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Chapter 9 Robert’s Visit

Tom stayed away from Annie when he heard about Robert’s visit.

They spoke very little except on that first evening.

‘Diane tells me that they’re all going to Los Angeles next week,’ Annie said.

‘Yes, but the children don’t know yet.’

‘And you’re going to Wyoming.’

‘That’s right. I promised to look at a few horses down there.’

Tom tried not to show his feelings. He didn’t want to make things difficult for her. She probably felt bad about their meeting by the river.

‘I hear that Grace’s father is coming this weekend?’

‘Yes. Grace is so excited.’

‘We’ll see if we can get Grace on Pilgrim for him.’

‘Really?’

‘I don’t see why not. I’ll try it first. If he’s OK with me, Grace can do it for her father.’

‘Then we can take him home.’ She looked into his eyes.

‘Right.’

‘Tom—’

‘Of course, you’re welcome to stay here until you’re ready. You don’t have to leave just because we’re all away.’

She tried to smile. ‘Thank you.’

They did not speak again and Tom spent all his time with Pilgrim. At the end of the week, he rode Pilgrim for the first time. He knew that Grace could ride him too now.

There was a small crowd at the airport, but Robert couldn’t see Annie or Grace. Then he looked more closely at two women in wide hats. They seemed to be laughing at him. He saw, to his surprise, that it was his wife and daughter.

‘Well, well,’ he called. ‘It’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid!’ ‘What brings you into town, stranger?’ said Grace. She took off her hat and threw her arms around his neck.

‘My baby, how are you? How are you?’

‘I’m fine.’ She held Robert tightly.

‘You are. I can see. Let me look at you.’

He couldn’t believe it. He remembered her lying in hospital, sad and empty. Now here she was, full of life and looking happy.

‘Well, what do you think?’ she said to him.

‘What do you mean?’

She turned quickly on one foot and he suddenly understood.

‘No stick. You little star!’

He gave her a kiss and at the same time reached out for Annie.

Her brown skin made her eyes seem clear and so very green. She looked more beautiful than he ever remembered. She stepped in close and put her arms around him. They kissed and Robert held her tightly.

‘It seems a very long time,’ he said at last.

‘I know,’ replied Annie.

On the drive back Grace was so happy to see her parents together again. The final pieces of her broken life were falling into place. There was just one other piece. She had to ride Pilgrim.

The thought worried and excited her. She didn’t want to ride him again. She just knew that she had to. Her worries were not about fear. She worried that she was not good enough for Pilgrim.

Her new leg was now too tight; it was giving her pain all the time. The trouble was that she had to go to New York for a new one. She wasn’t ready to go to New York. First she had to ride Pilgrim.

They drove over the hill and saw the ranch in front of them.

Annie stopped the car to let Robert enjoy the view.

‘Wow,’ Robert said. ‘Now I know why you don’t want to come home.’

Tom wanted to dislike Annie’s husband, but Robert was a nice man. Of course he was. He was full of life, funny and interesting. More important, he was interested.

Tom was driving Robert around the ranch. Robert asked Tom a lot of questions about the animals and plants that they saw.

Grace made fun of him all the time from the back seat.

Tom thought of Annie and all her questions. She and Robert belonged together. He tried to push that thought out of his mind.

It was raining heavily when he took them back to the river house. Grace stepped out of the car and fell badly. She gave a little cry and Tom jumped out of the front seat.

‘Grace, are you OK?’ asked her father.

‘I’m fine.’ She was already trying to get up. ‘Really, I’m fine.’

Annie came running out of the house.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘It’s OK,’ Robert said. ‘She fell.’

They helped her to her feet and into the house.

‘See you all in the morning, then,’ Tom said.

‘OK. Thanks for the trip,’ Robert answered.

Turning round on his way back to the car, Tom’s eyes met Annie’s. That short look contained all that their hearts could say.

Tom touched the front of his hat to them and said good night.

Grace knew that her false leg was broken. She stood in the bathroom and looked at the damage. She also knew that she couldn’t tell her parents.

She decided what to do. She pulled herself over to the medicine cupboard and got out a box of Band-Aids . She was going to do her own repairs. Then she was going to practise on Gonzo before she rode Pilgrim.

Robert was already in bed, waiting.

‘Oh, Annie, I missed you so much.’

‘I missed you too.’

‘Really?’

‘Sssh. Of course.’

He moved his body closer, and she felt his hands on her. She closed her eyes. But she could not stop thinking about Tom, and she felt terrible about that. She knew that this was the end of her marriage. Things were never going to be the same again.

