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By Kim Vogel Sawyer
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Kim Vogel Sawyer
All rights reserved.
Trina Muller set the plates of hamburgers, grilled onions, and french fries in front of the booth's occupants. Straightening, she flipped the white ribbons of her cap behind her shoulders and formed an automatic smile. "Can I get you anything else?"
Even though she used her cheerful, attentive, I'm-here-to-meet-your-needs tone, her gaze drifted out the window. A row of cars drove by the café, headed south toward the highway. She stifled the sigh that rose in her chest.
"Ketchup and mustard, please," the man said.
With a nod, Trina turned from the table. Her tennis shoes squeaked against the tile floor—a familiar sound. She retrieved red and yellow squirt bottles from a small refrigerator in the corner of the dining room then carried them to the table. A glance out the window confirmed the last car had departed for Newton. The sigh escaped.
Forcing herself to look at the couple seated in the window booth, she said, "Enjoy your meal."
Trina made the rounds, coffeepot in hand. She carried on her normal banter, smiling, meeting the needs of the café's patrons, treating Mennonites and non-Mennonites with equal affability. But her feet felt leaden and her smile stiff. Her heart simply was not in the task.
Right now her friends—including Graham—were on their way to the skating rink for an evening of fun and relaxation. But as usual, Trina was stuck in the café. Waiting tables. Washing dishes. Honoring Mama and Dad like the good girl she'd always been—the good girl she had always wanted to be. When had this uncomfortable resentment started? And how could she set it aside and go back to being the cheerful, obedient Trina?
Or did she really want to be that Trina anymore?
She wrung out a soapy cloth and used it to scrub a table clean, pocketing the single bill and coins left behind to thank her for her service. She fingered the coins in her apron pocket, thinking about the growing savings account at the bank in McPherson. In the six years she'd worked at the café—first for the original owner, Lisbeth Koeppler, then for Lisbeth's heirs, and now for her own mother—she had rarely spent the money she earned.
Since she and Graham began openly courting, he paid for the occasional dinners out and their skating expeditions. According to Mama, a girl needed only so many dresses—an overstuffed wardrobe was prideful. Books, her main source of amusement, were reasonable when purchased from the used-books shelf at the bookstore she and her friends patronized in Newton. Of course, her parents might disapprove of a few of the titles she'd chosen, but she had reasons for buying what she did. And even with the number of book purchases, the account steadily grew.
Her hand paused on the table's glossy surface; her lips sucked in. Surely, she had enough for one year. Maybe a year and a half. A good start, certainly. If only—
Her mother's voice jarred her out of her thoughts. She trotted to the doorway between the kitchen and dining room where Mama stood. "Yes?"
"I see some empty plates on tables. Have you asked if people want their checks?" Although Mama kept her voice low, disapproval came through the tone.
Trina felt heat fill her cheeks. "I'll do it now."
"Good." Mama pursed her lips, her brows low. "This daydreaming must stop, Trina. Stay focused on your work."
Trina nodded. A shoddy workman displeased the Lord—Trina knew this well. Guilt propelled her across the tiled floor to a table Mama had pointed out. "I'm sorry for the delay. Did you save room for pie this evening? We have a lovely lemon meringue made from scratch."
She went through the normal routine of slipping the check onto the table and clearing the dishes, but despite her efforts to remain on task, her thoughts drifted again. Maybe she knew these tasks too well. The familiar routine offered no challenge, no true problem-solving. Not like—
The door to the café burst open, bringing in a flow of warm evening air. Her cousin Andrew Braun rushed toward her. He left his bill cap in place over his dark hair, a clue that something was amiss. The fine hairs on the back of Trina's neck prickled.
"Trina, can you come out to the house? It's Regen—his leg. I tried calling Dr. Groening, but his wife said he's out. She'll give him the message, but I don't know how long he'll be."
Trina untied her apron and slipped it over her head, careful to avoid dislodging her cap. "Of course I'll come." Regen, the sorrel quarter horse Andrew had purchased for his wife's wedding gift, was more pet than working animal, since Andrew didn't farm. But they relied on him to pull the vintage carriage Livvy's grandparents had bequeathed to her, giving rides to visitors to Sommerfeld every Saturday afternoon and many summer evenings. "Livvy must be beside herself."
"She's worried," Andrew confirmed, his expression grim. He lowered his voice. "Trina, it doesn't look good."
Trina's heart pounded. Throwing the apron behind the counter that held the cash register, she darted into the kitchen. "Mama, Andrew is here. He needs me to go with him—Livvy's horse was hurt."
Trina watched her mother's gaze lift to the clock on the wall before giving a nod of approval. "Go ahead. It's only an hour to closing time. I'll call Tony and have him come help me clean up."
Even before her mother had finished speaking, Trina caught Andrew's arm and hurried him out of the café. They climbed into his pickup, which waited at the curb with its engine rumbling. Andrew pulled into the street and headed east.
