This must be how the university tests your dedication, because it sure has nothing to do with what I want to do, which is cure sick horses.
I wish Robert were here. I bet I could learn math from him. But I haven’t heard from him and I don’t know if Auntie will mention him in her next letter. So I guess I might as well forget him. He did me a big favor by helping me get this job, and that will have to be enough. Besides, he’s there and I’m here. I had my chance, and if he were here now, the last thing I’d want to do with him would be study fractions, anyway.
I’m not going to think about him any more.
Besides, if I ever want a boyfriend, there’s Lee. He’s always thinking up excuses to hang around. One nice thing has come of it-- he’s made my room in the barn bigger. He's also added more shelves and even found me a regular straw tick mattress and a chest of drawers. And since I have a real home in this barn now, I’ve sort of become in charge of everything that happens in it. I run everything on a schedule and people actually listen to me. Lee says this is good because sooner or later, it means Eli will have to pay me.
That would be nice. I have a feeling I’m not going to earn one of those scholarships to the LPV program, so I’ll need money if I’m to go to school. I’d rather not ask Auntie for it, if I can help it.
We had a bit of excitement around here a few nights ago. A storage barn up the road caught on fire and because it was full of animal feed, it burned to the ground before anyone could do anything about it.
We were lounging on the big patio where those of us who live on the property like to sit after supper while we mend gear and talk about the events of the day. Sabine’s sister Julia was trying to pull a splinter from her daughter’s hand by the light of a lantern, some boys were playing a game by throwing a ball against the side of the house and trying to catch it, horse trainers Erica and Sven were deep in a serious discussion about a difficult two year-old, Patrick was reading a book about atoms, and Lee was picking out a few notes on a banjo while I knitted a sock with some yarn I had unraveled from a discarded and moth-eaten sweater. It was a peaceful summer evening of a kind I’m starting to get used to.
Then we noticed the smell of burning wood on the air. We all looked up and saw the orange glow against the sky.
We knew exactly what it was, but before anyone had a chance to do or say anything, there was a pounding of hooves and a rider came dashing up the drive, finding his way in the dark by memory and by the glow of our solar lights.
“Ogilvie place!” was all he said. He wheeled his horse and took off back toward the main road to spread the word.
We didn’t have to ask what he meant. We all jumped up and ran to get our horses.
I didn’t need a saddle, so I was one of the first ones on the road, and when I got to the Ogilvie place there was already a crowd of hands and neighbors at work. While some gouged firebreaks in the earth with plows and shovels, others formed bucket brigades. They weren’t trying to extinguish the fire in the barn. It was beyond hope, burning so fast and hot that no one could even get close. Instead they were dowsing the buildings nearby, so they wouldn’t ignite from the sparks coming off the burning building.
Thankfully there wasn’t much wind. Someone was handing out wet feed sacks, so I took one and was helping beat down little runners of flame in the grass, when with a roar and a great burst of sparks fanning up into the sky, the storage barn folded into itself and became just a pile of burning rubble, no more dangerous than an ordinary bonfire. We all stopped what we were doing for a moment and stared, wiping our sweaty, smoke-smudged faces.
“Reminds me of the fireworks I saw last New Year’s,” I told the man nearest me.
“I don’t know nothing about fireworks,” he said, “But that’s a lot of good hay gone to waste.”
“Good thing it’s summer,” someone else said. “At least there won’t be any animals going hungry.”
There were murmurs of agreement, and we started doing what we could to clean up the property and set things back in order.
They say that we’ll be having a barn-raising this weekend. I've never been to such a thing, but it sounds like the community well-diggings we had back home in Valle Redondo, where everyone pitched in to help and there was always a feast and dancing afterwards. In the meantime, the men of the Ogilvie place are busy clearing the foundation where the old barn was, and the children spend the time they’re not in school down by the side of the road selling charcoal from the fire out of old cans and buckets.
I bought some, even though I had plenty of my own. It was cheap, and a little community goodwill is always a good thing.
I used the charcoal to make some drawings.
These are some of the grapes growing on our property. I haven’t yet asked if they’re for food or for wine, but either way, I’m looking forward to them being ripe.
And here’s one of the horses that lives in my barn. Her name is Regal Rosalind, but I call her Rosita.
In all it’s a good life here, although I sometimes miss the adventures of the road—the good ones, not the times when things went wrong. And sometimes on warm summer nights with the fireflies blinking in the meadows like my own private galaxy of stars, I wish…
No, I said I wouldn’t think about him any more. I wish for nothing. I’m happy here.