Robert drove Grace down to the stables after breakfast. It was a beautiful clear day and the sky was a sea of blue.

‘Are you OK, Grace?’

‘You’ve got to stop asking me that. I’m fine. Please.’

‘I’m sorry.’

Joe led them to Gonzo. Robert saw that she was walking with difficulty. Once she had to reach for a gate and wait for a moment.

‘No hat?’ Robert asked. She was preparing to get on the horse now.

‘You mean no hard hat?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘No, no hat.’

Robert made a face, then smiled. ‘You know best.’

Grace narrowed her eyes at him. Joe looked from one to the other and smiled. Then Grace put her hands on the back of the horse and lifted up her good leg. Her weight moved to her false leg, which could not hold it.

‘Oh,’ she said, clearly in pain.

‘What is it?’

‘Nothing. It’s OK.’

But tears began to run down her cheeks.

‘Grade, what is it?’

He thought at first that she was in pain. But when she finally spoke, she was clearly angry too.

‘It’s no good,’ she shouted. ‘I can’t do it.’

That same afternoon Robert called the clinic in New York.

Grace needed a new leg, he told them. Then he tried to get plane tickets for all three of them.

‘There’s a problem, Annie. There are only two seats.’

There was a silence while Grace and Robert waited for Annie’s reply. Robert knew there was something different about her; he couldn’t say exactly what. She seemed unhappy. But he told himself that the problem was her job.

Annie was looking out of the window at the perfect late spring afternoon. She turned back to them and pulled a jokey, sad face.

‘I’ll be all alone here.’

They laughed. Grace put an arm around her.

‘Oh, poor little Mother.’

Robert smiled at her. ‘Have a holiday. Enjoy it. After a year of Crawford Gates, you need some free time.’

He called the airport again and got tickets for himself and Grace.

Later, the two families came together for a meal by the river.

Annie found it hard to look Tom in the eye when he handed a drink to her. Their fingers touched on the glass and her heart missed a beat.

‘So, you’re staying on the ranch alone next week.’

‘Oh, yes.’

‘At least there’ll be someone at the end of the telephone if there’s a problem,’ Diane said.

Annie smiled. ‘It’s very kind of you. I know our stay is much longer than you thought.’

Diane went off to check the children.

‘I’m really sorry about Grace,’ Tom said.

‘Yes, well. It’s not too bad. She can ride Pilgrim when you get back from Wyoming.’

‘Sure.’

‘Robert won’t see it — he’ll have to be back at work by then.

But, you know, we have to finish this now—’

‘No problem.’ He paused. ‘Grace told me that you left your job. She said you weren’t too unhappy about it.’

‘No. I feel fine about it.’

‘That’s good.’

A silence fell between them. She looked over towards the fire and Tom followed her look. Robert was cooking.

‘He’s a good man, that husband of yours.’

‘Yes, he is.’

‘I was trying to decide who was luckier.’ Annie looked at Tom.

The sun was full on his face. He smiled. ‘You, because you have him, or him, because he has you.’

They sat and ate, the children at one table and the adults at another. The sounds of talk and laughing filled the spaces between the trees, and the sun went slowly down.

After the meal, Grace asked Joe to show them all a trick with matches. He pushed two matches through his hair. Then he brought them together and they jumped into the air. Everyone laughed loudly. Robert watched closely, his eyes on Joe’s fingers.

He was a lawyer, so his job was to solve problems; he always needed to understand everything. Annie, sitting opposite him, wanted him to fail this time. She didn’t want him to take away Joe’s fun.

‘Oh, I see,’ Robert shouted suddenly. ‘Here, let me try.’

When he succeeded, he smiled. The other children shouted happily, but Joe was clearly not pleased.

‘What about Tom’s trick?’ Grace called. ‘Have you got that piece of rope?’

‘Of course,’ Annie said. She always kept it with her. It was the only piece of Tom she had. Without thinking, she took it out.

Then she knew it was a mistake. She did not want Robert to understand the trick. This was between her and Tom; this was important.

Joe asked Robert to hold up his finger. Everyone was watching, except Tom. He was sitting back a little, watching Annie. He knew what she was thinking.

‘Don’t,’ Annie said suddenly.

Everyone went quiet and looked at her.

‘I . . . I just want to learn to do it for myself Joe paused for a moment and looked at her. He saw that she meant it. He lifted the loop from Robert’s finger and handed the rope back to Annie.

Her eyes met Robert’s. She could see that he was hurt. Later, Tom saw her quietly putting the rope back into her pocket.

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