"What happened?" Trina asked. Wind coursed through the open window, tossing the string ties of her cap. She caught the ribbons and held them beneath her chin.
He snatched off his cap, threw it onto the seat between them, and ran his hand over his short hair. "Livvy went into the corral to throw Regen some hay. She leaned the pitchfork against the fence while she went to drag the hose out to the corral and fill the water tank, and somehow the horse caught his foot between the tines of the fork. She heard a pop, and he wouldn't put his weight on the leg." He grimaced. "She stayed out with him until I came home rather than calling the vet, and by the time I got there, the cannon on the injured leg had swelled up like a balloon. It looks bad."
A pop could mean tendon or ligament damage or a misplaced knee. Trina immediately began running through a list of possible treatments. "How long ago did he injure himself?"
"At least two hours." He shot her a brief, grateful glance. "I'm glad you were there. I was afraid you might have gone skating."
Her mother had insisted Trina stay at the café and work rather than going to the skating rink with the other community young people. Sometimes on skating nights, a teenage member of the fellowship, Kelly Dick, came in to help so Trina could have the evening off, but this time Mama had said no. Although both Graham and Trina had experienced frustration at her refusal to let Trina go, now relief washed over Trina. Thank You, Lord, that I was here....
Andrew barely slowed to make the final turn into his long driveway. Trina grabbed the dash to keep from tipping sideways. Dust swirled alongside the truck and wafted through the window, making her sneeze. He pulled up beside the barn and killed the engine.
Trina hopped out, ducked between the crossbars of the fence, and ran to where Livvy stood, petting the length of Regen's nose. Tears of grief and worry rained down Livvy's pale cheeks. Her work dress and apron looked sodden and soiled, giving evidence of her long vigil in the summer sun and gusting wind. The horse tapped the shoe of his injured leg in the dirt and released soft snorts of distress, but he made no effort to move away from his mistress. Trina dropped to her knees in front of the powerful animal and ran her hands down his leg. She didn't need to feel the swelling to know it was there. The horse's leg bulged midway between his knee and pastern on his right foreleg.
"Must've torn a ligament," she muttered. Rising, she glanced at Livvy's frantic face and turned to Andrew. "Get me some burlap, two or three bags of frozen corn, and about three yards of elastic."
Without a question, Andrew spun on his boot heel and jogged toward the house.
"Livvy, can you lead Regen to the barn?" Trina gentled her voice when speaking to her cousin's wife. "He'll be more comfortable in there."
"Are you sure we should let him walk on it?"
Trina drew in a slow breath and held it. She wasn't sure putting pressure on it was a good idea, but she knew they couldn't leave the poor animal outside. The summer heat was sweltering during the day—he'd be better off in the barn, where he'd have shade and protection. Her breath whooshed out with her emphatic nod. "I think it's best."
Livvy nodded. Her arm curled around the underside of Regen's jaw, she crooned, "C'mon, pretty boy. Come with me...." Slowly, she led the limping animal into the barn. Trina trailed behind, watching Regen's legs.
Inside the barn, Livvy led Regen to his stall. "Should I let him lie down?"
"No. I need him up to—"
Andrew trotted in, his arms full. He plopped two clear plastic bags of homegrown frozen corn and a snarl of one-inch-wide elastic at Trina's feet. "Here you go, Trina—corn and elastic." Pressing a soft bundle of worn cloth into her hands, he added, "And one of Livvy's aprons so you don't get your dress all dirty. I've got burlap in the storeroom. Hang on." He dashed toward the back of the barn.
Trina tied the apron in place while Livvy sent her a puzzled look. "What are you going to do with the corn?"
Trina knelt and began to untangle the elastic. "It'll stay cold, which makes it a good compress. But I need to protect his leg with the burlap first so it isn't too cold against his skin. The elastic will hold it in place, and as the swelling goes down, it will continue to hold the compress against his leg."
Livvy shook her head, stroking Regen's neck and forehead. "I hope it works."
Andrew trotted to Trina's side, a bulky, rolled burlap bag in his hands. She squinted up at him. "Can you help me?"
Andrew crouched on the other side of Regen's leg. "What do you want me to do?"
"Wrap the burlap around his leg first, to provide some protection from the cold corn, but don't make it too tight." Andrew held the coarse fabric in place while Trina grabbed the bags of corn. Although Regen nosed the back of Trina's head, blowing air down the back of her neck, he remained still under their ministrations. She placed one bag on either side of Regen's leg. "Okay, wrap the burlap around the corn now." As Andrew followed her directions, she slipped her hands free. "Hold it." Andrew kept the burlap and corn from slipping. Trina wrapped the elastic around several times and then tied it in place.
Andrew moved out of the way as she felt around the bulky compress, frowning. It needed to be tight enough to hold but not so tight it cut off circulation. Satisfied the compress would hold without hurting the animal, she sank back in the hay and looked up at Livvy. "You've been standing in the corral for quite a while. Why don't you go in and get a drink?"
