A long eternity of road, stretched in front of a long brown gate and several pastures, extended far beyond the sky and seemed to go on for forever. A calm breeze blew over the flexible blades of grass that bent elegantly in the wind, also making long strides in the water as it passed over. Both horses and cows roamed the pastures as if they were untamed and free. And as the rest of the world seemed to be in perfect existence, I drove along in a yellow, beat up truck, with a certain stranger in the passenger seat.
She shouldn’t be a stranger. After all, we were family. Cousins, to be exact. As I looked over at her, I wondered if she really was family. The girl, whose name was Sienna, hadn’t said a word since I picked her up from the small airport.
Can’t blame her, I thought. Guess I’d be the same if my parents had died. I looked over at her. Her chin was in her hand while the other rested in her lap as she looked out the window. Her hair, the color of dirty blonde, was cut short and turned up at the ends. On top of it rested an army green hat with few holes in it. She was wearing a sleeveless jacket with a long sleeved shirt, the same color of her hat. Purple leggings, with one hole in the knee, were worn underneath a short, jean skirt. On her feet were heavy black clogs. She looked like an ordinary city girl.
I drove on, wondering how she would adapt to this new life. I remembered she had only been five or six the last time she had visited the farm. I also remembered she was frightened of everything.
Feeling an odd silence, I cleared my throat. Sienna didn’t move.
“Do you think you’ll like the country?” I asked.
It took a while for her to meet my eyes. They were dark blue…almost black. “Don’t know,” she answered in a soft voice.
“It’s beautiful,” I answered, trying to sound casual. “And big. There’s a lot to do.”
She didn’t answer.
I gripped the steering wheel tighter. This felt so weird. It was as if she didn’t trust anyone.
After several more minutes of silence, she finally asked, “Do I get my own room?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “Definitely.” I didn’t think that would matter much to a thirteen-year-old, but it’d be best to sound more encouraging than at odds.
She sighed. I couldn’t tell if she was pleased or not.
I was glad when the road branched off and there came to be a fork in the road. I took a right turn and went as quickly as I could without speeding. I just wanted to get home. I couldn’t think straight with all this silence, as weird as it sounded.
Soon, our large, yellow, three story house came into view. So many times I had driven, walked, and ran up to the house as a kid and it seemed different than how it felt now, since Sienna was permanently living with us.
It wasn’t a bad thing. I just didn’t know how much good would come out of this. I knew that she needed a home, and since there weren’t any other relatives that would take care of her, my parents would have to.
I just hoped everything would turn out. By the looks of the girl now, she wasn’t going to bring any more sunshine to Cheyenne than there already was.
I stopped the truck and it lurched forward. It always did that.
“We’re here,” I said, smiling at Sienna. She looked up and tilted her head slightly. “Where’s the house?”
“Behind you,” I answered, opening the door and climbing out.
She did the same.
I took a tattered looking duffel bag and a suitcase from the bed of the truck. “Is this all you brought?” I wondered why I didn’t notice it before.
“I guess the rest of my stuff is being shipped over,” she said.
I kept myself from laughing. It would take a long time for boxes to get shipped over to the house since it was situated in a place kind of the middle of nowhere. “I guess,” I answered.
I took both of the bags and began walking toward the house. I was halfway there when I realized she wasn’t following. I looked behind me. She was still standing by the truck.
I set the bags down and walked over to her. “What’s wrong?”
She ran her hand up and down her arm. “I’m scared.”
I was going to ask what of, but then I understood. Of course she was. “It’s okay,” I said. “Mom and Dad are real laid back people. They’ll love you.”
She didn’t move. “You’re sure?”
I laughed. “Yes.”
She trailed behind me like a dog. It seemed as if she was trying to make herself unseen.
We walked in the door. Almost immediately, Mom came running from the kitchen and into the hallway.
“Sienna!” she smiled, enveloping her in a hug.
Awkwardly, Sienna stood frigid as Mom put her arms around her. Dad came into the room next. He looked like he hugged her so tight he almost mashed her.
“Goodness,” Mom said, grinning. “It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen you. How old are you now? Thirteen?”
