Ch. 5 - Tick Check

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Riding the horse had been much more appealing, before it asked her to in its own words.

Rhianna had spent a few more awkward moments trying to be polite to the talking horse and then made an excuse to go back to the house. She'd wanted to ride it so badly. As much as her mother had kept her away from horses, she saw them in fields as they passed on a highway; she saw them in movies, noble and sleek. She always felt drawn to them, which could have been because her mother outright banned her from getting within 10 feet of any horse for absolutely no reason whatsoever. She'd never had a chance to get close to one until today.

She sprinted up the porch steps to the house, wiping green stains and shredded grass seeds from her palms. Why did the horse have to talk to her and ruin a great moment in her life. Maybe she could have actually gotten up on its back and trotted around the field a little. But it didn't talk. Horses don't talk. At best it was a wildly imaginative hallucination brought on by the heat. At worse... She shook her head--she just needed some water.

Gran pushed open the porch door before she could grasp the handle. She took in Rhianna's disheveled state, with hands on her hips. "I guess you didn't hear me when I said to stay close to the house?"

Rhianna pulled a piece of grass out of her hair. How would Gran know where she'd been? There was plenty of grass and dirt near the house. Or could Gran's piercing eyes read her mind like an open book. Maybe it was better to own up to being in a place she shouldn't rather than Gran digging the supernatural experiences of a talking horse out of her.

"It's hot out," she said like a guilty admission.

Gran sighed and beckoned Rhianna closer. "All right, tick check."

Rhianna's heart stopped. "What?" Her skin started to crawl with an imaginary horde of insects. "Gross! Where?" She turned in a circle, batting at her clothing.

Gran took her by the shoulders, keeping her still as she examined Rhianna from head to ankles, brushing at specks on her clothing. "You're good."

Rhianna let out a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding.

Gran snorted. "Haven't you spent any time in the country?"

"Yeah, but we stayed in the car."

"Hmm. Well, I could never convince your mother to stay away the pasture either. Did you meet Kasubia?"

Rhianna stopped cold, and the slowly nodded her head so Gran wouldn't notice anything strange. How could the horse's name be Kasubia? The whole talking thing had been in her head. Her active imagination. She could swear she hadn't heard that name before.

"Ok.Visit Kasubia if you like, but I won't tolerate you going into the the woods back there. Its dangerous and the property belongs to...someone else." Pippa leaned down and whispered, "Besides, you will get ticks there for sure."

Rhianna's skin crawled again. She wasn't sure she would go ten feet from the house after this. First a talking horse and then ticks! And mom hanging around a pasture—with horses? It was backwards day. Backwards and upside down!

"Now, why don't you come in the house and have a cold lemonade since it's so hot that you feel the need to break rules." Pippa opened the porch door, checking her watch. "It's about time for lunch. I will make some sandwiches."

Rhianna sat at the kitchen table while Pippa sliced some bread and cheese. A knife, a cutting board, two plates, two glasses. She kept a running tally of the dishes. She almost said she could have her sandwich without a plate.

Dishes weren't so bad. It wasn't a lot of work, it was just boring—standing there with your hands in sudsy water, staring out the window at nothing. Blah! On the road, there was no such thing as dishes. Napkins, food wrappers, or plain old hands would suffice. If you needed a dish, they came in convenient paper form ready to toss and go back to more interesting pursuits like following their driving route on a map, noting which section of road they were on based on proximity to a lake or railroad tracks.

Rhianna accepted the sandwich and the plate from Pippa. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment, and, after she swallowed, asked, "Could I help you out with the animals maybe, Gran? Feeding the chickens or the goats or something? I like animals."

Pippa took a sip of lemonade between bites of her sandwich (a bizarre concoction of cheese and pickles, which Rhianna had declined when offered, opting for plain cheese instead). "You could clean up Jessie's business."

Rhianna stopped mid-swallow and coughed as a crumb of cheese went the wrong way. Jessie the collie. She took a long swallow of lemonade. Maybe it was better not to ask for anymore chores. Gran seemed to only hand out the misery-inducing ones.

Pippa patted her back gently. "Easy there, you don't need to eat the whole thing in two bites."

"Sure," she said after the chest spasms had cleared. "I can clean up Jessie's business. Maybe he wants someone to play with too." She smiled, trying to make the best of it.

Pippa showed her appreciation by neatly stacking her cup onto her plate when she was done.

As Rhianna carried the dishes to the sink she asked, "How could mom go near the pasture? She is terrified of horses."

"Is she?" Pippa said, as she put on her boots by the door.

"Yeah." She tried to envision a younger version of Mom petting and riding horses. What could have taken her from unable to stay away from horses to cuckoo for cocoa puffs? Before Rhianna lost the opportunity, she blurted: "Did something happen?"

Gran stiffened, poised to exit through the door. "She fell once."

Fell how? Was she injured? Why would it make her so afraid? Rhianna had so many questions, but Pippa's tight lips didn't seem to be made for talking. The only one talking today was Kasubia.

A/N: What do you think? Is Rhianna going crazy? What kind of creature is Kasubia if she really is talking?

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