February turned into March. The afternoons quickly became warm, sometimes even hot. This was the desert, after all, where there wasn’t usually much of a spring or a fall.
Ashley and Katelyn had fallen into a routine. They took their classes, met at the end of the day and went to Ashley’s house, then over to Katelyn’s where Ashley would spend the night. In the morning, Ashley would quickly and quietly scurry through the backyards to her own house under the watchful, protective eye of Katelyn. Sometimes they ate at the strip mall, other times at one of the houses. Although Ashley had money, Katelyn always insisted on buying their lunch when they’d eat out.
When spring break finally came around, Ashley’s mother picked her up at her house with Katelyn in the backseat of the roomy car. Katelyn got out to put her small suitcase in the front passenger seat.
“I want to thank you so very much for letting me come and stay with you, Mrs. Reed,” Ashley told her.
“Nothing to thank me for, sweetie. Katelyn wouldn’t have had it any other way, and feel free to call me Celeste or mom like everyone else does.”
Katelyn took Ashley’s hand in hers and they smiled lovingly at one another.
In less than an hour, they were approaching the farm.
“Belen’s a lot closer than Las Cruces, isn’t it?” asked Katelyn with a smile.
“Sure is,” Ashley agreed.
The farm was a sprawling mass of flat desert with a scattering of sage, cactus, Palo Verde, and mesquite trees. They went down a long dirt driveway and parked in front of what they referred to as the main house. The two-story house was large and rustic-style. It was in good condition for being as old as it was.
“Ken and I really don’t need so much space, but it’s been in the family for so long. Might as well keep it that way,” said Katelyn’s mother.
“Why are we stopping here first, mom?” asked Katelyn.
“Because I have some things to give to you. Then you can drive over to the cottage.”
“Oh, okay,” Katelyn said, gesturing for Ashley to follow them once they exited the car.
The interior of the house was dark and cool.
“With the intense heat we get here, I keep the windows covered with heavy drapes,” Katelyn’s mom explained as if sensing her thoughts.
“You have a lovely home.”
“Yeah, but the cottage is cozier. Katelyn’s got it fixed up nice. You’ll love it when you see it.”
“I’m sure I will,” Ashley said with a smile.
“Ah, but I don’t have a knack for décor,” said Katelyn. “I’m sure, however, that Ashley here could use her keen artistic eye to do something about that.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me if she could,” replied her mother. “After all, you are one sensational artist, young lady. The portrait of you and Katelyn is beautiful. I’m going to frame it and then Katelyn and I can argue over which place it’ll hang in.”
Ashley and Katelyn laughed, then Katelyn said, “Why don’t I keep the original and you keep a photocopy, mom? It was my birthday present after all.”
Katelyn’s mother chuckled. “You have a point there.” She then gave the girls some Tupperware containers of various foods. “There’s everything in there from real food to the sweetest junk food you can find, all baked by yours truly, though I do expect you’ll dine with us occasionally during your vacation.”
“Sure will,” said Katelyn, gathering the containers from the kitchen table.
“Come tonight at around 5:30 and bring the car back, if you can. Loretta and Ed will be here, too. We’ll be having a barbecue.”
“Okay, mom. We’re going to take off now and then we’ll see you in time for dinner. Want me to come early to help get prepared?”
Her mother shook her head. “Nothing to prepare. We’ll just throw the hotdogs and the burgers on the grill once everyone’s assembled.”
With Ashley and Katelyn now in her mother’s car, she adjusted the seat, pushing it further from the wheel to allow extra room for her long legs. “Always gotta adjust things when you’re this tall,” Katelyn said with a smile.
“Gotta do the same down here at my height at times,” said Ashley.
They drove the short distance to the cottage, parking in front of it. Ashley stepped out and gazed at the grazing cattle off in the distance. “I’ll grab what I can,” she said.
“Okay,” said Katelyn who only took one suitcase the first time around so she’d have a free hand to unlock the door with.
