It was just past 11:45pm when Ann’s car pulled into the ranch. She’d made good time driving, stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. She was relieved to see the glow warm glow of lights inside the ranch house as she approached. Dee’s dogs heard the car pull in and were shaking the house with their excited baying as Ann grabbed her bag from the trunk. She looked up from her car to a flashlight beam staring her in the face and three older hounds sniffing her from the knees down.
“It’s a good thing it’s you. What’s the matter? Your damn phone doesn’t work? You can’t even call a friend to tell her you’re coming?” Grumbled Dee.
“I’m really fucking glad to see you too.” Ann laughed while hugging her friend who smelled like cinnamon and coffee. She broke away from the long embrace to kneel and pet the hounds milling at her feet. They were relatives of her beloved Luke, castaways from a hunting pack. They smelled Luke and every other animal she had touched in the last 24 hours and their tails wagged eagerly as she pulled their long and tattered ears. She lovingly stroked their stiff coats and paused when she felt a tumor on the belly of the oldest one. “Hey, Eve has a big lump on her belly? Is she okay?”
“She’s just getting older, like all of us.” Replied Dee as she lugged Ann’s bag toward the ranch house.
Ann followed with a cloud of dogs swirling happily around her feet. Heading up the steps toward the door, she stroked the head of a barn cat perched on the railing. The cat smiled and arched her head and neck into the palm of Ann’s hand. Inside the ranch house, Ann should not have been surprised to find two teenaged girls playing cards on the living room floor. “Mary, Colette, you remember Ann – right?”
“Hey Ann” they politely lifted their eyes from their game but were anxious to get back to it.
“What are you girls doing at the ranch so late at night?” Ann asked. She looked up to see Dee making a warning face, letting her know not to pursue this line of questioning. The girls shrugged and Mary leaned back onto Eve’s soft belly once the old hound had settled back on her dog bed by the fire. Ann followed Dee’s motions down the hall to drop off her bags.
“What the hell are you doing with kids here this late on a school night?” Ann whispered.
Dee sighed “Mary’s mom is on another bender. She forgot to pick them up. I called Collette’s mom and told her that the girls were working on a school project together and that I’d bring them both to school tomorrow morning. You can’t a big deal, because Mary’s struggling with it and what keeps her solid is Colette and the horses.”
“Jeezus Dee, do you have to solve everyone’s problems?”
“What else am I supposed to do, let them drive in the car when Mary’s mom is bombed out of her mind?” Dee asked.
“No, you call Child Protective Service, or Mary’s dad or someone.”
“Like that’s going to do anyone any good. Here’s your bed, I’ll grab some sheets. Are you hungry? The girls and I made apple pies.” Dee was already heading out of the room.
Ann put her bag down on the bed just as Ruth, the youngest hound jumped up and laid down in the center. She looked up at Ann as if to say “let’s snuggle, I’m tired too.” Ann laughed and gave in. She kicked off her shoes and laid down next to the warm body. Ruth licked her once and before Ann knew it, she was being nudged by two girls bearing a plate of hot apple pie, cold vanilla ice cream and a steaming cup of coffee. Ann sat up in the bed and Mary, Colette and Dee all joined her and Ruth in the room to eat pie. “you don’t really expect me to drink coffee at midnight do you?” Ann asked between bites of the delicious pie.
“If you are going to storm this ranch in the middle of the night with no warning, you had better plan on staying up late for girl talk.” Dee laughed as she sipped her coffee out of the chipped mug that Ann remembered having made for her many Christmas’ ago.
“You still have that mug.” Ann commented.
“Gethsemane, one of the most amazing horses ever to grace a track. Of course I still have it.” Dee turned the cup around to admire the picture of the giant chestnut in full racing stride on the cup.
“I just wish that horse would have had better feet. Gawd we tried hard to keep him together. When they vanned him off the track in the Pacific Classic, I knew that was it.” sighed Ann.
“He deserved better than that.” sighed Dee.
“Better than what? The owners spared no expense to do surgery and put him up at the best horse hospital in the States. They tried everything to save him” Ann countered.
“I dunno Ann. I just feel like…. I dunno.” the silence thickened between them and the girls busied themselves petting the dogs and letting them lick their empty pie plates.