Wow, I thought. I, too, thought she was thirteen. She looked younger than what she really was.
“Well, you look just like your mom,” Dad said. Sienna’s mom was Dad’s younger sister. He’d been really upset when the accident happened…but I guess he didn’t want Sienna to know that. “You have her eyes.”
“Her eyes were prettier.” The girl’s voice was so low I could barely hear her. “She was prettier.”
Mom laughed. “You’re the spitting image of her,” she said. “Except you got your daddy’s hair.”
She didn’t answer.
I can see where this conversation is going, I thought.
“Well, Ethan, take the bags up to her room. Gosh, is that all you brought?” Dad looked over at the two bags, obviously bewildered.
“The rest of her belongings are being shipped,” Mom said. “Don’t worry about it.”
Confused, Mom ushered Dad over to the living room. As she did, she told me, “Take Sienna to her room, Ethan.”
I took the bags and motioned for her to follow. We walked up the long, wide staircase and down the hallway. I opened the door and led her inside the room.
It was actually the guest room. I didn’t tell her that, though. That just sounded wrong. Mom had spent the last week cleaning it and re-wallpapering the whole place so that it looked like a regular room. If I hadn’t known, I would have thought it was just a regular bedroom.
I set the bags down and sighed, somewhat good naturedly. I watched as Sienna took the red suitcase and set it next to the bed. Then I watched her lay down.
“Well,” I answered, still standing. “I’m sure Mom’s cooking something special since you’re here.”
“She didn’t have to do that.”
“Of course she did,” I answered.
She sighed. “Would your parents mind if I didn’t come down to eat? I’m—not real hungry.”
I shrugged. “Probably not,” I answered. “I’ll tell them.”
“No problem,” I answered, beginning to walk toward the door. “I guess I’ll see you…in the morning?”
“Okay,” I said, more to myself than to her. I shut the door and began walking downstairs.
Both my parents were in the kitchen. “Is she settled?” Mom asked.
“Yeah,” I answered. “She’s not coming down for dinner.”
“What? Why?” Dad asked.
“Can’t blame the poor child,” Mom sighed, shaking her head and stirring something in a bowl. “Her parents die in that horrible accident only three weeks before, and now she’s here with complete strangers. I feel for her.”
I leaned on the counter. “Complete strangers? Thought we were family.”
“She’s only met us twice before,” Dad said.
“More strangers than family, then, I guess.” I crossed my arms. “Do you think she was always so quiet?”
Dad put a finger to his lips, meaning if I didn’t start being quiet then she’d hear me. “I don’t know. I remember she never was real outspoken.” He stripped a cob of its cover as he said, “A lot like Amy.”
“Your sister was more energetic,” Mom said. “She seems sort of shy and quiet.”
“Well yeah,” I answered. “Didn’t you just say—,”
“Yes, I did,” Mom said. “Poor child.”
I couldn’t help but agree with her.
I woke to the familiar feel of sunlight on my eyelids and face. In Indianapolis, I felt a lot of sunlight, but never this much. Cheyenne seemed like it outdid Indianapolis in every way, and I didn’t like it.
I stretched and forced myself not to look out the window. I didn’t want to see anymore country, beautiful as it was. I promised myself I would never love anymore country. I hated it here. I didn’t want to be here, although Ethan was all right. He reminded me of Dad…just a younger version. They had the same build and same hair color although they weren’t closely related. It was too soon to tell about my aunt and uncle (what were their names?).
Minutes passed. I looked on my alarm clock and saw it was nine thirty. I lay in bed until nine forty-five, and then made myself get up. I didn’t open the blinds until I had ripped off my nightgown and put on jeans and my pink T-shirt with lace at the bottom. I touched the lace and thought of my parents. Mom had picked out the shirt, but Dad bought it for me.
I pulled down the shade. It bounced up like a yo-yo. As I looked out, I saw my uncle in a tractor, doing…something in the fields. Ethan was doing something with the horses. But where was my aunt?
As if on cue, a knock came at my door.