Ashley followed Katelyn inside and gazed around. It was a one-bedroom, one-bath cottage with a small kitchenette. The bath and bedroom branched off of the main room while the kitchen was on the other side of it. The room was sparsely furnished with just a couch, a chair, and an entertainment center. A large mauve-colored rug covered most of the room. Matching drapes hung in the windows.
The bedroom was simple as well, only this room was done in pastel pinks and blues. Its queen-size bed had a comforter that matched the drapes in the room’s only window. There was a nightstand on one side of the bed, as well as a large dresser at the foot of it.
“Wow, this really is cute and cozy,” said Ashley.
“It sure is. Especially if you’re going to be living in it with me,” Katelyn said with a wink that
made Ashley’s eyes twinkle with delight.
“Makes me wish graduation was tomorrow,” said Ashley.
“Yeah, I know how it is. I’ve been wishing the same thing. Especially with the killer still at large.”
“You really think it could be Rose?”
“I think anything’s a possibility, but we shouldn’t worry about that now. We’re safe here and we need a fun, relaxing vacation to enjoy.”
“That we do,” agreed Ashley, following Katelyn to unpack the rest of the car.
When they had things in order, Katelyn took Ashley by the hand and said, “Come. I’ll show you around.”
They stepped outside.
“My granddaddy planted these poplar trees long ago for shade,” Katelyn explained.
Ashley surveyed her surroundings. The main house was barely visible through the stand of trees. “They sure do a good job of shading as well as providing privacy.”
“Oh, they do. Both houses have ample shade and privacy from the neighboring properties, though there’s really nothing but other farms and government land surrounding us anyway.”
“Guess that means you could have the Brady Bunch for neighbors and never know it.”
“That’s true. Wouldn’t hear or see a thing. Ever been horseback riding?” Katelyn asked enthusiastically.
Ashley nodded with a smile.
“Come on. There’s not much to see with the cows and chickens, but you’ll love the horses.”
They headed a few hundred feet deeper onto the land and approached the stables. There were three horses in all. One was white, one was brown, and the other was black.
“Oh, wow!” Ashley exclaimed in delight. “What are their names?”
“Tom, Dick and Harry.”
Katelyn nodded. “My dad felt it was suitable for three old geldings. The white one’s Tom, the brown one’s Dick, and the black one’s Harry.”
“Which one you wanna ride, babe?”
“How about Harry?”
Katelyn saddled up the black horse and gently guided it out of its stall past Tom and Dick. “Yes, I know you two are jealous. Someone will ride you both soon, I promise.”
Out in the bright sunlight, the horse’s ebony mane shone brilliantly.
“He’s beautiful,” said Ashley.
“Sure is. Hop on up, sweetheart.”
Ashley placed a foot in the stirrup and hoisted herself up with Katelyn aiding by giving her behind a push. Then Katelyn swung herself up behind her and sat in the back of the saddle.
“You going to be okay without a saddle, Katelyn?”
“Sure, I’ll be fine,” she answered, taking hold of the reins and steering the horse out into the nearby field.
They started at a casual pace, then slowly picked up into a light trot.
“You okay?” Katelyn asked, raising her voice above the wind.
“Oh yes! Can we go faster?”
“Sure. I wouldn’t mind doing a little cantering.”
And so they did. In fact, they did many things during their vacation. They rode the horses, milked the cows, and fed the chickens. They laughed together, had pleasant chats under the evening stars, and made lots of love. They listened to music, watched TV, and went on walks.
Ashley met Loretta and her boyfriend, and in no time at all, began to feel like part of the family.
Both girls were less than eager to return to school once their vacation ended.
“We’ll just have to keep in mind the lifelong benefits our diplomas are going to bring us,” Katelyn said, trying to replace the gloomy atmosphere with hope and cheer.
“Yes, I suppose we should,” yawned a sleepy Ashley as they loaded up the car after an afternoon nap.
This time, Katelyn did the driving with Ashley next to her and her mother in the back.