael, and then Robert showered and changed. Rachael had brought a second set of clothes to school in her backpack for this express purpose.

Downstairs Rachael joined the women, including Maria, in getting the meal ready. When Robert came down he was nearly tackled by Bobby, begging to go out to the barns.

“How long till dinner, Mom?” Robert asked.

“At least an hour,” Donna said, and Robert allowed Bobby to drag him out into the yard.

The women worked together, and soon had a feast prepared. There was a roast beef from Ruby and her brother’s meat shop, and two deep-fried chickens from Keri’s farm next door. With five cooks there was a number of sides. Five minutes before the meal Maria dumped two plastic bags of dinner rolls of a sort Rachael had never seen into a paper bag, and popped it into the oven, which was cooling after the roast had been taken out.

Rachael set the table, noticing the other young girl in the living room with Peter. “Want to help, Maddy?” Rachael asked.

The teenager got up reluctantly, and came to help, with Rachael introducing herself and then the other women. After a few minutes Maddy seemed to loosen up, and by the time Donna rang the dinner bell, she seemed to be enjoying herself with the women.

The men came in from the barns, and lined up for the washroom. Rachael inspected Bobby’s hands, and he had to go back for a second wash, with his sister scrubbing them clean. They got back to find everyone else seated, except Donna, and Teri, Ruby’s mom. Rachael sat next to Robert while Bobby sat next to Lisa. On Rachael’s other side sat Darrel, Ruby’s younger brother. He was Robert’s age but he looked two or three years younger and attended the country school. He was nothing at all like Chuck, Ruby’s older brother and partner in the butchering business. Chuck was bigger than JJ. Three inches taller, and at least 50 pounds heavier. Rachael had no doubt that Chuck could heft a half beef carcass.

The Moms carried out the roast and the baskets of chicken: one spicy and one regular. The twins immediately reached out for food, and were stopped when Donna snapped. “Grace first. Rachael, I know you enjoy doing this.”

“Lord, thank you for the bounty with which you let us fill this table. But mostly we thank you for the comradeship of dining together as a group, with old friends and new, but to always be friends. Amen.”

Now the battle began, with the forks and knives soon breaking through the defenses of the platters.

“Oh my, I forgot,” Donna said, jumping up and darting into the kitchen. She came out a minute later with a wicker basket containing the strange rolls.

The basket was passed along, and everyone took one. Rachael looked at hers. It seemed lighter than any of the buns from the bakery. She took a dab of butter, which instantly melted on the warm bun. She took a small bite, and her eyes opened wide. She wasn’t the only one.

“These are incredible,” Frank said from the head of the table. Those who hadn’t already tried theirs all took a bite, with the same reaction.

“They are new at the bakery,” Maria said. “We have a new baker on probation. But I think his probation has just ended.” She looked at Geoff, who nodded. “This is his recipe and it is wonderful. We tried them right out of the oven, but they are still just as good. He says they should be good for several days, so people can buy them on Saturday’s for dinners on Sunday or a holiday Monday. We just need to come up with a name for them.”

“Clouds,” Rachael said. “They are light and fluffy, and so wonderful. They even look like little clouds.”

“What a perfect name,” Geoff said. “Can you write something up? I think we need another quarter page in the newspaper next week.”

“At least we now have the staff to handle a rush,” Maria said. “Love Bread nearly killed us.”

“Is that you?” Teri Waters said. “I love that bread. And everything else in there. I’m going to have to add Clouds to my purchases.”

“Phone in your order, and you can pick it up at the end of the day,” Maria said. “And if you do, I’ll put it through as a family discount.”

“Why thank you,” Maria.

“I know that there is supposed to be other announcements today,” Ruby said, glancing at JJ. “But Chuck and I would like to make an announcement first.”

Chuck took over. “As of 2 p.m. today, Ruby and I are tenants in the vacant store at the strip mall the bakery is in. We are opening a location in town. We will still do the butchering and cold storage at the farm, but Ruby will run the store in town. We got a great deal from a Mr. Bill Strong, with graduated rents for the first year. Hopefully when the new year rolls along we will be established enough for the full rent, which is still lower than downtown.”

Rachael pushed her chair aside, and ran to Ruby. “We are going to be neighbors.” She hugged the older girl fiercely, then looked a bit embarrassed as she went to sit back down.

Donna looked at JJ. “Did you want to make your announcement now, JJ? Or wait until after dessert?”

“I would be crazy to get in between my brothers and Mom’s pies,” the young man said. “After.”

The pies then came out from the kitchen. There were apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin and a chocolate crème pie. Each person selected a flavor, and Ruby cut a slice to be passed along.

When it came Bobby’s turn he couldn’t make up his mind. Suddenly Ruby started cutting. When she was done, Bobby had a plate with four small slices together molded into one normal piece. His eyes widened. “Thank you Ruby. I love you. You are the best … lady ever,” he said.

