“We are approaching a hill.” Renee twisted sideways in her saddle so she could look behind her. Five customers rode in single file as she led them down the wooded trail. “Please lean forwards as we go up. This will help your horse’s balance as well as your own.” Renee loved this job. It almost wasn’t a job to her. She got to ride horses all day. She wished the stable remained open all year long, but that wasn’t feasible. With the deep snow and cold during the winter, trail riding would be impossible.
After an hour on the trail, Renee returned to the stable barnyard with her group. She reminded her customers to remain on their horses until a staff member was there to take the horse from them. The leather saddle creaked at she dismounted Stormy. The tall, black-and-white pinto was her favorite horse at the stable. She wished she could always ride her, but sometimes she had to lead ponies for little kids. That was impossible from the back of a taller horse. They used the shorter horses for that.
She thought often about Horsemanship15 throughout the day. He was amazing with horses, from what she could tell. I wonder if he would come riding with me at my workplace sometime. That would be fun. Then she could meet him face-to-face. Renee strode quickly up to Sandy, a calm palomino across the barnyard. After checking the cinch that it wouldn’t slip, she released her from the rail and swung on. Rachel, one of the girls she worked with, approached and handed her Frodo’s 5-foot rope. The black pony walked snugly against the Sandy. Renee smiled at the 5-year-old child perched in the tiny saddle.
“Are you ready to have fun?” The little girl grasped the saddle horn with both hands and nodded vigorously, her dark curls bouncing around her rosy cheeks. Renee turned her mouth up in a bright smile. She thought about what it would be like someday to have children of her own. She pictured little feet pattering around the house, sticky faces, and bubbling laughter. Yes, that was what she wanted. Of course, children sometimes needed discipline, but she could do it.
Renee started down the trail with her group of customers. She turned sideways in her saddle and looked down the long line of people riding single file behind her. This was a very large group, so Sarah and Jodie were riding with her: Sarah in the middle and Jodie in the back. They helped her out by making sure the customers were safe by reminding them to heed Fremont Riding Stable’s safety rules.
“Please remain in a single file line, no passing!” Renee raised her voice so the group could hear her. The other two wranglers would repeat what she said so everyone could hear. “Keep your heels pressed towards the ground; this is for your safety. Please keep at least one hand on your reins for the whole ride. This is how your steer your horse. Do not let your horses stop to eat. And lastly, remain on your horse until we return to the barnyard.” Renee’s thoughts were kept occupied as she rode. The little girl next to her needed constant attention. Young children often had trouble with keeping themselves firmly seated in the saddle. So, Renee often had to reach over and reposition the little girl. Otherwise she would fall off her pony.
The trees above provided a multicolored canopy, the sun gently filtered through and pooled on the trail. Renee enjoyed that the trail was mostly tree-covered. The hot sun was kept at bay, so the customers had a more enjoyable ride. The end of September this year was hot for Michigan. Renee preferred a cooler autumn.
The well-kept barnyard came into view as they finished the hour-long ride. It was the end of the workday, so most of the horses had been cleaned up and put out to pasture. A few of the staff members were gathered waiting to help the customers dismount. Renee rode almost up to the barn, dismounted, and then helped the little girl down. With one hand, she held her horse and the pony’s rope. She held the little girl’s hand with the other to help her to a bench, safely away from the horses, to wait for her mom.
Renee slid the leather saddle off the last horse and entered the tack room. She placed it on the rack labeled with that horse’s name and headed back to release the horse. As she entered the walkway, Jodie walked through with Sarah.
“We got an awesome tip today from that group!” Sarah handed Renee and Jodie each a twenty-dollar-bill and pocketed the third one. Renee enjoyed getting the tips from her customers, but she would still love the job even without the tips. Horses were her life.
“So, I saw Carol the other day.” Jodie winked at Renee with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Renee groaned.
“Ugh, she told you?” She couldn’t help but grin. She hadn’t really intended to keep her online activity a secret. But she wasn’t going to tell everyone she saw, either.
“So, tell me about him.” Sarah entered the conversation. “What is he like?”
“Well, he’s tall; six foot three, to be exact.” Renee thought back to the details she had learned so far. “He has blue eyes, he trains both dogs and horses, and he lives in Grand Rapids.”
“What else do you know about him?” Jodie pressed.
“Um… He goes to a church called Heritage Baptist Church. It’s a larger church in northern Grand Rapids.” Renee puffed as she pushed the large broom across the barn floor. The muck had to be removed daily. Piles of the stuff left for more than a day would not be good for the horses’ hooves or the barn.
The blonde-haired young woman slid out from behind the wheel of her 2016 Chevrolet Equinox. She ambled up the steps in the three-car garage, lunchbox and purse in hand. She was tired and sweaty, but she felt good.
“Hey, sweetie!” Mama called to her from the kitchen. “Have a good day?”
“Yeah. It was great!” Renee pulled the folded cash from her pocket and counted it. “I received forty-five dollars today in tips.”
“Awesome!” Her mom wiped her hands dry on a dishtowel. “I think your dad and brothers will be home soon.”
“Okay.” Renee grinned, and then picked at her sweat-sticky shirt. “I’m going to clean up and then I’ll be up to help with supper.” She headed for the stairs leading down to the furnished basement where her room and bathroom were.
“You’re amazing!” Mama called after her. Renee waved at her mom, grinning over her shoulder.