Livvy's arms crept around the horse's neck. "I don't want to leave him."
"I'll stay right here, and so will Andrew," Trina promised. "If you'd call the café and let Mama know I'll be out here the rest of the evening, I'd appreciate it, too."
Livvy pursed her lips, her brow furrowing, but she nodded. "All right. But I'll be back soon." She gave Regen another loving stroke from his forehead to his nose before turning away.
Andrew watched his wife until she exited the barn. Then he faced Trina. "Do you think the horse will be all right? I don't know how she'd take it if we had to—"
"You won't have to put him down." Trina squeezed her cousin's arm. "It isn't bad enough for that. But ..." She paused, swallowing. "It'll be a long time before he can do any work, Andrew. If he's torn a ligament, it'll take months of healing."
"Well, even though we'll miss the income those carriage rides bring in, I won't complain. Not as long as he'll be okay again." A slight smile curved his lips. "I'll never forget when I brought him home. It was raining cats and dogs, and Livvy got drenched to the skin, but she stood outside in the downpour and kept stroking his nose and talking to him. That's why she chose Regensturm for his name, you know—in honor of the rainstorm." Andrew sighed. "Liv looks at this horse like a child."
Trina smiled, smoothing her skirt over her knees to protect her bare skin from the scratchy hay. "She'll quit that once you have children to spoil." She knew Livvy was seeing a special doctor in Wichita for the purpose of having a baby.
"I suppose ..."
"In the meantime, we'll take good care of Regen so there won't be permanent damage." She pushed to her feet. "While we wait for Dr. Groening, let's get some rigging set up to get the weight off Regen's leg."
Andrew rose. "What do you suggest? Rope would cut into his skin, I would think."
After a brief discussion, they decided a loop of sturdy gabardine, which Livvy had purchased for quilt backing, slung beneath the horse's belly and over the crossbeam, would provide enough support without chafing his skin. When Andrew returned with the fabric, Livvy trailed him back to the barn. Trina gave her the task of talking to Regen and rubbing his nose to keep him calm.
After a half hour of trial and error, experimenting with fabric, rope, and pulleys, they finally managed to provide a means of support for Regen. They stood back, hands on hips, looking at the animal to see if he'd be okay. He whickered softly, but he stopped tapping the sore leg against the ground.
Trina smiled. "I think that's done the trick." She pointed. "He's not trying to stamp, so it must not be bothering him as much."
"Good." Andrew wiped his brow, whistling through his teeth. "That was a chore!"
"But worth it," Livvy said, stepping forward to caress the horse's jaw. "I can tell it's helped him." The woman and horse rubbed noses.
Trina, watching Livvy with Regen, felt a rush of satisfaction. Her hour with Regen had given her more pleasure than her years of waitress work. If only she could spend all of her days helping animals.
The sound of a vehicle pulling into the yard captured their attention. Andrew headed for the barn's wide door. "That's probably Dr. Groening. I'll bring him in."
Trina linked her fingers together and waited anxiously as Dr. Groening examined Regen's leg and ran his hand under the cloth loop. Finally, he turned and put his hand on Trina's shoulder. "You've done everything exactly right here. Bringing the swelling down and getting the pressure off the leg is just what I would have prescribed."
Trina nearly wilted with relief. "Oh, thank you! I'd never want to do anything harmful to an animal."
His fingers squeezed gently before slipping away. "I know." The older man's thick gray brows lowered. "You have an innate ability, young lady."
"Well ..." Trina crunched her lips into a grimace. "I got the idea from a book I bought on horse care." It had been one of the pricier of her purchases, but the book, with its veterinary guide, was a wealth of information.
"So you're still studying," the doctor said, lowering his tone to a near whisper.
Trina nodded. The string ties of her cap tickled her chin, reminding her of the futility of her study. Never, never, never would Mama and Dad allow her to get the schooling she'd need to be a veterinarian. Not as long as she wore her Mennonite cap.CHAPTER 2
The sympathy in Dr. Groening's eyes communicated his understanding of Trina's dilemma. Three years ago, she had confided her interest in animal care to the kindly veterinarian from Lehigh and asked how she could become an animal doctor. His brief explanation— a college degree—had crushed her.
Attending college was out of the question. She knew that. But she had finally decided she could study on her own, learn for her own interest, and maybe do some good in her community. What she'd just done for Regen proved to her that all her reading hadn't been a waste of time.
Offering the doctor a weak smile, she nodded. "I buy as many books as I can find at the store in Newton."
"And study on your own ..." Dr. Groening shook his head, his eyes sad.
"It's better than nothing." Trina forced a light tone, but resentment pressed at her breast. Why couldn't she go to college and become a veterinarian? It wasn't fair!
Excerpted from Blessings by Kim Vogel Sawyer. Copyright © 2008 Kim Vogel Sawyer. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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