“Why thank you sir. What about you,” she asked Lisa.

“Can I have one like Bobby,” she said, “but no pumpkin.”

Geoff laughed looking at the combination pies that the kids were eagerly digging into. “Mike and I are going to have to come up with a way to make pies like that.”

With the dessert plates empty around the room, JJ stood and silence fell over the room. He walked over to Ruby and stood in front of her. She turned her chair to face him.

“Ruth Ann Watson,” he said, kneeling. “Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? My Ruby to light my path for the rest of time.” He opened a box from Perlon Jewelry and presented her with a silver ring.

“Not a diamond? Good,” Ruby muttered as she picked up the ring and immediately put it on. It seemed to fit perfectly. She looked up at JJ, smiled and said: “Yes, yes, a million times yes. You make me the happiest woman in the world.”

“What an interesting ring, JJ,” Teri Watson said. “What is it? I know Ruby wouldn’t wear a diamond. But I have never seen that design before.”

“Can you explain it Rachael,” JJ said. “Rachael pretty much designed it, and then Mr. Perlon built it to order.”

“The rectangle in the middle is actually two pieces of bone,” Rachael said. “One from a dairy cow, representing the Jacksons, and the other is from a beef cow, representing the Watsons. Chuck supplied the bones. The loop that surrounds the two stones is the infinity symbol, for a love that will last forever. And the stones are a sapphire representing JJ and an emerald representing Ruby, based on the colors of their eyes.” All the women around the table let out a sigh.

“How unique. I will be the only woman in the world with this ring. I love it,” Ruby said.

Rachel noticed after the dinner that Darrel helped the women clear the table while the men went to watch the end of the Blue Jays game on TV. He said he was not into sports. She had also watched him eating during dinner, and he had only picked at his meal, eating far less than any of the other men around the table, including Bobby. Rachael started to get a hunch.

After the dishes were done and packed away, she went into the rec room and gathered up Robert, taking him out onto the porch, where the setting sun was beautiful. “Darrel is a girl, isn’t she?” Rachael said as she lay in Robert’s arms.

“What? Are you crazy? She … I mean he isn’t. He’s a boy. Can’t you tell?”

“Robert, a dear friend of mine is transsexual. She is only seven, but I learned how to tell. And I had a cousin who was trans. You would never lie to me, would you? You know, don’t you?” Rachael said softly.

Robert couldn’t speak. He wouldn’t betray his friend, nor would he lie to his girlfriend. So he said nothing. And that said everything. He was about to get up and go when Ruby came out.

“She knows Ruby. I didn’t want to tell her, but she figured it out. I’m sorry,” Robert was nearly sobbing.

“It is all right, Robbie,” Ruby said, stroking the boy. “How did you know?” she asked Rachael.

“Well, first of all she looks almost exactly like you, and not at all like your brother. She is small and pretty, even dressed up as a boy. What is her name?” Rachael asked.

“Darla,” Ruby said. She turned to Robert and asked him to go get her.

“Only the two of us know. Three now, I guess,” Ruby said. “Darla told me first, about three years ago. Then she was getting beat up by bullies at school, so we told Robert and he got into a few fights, but the bullying ended. I think Mom knows about it, and won’t mind. But Dad will go ballistic, and that’s why it’s been a secret.”

Darla came out, with a scared look on her face. Rachael ran over and took her hands. “Darla, will you be my friend? We will all be in high school together next year. I bet you look pretty in a dress.”

The girl stood for a second, and then fell into Rachael’s arms, sobbing. “You don’t know how hard it is,” she cried.

“No I don’t. But I had a cousin who was like you. And I have a young friend. Bobby calls her his girlfriend, and protects her the way Robert has protected you. But you know, you are almost 14, right?” Darla nodded. “And pretty soon your body is going to start to change in ways you don’t want.” Darla sobbed louder.

“What happened to your cousin,” Darla asked.

“She couldn’t deal with it,” Rachael said. “She committed suicide.”

She felt the girl tense up in her arms, saying nothing.

“You have been thinking of that, too, haven’t you?” Rachael guessed.

“It is so hard,” Darla said. “Yes I have.”

Ruby gasped, and then rushed to join in the hug. “No, no, no, you must never do that. You are my little sister. You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?”

“But what can I do?”

“We will get you medicine so you don’t change,” Ruby said, full out crying now. “I’ve read about it on the Internet. I don’t know how, but we will do it.”

“What about Dad?”

“He … He … I don’t know, but we will make it work. It has to work,” Ruby sobbed. “This was the happiest day of me life, and now this.”

“It is still a happy day,” Rachael said. “It is the day we figure out how to save Darla. I have a plan.”

That night, Rachael kneeled down to a much-needed prayer.

Dear Lord

What a day. The highs of seeing Ruby and JJ get engaged. Then the lows of learning about Darla. Please help me in my plan. It depends on you. But then I guess everything depends on you, doesn’t it. Help save her, Lord.

Amen



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