“Come in,” I answered, not completely sure of what to say.
It was my aunt. She looked familiar…not at all like Mom. For one, she was much plumper. And Mom kept her hair curly. My aunt’s hair was much more straight, and she kept in a pony-tail.
“Good morning, honey,” she said. “Did you find everything all right?”
What was there to find? “Yes,” I answered.
“I’m sorry we don’t have anything to put your clothes in,” she said. “I mean, there’s a dresser in the attic that used to be Ethan’s—,”
“It’s all right,” I answered. “I’ll just…keep them in my suitcase.”
She smiled. “Well, we’ll have to get you a dresser or something.”
When I didn’t say anything, she asked, “You don’t remember me much, do you?”
“Not really,” I said. Then I realized how rude that must have sounded! “I mean—,”
She only laughed. “It’s all right. Just so you know I’m your Aunt Sharon. You’ve got an Uncle Joseph, but everyone calls him Joe. You can too, if you want. And you know Ethan.”
“Thank you,” I answered.
“Well, breakfast is downstairs if you want it. Then once you’ve eaten you can explore the farm. There’s a lot to do.”
Do I have to? I thought. Exploring farms didn’t really get the best of me.
“You’ll find something to do,” she said. “Come down when you’re ready.”
I decided to follow her downstairs. I was afraid I would get lost trying to find my way by myself. The house was so big…much bigger than what I was used to.
When I sat down at the table, she placed a plate of food in front of me. It was loaded with eggs, bacon, and toast. “I wasn’t sure how much you ate,” she said. “You can’t eat much, but I decided to give you some extra. You need some meat on your bones.”
I ate. It had been such a long time since I had eaten some good food. All the people in those foster homes made those disgusting TV dinners…ugh.
“You don’t drink coffee, do you, Sienna?”
Mom never let me. “No,” I answered.
“Well, I’ll give you a bit because it gives us energy around here.” I watched a stream of black dive into a small mug. She put that in front of me as well.
I took a sip. It burned my lip and my tongue. I set it down and ate a piece of bacon.
Once I had finished (she made me eat everything, like I was a little kid) I walked back up to my room. I didn’t want to go outside. Not yet.
I stood in the doorway and looked around. The walls had pink flowers against a white background. Tiny green leaves arose from the stems of the flowers. Straight ahead was a large window, and then in front of that was my bed. On one side was my luggage. In my suitcase I put my clothes, and in my duffel bag I put my treasured belongings. Not all of them—just the best.
On my left was a closet. The reason I didn’t put my clothes in it was because it was filled with other boxes. Aunt Sharon had promised to get those out so I could put my belongings in there. She also said she would send Joe and Ethan to get a dresser. I had my own dresser, but I didn’t think it would make it here.
I walked over to the duffel bag and began to take my things out. I put the pictures of my parents and me on the small table beside the bed. I put some books on there too. Next was my diary. I didn’t think anyone would read it, but just to be safe, I put that under the mattress. The other things I had, such as my iPod, wallet, hair straitener, make-up, and jewelry, I organized safely and put it under the bed. I did the same with my clothes.
I looked back out the window. Why didn’t I want to go outside? I never had been much for outdoors, but I hated being stuck inside a house, even if it was enormous.
Quietly, I crept down the stairs and walked out the kitchen door. As rude and as awful as it sounded, I didn’t want to make conversation with my aunt unless I had to.
Ethan was out in the fields, as I had seen him before. I looked farther up the grassy planes and saw my uncle—Joe—working with a…tractor? I’d never seen one up close before, so I wasn’t sure. Part of me wanted to go investigate what my uncle was like, but he looked busy. Besides, I felt awkward going up to him and asking, “How’s it going?” like it was the most casual thing in the world. That was just…weird.
Then I could talk to Ethan. But he looked busy, too, stringing wire around a fence. (From the way he was doing it, it looked hard.) I didn’t want to be a bother, though, but he was really the only I trusted or, rather, knew…
Slowly, I walked up to him. It seemed like he didn’t hear me. I stood there for several minutes until I heard him ask, “Do you always walk that quietly?”