After the delicious meal of grilled hamburgers, coleslaw, and potato chips, Renee settled at the piano in the living area. She was working on a new piece for church the next day. She had told Horsemanship15 about her piano. She thought back to their conversation last night. He didn’t really know anything about the piano, so she had told him a lot about it. They had talked for a long time about music and about dogs and horses. She realized that they spent most of their time talking about dogs, horses, and church. Their churches were a quite a bit different. Unlike Renee’s church, Horsemanship15’s church was large, at least 250 people, and used contemporary music in their worship services.
“That sounds really nice, Renee.” George walked into the living area off the kitchen.
“Thanks. I’ve been working on it a lot.” Renee blushed at her brother’s praise. She often felt embarrassed when she was complimented. Why do people have to make a fuss over me? Yet she loved her family. She wouldn’t have anyone but them.
The evening passed quickly and soon, Renee descended the stairs and slid under the covers. Pooh Bear curled up beside her under the sheets on her double bed. She patted the dog and then pulled up the website on her laptop. She conversed with Horsemanship15 every night. Sometimes she talked with ComputerScience28 too. Though, he often was very busy, so she didn’t get to chat with him more than two or three times a week. A message waited for her on the screen. We’ve been talking for a while now on this site. What do you think if we exchanged phone numbers? Renee hesitated before replying. They really had only been talking for two weeks. It was too early to tell if this would be a long-term thing. Her fingers typed rapidly on the keys. I think it is a little bit too early for that. Maybe in about a month or so? She hit enter and held her breath as the little bubble showed the man typing. That works for me. Renee whooshed her breath out and changed the subject. What kind of dogs did you train today?
A glance at the clock showed that it was almost midnight. Wow! She had talked with Horsemanship15 for about two and a half hours! She gently folded her laptop and placed it on her nightstand. Switching off the light, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning was a buzz of activity. It was the first Sunday in October, and that meant the church was having its annual potluck after the service. After feeding and turning out Cinnamon, Renee slid into a modest, sleeveless dress, donned her black, flat sandals, and then headed up the stairs. After breakfast, she helped her mom put together the food.
“Don’t forget the peas for the seven-layer salad.” Mama pulled a package of organic peas from the freezer.”. Renee grabbed the bag and dumped the contents into a small pan, drizzled a little water on top, and stuck it on the stovetop. This, helping her mom with cooking, was once of Renee’s passions. Cooking gave her joy, just like riding Cinnamon, playing the piano, and hanging with her chihuahua, Pooh Bear. When the peas finished cooking, Renee set to work layering the salad ingredients in the bowl. She started with the romaine and iceberg lettuces on the bottom, then she added curls of red onions. Thirdly, she added red pepper chunks. The next layer was hard-boiled egg slices and on top of that were slices of cucumbers. The last two layers were the creamy dressing and the cheese and bacon. Renee stood back to admire her handiwork, then entered to bathroom to begin applying her makeup.
Fremont Bible Church was only ten minutes from where the Brown’s lived. The church’s Sunday service started at quarter to eleven, but Renee’s family always arrived early to help with set up. The church used to meet in the pastor’s home. But, after gathering a building fund offering on Sundays for several months, the church was able to purchase an old high-school building in Fremont. They used the gathering room to hold their services and have their potluck every month. The children often played together in the gymnasium. Before the service, Renee was approached by one of her older friends. Her name was Diana. She was a bubbly woman in her late fifties. She took pleasure in helping people. Diana was a very generous individual.
“I’m playing a piece in church today.” Renee hugged the shorter woman.
“Really?!” Diana exclaimed. “I’ll record it for you so you can send it to your honey.” She winked at Renee. Renee grinned and gave her another hug.
When the song leader announced the offering to start, Renee slipped her phone to Diana before hurrying to the piano. After her brother, one of the ushers, finished praying, Renee’s fingers whispered against the keys. The song built to a crescendo. As it was coming back down in sweet tones, she closed her eyes, enjoying the beauty of the hymn.
The rest of the service was wonderful. Renee thumbed through her Bible while the pastor taught. She often soaked up what the pastor was saying. But today, she could hardly keep her thoughts from wandering. Will I like his church? Will he like mine? Their two churches were so different, but that was okay. She reined in her thoughts and forced herself to focus.
The service ended with prayer and they all rose to begin setting up for the meal. Renee helped the women place the food on the tables. The men set up eating tables with the chairs from the service. When the preparations were in place, everyone lined up and filled their plates. There were numerous conversations among the church goers as they sat in the chairs. The children all sat at one end of the table and the adults at the other. Chatter filled the room as well as the clatter of plastic on the tables.
“When do you think you’ll meet this guy face-to-face?” Mary asked. Diana’s sister was a little bit older and enjoyed a lot of the same things as Diana. When the two were in the same room, there was often a lot of funny and joyful conversation.
“I’m not sure.” Renee replied. “Perhaps close to Thanksgiving?”
“Better be careful.” Mary warned. “These online things can be very dangerous.”
“Yes, I am being really careful.” Renee smiled reassuringly. “We’re taking it slow. We’re just friends right now.”
Later that afternoon, Renee retrieved her laptop from her room and curled on the couch in the living area. She pulled up Christian Courtship and began typing a message to Horsemanship15. How was your service today? He replied almost instantly. It was good. He went on to explain his church’s functions on the first Sunday of the month. They had communion together in the morning services. His church had two identical morning services because so many people attended. On the first Sunday, his church also had an evening service. Renee told him about the meal at her church. Then they moved on to other topics. She sent him the video of her church piece and they talked about music for a while. Soon, he had to leave for church.
Renee smiled to herself as she closed her laptop. She couldn’t wait to message with Horsemanship15 again the following day. He’s a great friend.
© 2020 Tori Leumas