Surprised, I watched him as he didn’t look up at me when he spoke. He must have seen me from his peripheral vision…or whatever it was called.
“Not really,” I answered. “I just didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Too late now.”
I felt embarrassed until I looked down and realized he was smiling up at me, obviously joking.
I smiled. It would take a miracle to get me to laugh again, though.
“Did Mom make you come out here to do chores?”
Taken back, I answered, “No.”
“Just wondering. Usually she doesn’t let us kids get away with taking it easy.” He twisted several more wires around the fence.
“Us kids?” I asked. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” That had to be the most I’ve said since I’ve been here.
“Have an older sister,” he answered.
“What’s her name?”
I searched for more questions. “Why do you live all the way out here? Why can’t you live somewhere that’s closer to town?”
He stopped for a moment. Then, standing up next to me, he said, “Well, look around you.”
I did, and saw pastures and green fields. A gentle wind ruffled the grass and seemed bound for my hair, which it blew through rapidly. A spring was trickling down by a large, brown-red barn nearby. There were mountains in the distance. With the beauty of the countryside, there was absolute silence, except for the wind blowing in between the grass in the fields. For the first time I’d been here, I’d realized how beautiful it was.
Gasping, I answered, “God’s green earth.”
He laughed at my choice of vocabulary. “Exactly. Around here there’s so much more…I don’t know. I guess you could say we appreciate life and land more. And we not bothered by things in the city. Plus—,” he sat back down. “—they’re doing what they love.”
“I see,” I answered. Then I asked, “They? You’re not doing what you love?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess.”
He didn’t say anything after that, and I wondered if what I asked was wrong.
I wondered why she had approached me. It wasn’t like we had known each other for a long time. But I guess she knew me a little better than she did Mom and Dad, but still.
Now she was asking me questions. Questions I really didn’t mind, but one made me want to stop talking for forever. Like when she asked me about Taylor.
But that didn’t bother me. Other than her very sudden change of mood, she seemed like a nice kid. A lot more lively than what she had been yesterday. It was like she had come out of a shell.
As she sat there, watching me, I noticed her attire this time, and almost laughed. She wouldn’t last very long wearing those things.
“Did you hear me?”
I looked up. “What?”
“I asked you a question.”
“I’m sorry,” I laughed. “What was it?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
I hid my laugh. “No.” Then, “Why do you ask that?”
“I don’t know. You seem a lot different than other guys. How many friends do you have?”
I looked up at her this time. Then, sighing, I answered, “Just other people I know who live on a farm like us.”
“How many people is that?”
I laughed again. “What does it matter? I don’t know how many it is.”
“Well, I feel like my social life is going to suffer now that there’s really no where to go.” Then, as if a thought came to her, she said, “How do you go to school?”
“Online.” I had done it that way for so long I had forgotten there were other ways.
She sighed loudly. “So there is no way you get out from here?”
“There’s ways,” I answered. “It’s not like we’re stranded out here.”
“That’s what it seems like to me.”
“Maybe. But it’s not true. Once you’ve lived here for several weeks, you’ll get used to it. Eventually you’ll love it.”
She stood up and began to walk away, whispering under her breath, “I doubt that.”
I shook my head. I don’t, I thought. A few weeks in the country would change anyone. Even her.
Soon after, I walked back into the house. Mom was in the kitchen (where else) at the stove. “How you doing?” she asked.
“Feels pretty good,” I answered.
“Good.” Mom looked at a book in front of her, and then asked, “Have you seen Sienna?”
I chug-lugged a glass of water. “She was out talking to me a second ago.”
“I was wondering if she could help me in here a moment. I could use the help.”
I smiled and turned around, going back outside. Obviously, Mom was only asking for the girl’s help because she didn’t want her to feel alone. I knew she didn’t need help. She’d gotten along fine for seventeen-plus years without anyone.
Walking back outside, I went into the barn. The horses, one all black and one red-brown, were standing still in their stalls. I ruffled one’s mane and walked to the far end of the barn where the largest stall was. There, I saw the fattest horse we had. She was tan colored, unlike most farm horses.
I petted her face and neck as I passed by. She had to be sweltering in this weather, although it wasn’t really hot out.
Walking back out from the barn, I took a bucket from one of the stalls and walked out to the pasture.
At dinner that night, it was different than usual. Most times, there would be more talking and laughing. This time, it was more silent. Sienna seemed to go back into her shy manner as she did the day before.
“When did you send your things out to be shipped here, Sienna?” Dad asked.
She seemed a little confused, and then said, “Julianne sent them the day before I left.”
“Julianne?” Mom asked.
“My foster mom.”
“I see,” Dad answered. “Well. You’re stuff should be here in a few days.” He looked at me. “Ethan?”
“Do you think you can handle that dresser in the attic?”
“Uh, yeah,” I answered. “Sure. Do you want me to get it now?”
“That’s not necessary,” Sienna said.
“Goodness,” Mom said. “You don’t want all your clothes do get wrinkled in that suitcase, do you?”
“Really, I don’t mind,” Sienna answered.
“No,” Dad said. “We don’t mind. Your clothes may smell like mothballs for a few weeks, but it’s better than having them shoved in a suitcase under the bed.” His joke made him laugh.
I watched Sienna cringe.
“You know,” I said. “I don’t know if that’s the best idea. That dresser’s likely to fall apart any day now. I also think there’s some spiders in there. You don’t like spiders do you, Sienna?”
She shuddered. “Not really.”
“Ethan, really,” Mom said. “Do you think there are…spiders in there?”
“And mold, probably.” Sienna’s shudder turned to a small smile.
“Well, that sure won’t work,” Dad said. “I’m sure we’ll find you something.”
“To be honest, I don’t mind,” she answered. “I can wait several more days until my dresser comes.”
“Oh, hon. Are you sure?” Mom was compassionate.
“Yes. Very.” Sienna smiled at my parents, and then glanced at me as if to say ‘thank you’. I smiled back.
Later that night, after Sienna had gone upstairs, I was sitting in the living room with my parents. It was always something small that we had each evening. Amongst all the business and working during the day, we always seemed to find some room to fit each other in our busy schedule.
“What did she do the entire day?” Dad asked, rocking in his chair.
Mom yawned. “She helped me in the kitchen earlier. I think she was finding her way around the house and farm the rest of the day.”
“Did you see her at all, Ethan?”
“She talked to me a little,” I answered. “That was only about ten in the morning though.”
“Oh?” Mom asked. “What did you talk about?”
“Not a lot,” I answered. “She asked me about Taylor.”
“She did?” Dad asked.
“What did you say?” Mom seemed more awake now.
“She just asked if I had any other siblings, and I told her.” I stopped. “She didn’t ask about her, though.”
“Good thing,” Dad said. “Anyway, what do you think if we sort of gave her some chores? Not to be mean to her or put her to work immediately, but just to kind of get her mind off her parents? I think it would help her.”
“I think so, too,” Mom said. “She seems so conservative. But not right away. Give her a few more days to get used to this place.”
I agreed with them as they talked. But for the first time that day, I wondered why she didn’t ask anymore about Taylor. Strange.
As for the first day, it seemed to be okay. There wasn’t much to tell. I looked around the farm, and a little of the house. I only feel comfortable in this room, and I do more with Ethan that I do anyone. I expected him to be very different. But he’s really nice. He saved me from having my clothes smell like mothballs and dust for days. I don’t know how he knew, but somehow he did. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a snob, because I really think differently about him.
There are other things, too. When I was talking to him, he told me he had a sister. Taylor was her name. I didn’t ask him about her although I was dying to. I wonder if there is any sort of memorabilia about her. I’ll either check in the attic tomorrow or ask Aunt Sharon. Preferably I’ll snoop in the attic.
I’m still not sure what to think about Joe. He was Mom’s brother, but he seems the most different. Maybe he’s still sad because of Mom’s dying. I’m almost kind of scared to approach him, but I probably should get it over with. The more I get to know everyone, the better I’ll be, I think.
Other than my family, there are a lot of downers about this place. For one, I can’t go anywhere. (As if there was somewhere to go.) Ethan says they never really go anywhere. If this is true how do they get their mail and groceries?
I have no idea how I’m supposed to make friends. Apparently, I have to go to school online. How much more…’country’ can you get? Don’t they have any idea about my reputation and how I’m supposed to keep it? Of course, no-one in Indianapolis really cares at all about what I’m doing right now, since I’m living four plus states away from where my life was.
Know what has really shocked me? I haven’t cried once since Mom and Dad died. It’s not that I don’t miss them, because I miss them more than I miss living in the city. Much more. But I can’t find the tears to cry for them. It’s like I try to, but I can’t. Maybe if I didn’t spend so much time thinking about it, then I would have the strength to cry.
It’s like whenever Mom and Dad were alive, I would drive myself to heartache thinking about how much I would miss them if they were gone. Now that they are gone, I can think of anything else but them, but it’s just different than what I thought it would be. I thought I would constantly be crying and finding no purposes to live. But I’m not. Maybe it’s because I’m living here in a different place than where I grew up. I don’t know.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I would take living with Mom and Dad in Indiana a million times more than I would take living with these people in the country.
It was still dark outside when my eyes opened that next morning. I looked outside and then fell back down into bed. For some reason, I didn’t want to get up. Which was strange. I had gotten up at six o’ clock every morning ever since I was a kid, and it had never bothered me.
Yawning, I sat up, my eyes still closed. Then, I opened them, picked my jeans and t-shirt up from the floor (from the previous day) and began walking downstairs. Mom and Dad, of course, were already awake. As I passed by Sienna’s room, I noticed all the lights were still off and there was a rather large lump in her bed. Still asleep, I thought.
Dad was sitting at the table, laughing with Mom, who was at the stove, flipping something.
“Morning, son,” Dad said.
I offered my hello followed by an, “I’m tired this morning.”
“You worked hard yesterday,” Mom answered, scooping some pancakes on my plate. “Eat.”
“You want some coffee?” She asked as she walked back to the stove.
“I’ll get it,” I answered.
“Sit down,” she said. “You need your strength.”
I laughed as I did. So did Dad. Life wouldn’t be the same without Mom telling us what to do.
After breakfast, Dad and I walked outside to the barn. Several bits of sunlight were coming up from behind the mountains, casting shadows on some parts of the pasture than others.
“Check on the horses, Ethan,” Dad said. “Then meet me in the fields.”
“I will,” I answered. Then we parted.
I made my way to the stalls and checked on the first two. Their eyes were closed, but they opened as soon as I began taking steps toward them. I patted both their backs as I passed by. I gave them each a sufficient amount of hay before I walked to the last one’s stall.
“Hey, girl,” I said, opening her stall and walking in. The horse was huge. I gave her some more water and extra hay. In her condition, she needed it.
I met Dad back out at the fields as I promised. It was windier outside, but the cool air felt good.
“We’re going to start a new life,” Dad said.
“We’re going to sell the crops on this land, use the money to buy more horses, and get a ranch. What do you think?” Dad’s grin was so big I could see it clearly in the dark.
“Get a ranch? We’re moving?” I asked.
“No, absolutely not. Cheyenne is our home. This is our home. But there is money in ranching and horses, more than farming. What do you say?”
“Let’s do it!” I answered. That was more exciting than farming any day. “Does Mom know?”
“Yeah. That’s what we were talking about this morning before you came downstairs.”
“What about Sienna?”
“I don’t know if she could care less,” Dad said. “But she will.”
“What do you mean?”
“Once she starts working around here, her life will change. It’s like I was saying last night.”
“Yeah, probably right. When are you going to have her start working?”
“Well, your mom doesn’t want to push her too much at first, which I agree with. But just as soon as we sell the crops and start ranching, then we’ll put her to work.”
After Dad finished talking, we set to work. Dad began by telling me that he had already harvested most of the crops for that year, and he wanted us to begin by building new stalls for the horses we would be getting. He also said we would be hiring some hands to help us with the construction of it.