Under the Open Sky (Montana Heritage Series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Open Sky

A Montana Heritage Novel

By: Michelle Maness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Open Sky

© 2012 Wendy Michelle Maness

This book is a work of fiction any resemblance to those living or dead is coincidental. This book may not be copied in part or whole without prior permission.

 

 

 

 

 

One

 

 

Amanda Lynn Jennings loved watching the sun rise over the Bitterroot Range, each day painting her world in brilliant color with broad strokes. Here on her father’s ranch, life was secure and happy and Amanda couldn’t imagine life ever being any other way. Even the absence of her mother, long deceased, seemed to have little effect on Amanda’s life; she supposed it was hard to miss what you never really remembered having. Besides, her Aunt Naomi was most often there with a warm hug or a cool hand for an overheated forehead. This morning, as many others, found Amanda seated on the porch roof outside her bed room window watching the horses romp and run in the corral just off the barn. To her left a large pond reflected the new light of day as wisps of fog began to burn off the night cooled surface of the water. Amanda had been climbing on the roof to watch the sun rise and often stars since she was a young girl. Her Aunt Naomi had fussed, to little avail, ever since.

              “Mandy!”

             
At her Aunt Naomi’s call, Amada rose to her feet on lanky legs and climbed back through her window before carefully setting the screen back in place. Amanda turned to leave the room and caught site of herself in the long oval mirror that occupied the corner of her room. Her hair was completely disheveled and she knew to go downstairs in such a state would gain censure from her aunt. Amanda grabbed her brush and began pulling it through her long wheat colored locks with impatient strokes before braiding it, securing the end, and flipping it over her shoulder to hang nearly to her waist. Amanda brushed a hand down her cut off jean shorts, and checkered western cut shirt before stepping from her room and taking the stairs in a rapid rhythm that Naomi swore sounded like a horse galloping.

             
“Good morning, Aunt Naomi,” Amanda kissed her aunt’s cheek as she took the plate of eggs, toast, and bacon her aunt had waiting.

             
“You’ve been on the roof again haven’t you?” Naomi’s blue eyes were accusing as they slid over Amanda. Naomi kept her pale brown hair neatly coiled in buns or perfectly arranged coils lending her an austere look that often suited her but seldom gave testimony to the love she showered on her brother, niece, and nephew.

             
“Good morning, Daddy,” Amanda favored her father’s weathered cheek with a kiss and ignored her aunt’s accusation.

 

              “Good morning, Pumpkin,” her father’s brown eyes were warm when they landed on his youngest. Despite the contradiction it appeared, Sterling Jennings was a firm, but indulgent man. He always listened to his children’s requests and ideas, often heading them. When he decided something, however, he expected it to be strictly adhered to: no questions asked.

             
“Good morning, Trent,” Amanda greeted her brother.

             
“Mornin’ squirt,” her brother’s smile was affectionate. Her brother shared her wheat colored locks but possessed their father’s dark brown eyes. Amanda’s daddy claimed Amanda got her unusual eye color from her mother, though the faded photographs made it hard for Amanda to confirm this. Her eyes were a luminous medium green: cat eyes her brother called them; Cat eyes to go along with her coltish body that had yet to take on more than the barest hint of feminine shape. Most her friends were beginning to carry around full busts, at least by comparison, and were claiming boyfriends. There was only one boy’s attention Amanda wanted.

             
Chris Atkins had been causing Amanda fits ever since the school year began. Nearly two years older but in the same grade as Amanda, Chris could make her sigh with no more than a hint of a smile. With thick dark brown hair and brilliant blue eyes to top off a physique that was already being sculpted by his work on his father’s ranch, Chris was more than a little attractive. He had trouble with his reading, meaning he had repeated a grade a few years ago. The last time a classmate had made fun of him for it, Chris had laid the boy out in one punch.

             
“Have you decided what you’re going to want for your birthday next week?” Naomi asked as they ate.

             
“My learner’s permit.”

             
The humph that came from behind her father’s farm journal wasn’t reassuring.

             
“I can already drive the tractor, how much harder can the truck be?” Amanda had been making her case as well as any lawyer for over two months now. The only explanation for her lack of result was that the jury had obviously been bought; likely by one well-meaning but meddling aunt. 

             
“I hired a new hand.” Sterling made the comment in an off handed manner, but a new hand always brought interest from the family.

             
“Tell us about him, Daddy,” Amanda prompted when he offered no further information. Sterling put down the farm journal he’d been reading and took a sip of his coffee.

             
“He just turned eighteen and is in his final year of school. He’ll be moving into the bunk house.”

             
“Who’d you hire?”

             
Trent, too, was in his final year of school; chances were he already knew the new hand.

             
“Cade Winston.”
              “Cade Winston? He’s the biggest bad ass in the school; you can’t be serious?” Trent was staring at his father in disbelief.

             
“Watch your mouth,” Sterling shot his son a pointed look.

             
“Sorry.”

             
“I hired him on the condition that he will finish school; just because his father was worthless doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a chance.”

             
Amanda finished her breakfast, grabbed her plate and slipped out the screen door, across the screened in back porch, and to the dog’s food bowl.

             
“Hey, Big Boy,” Amanda rubbed the large dog’s scruffy neck and turned to retrace her steps into the house. After rinsing her plate and placing it in the dishwasher, Amanda slid back into her seat to finish her juice.

             
“Shouldn’t you be dressing for school?” Naomi surveyed Amanda before rising from the table.

             
“I am dressed,” Amanda knew that would get a rise from her aunt.              

             
“You are not going to school in cutoff jeans; I took you shopping for school clothes for a reason.”

             
Amanda rolled her eyes but stood and bounded up the stairs to change. She closed the door to her room and admired the papered walls. Her Aunt Naomi wasn’t all bad; she had talked her father into letting Amanda give her room a more mature make over. The walls now sported new wall paper of white background scattered with vines and lavender colored flowers. Her white, iron bed frame, an antique nearly as old as the house, was now covered with a light purple spread. Amanda yanked open the top drawer of her oak chest and pulled a pair of jeans from the top of the pile. She paired them with a t-shirt and long sleeved floral printed shirt, with western, silver buttons; she knew that it would please her aunt that she had taken the time to layer her clothes. In Amanda’s view clothes were an accessory and anything serviceable would do. In Naomi’s view they were a part of the person wearing them. Amanda pulled on her socks and struggled into her boots, before checking that her braid was still neat and grabbed her books to catch the bus. Sometimes she rode with her brother; today she was in a hurry to be on her way.

             
“That’s much better; where are your tennis shoes?” Naomi was standing at the bottom of the stairs.

             
“What’s wrong with my boots?”

             
Amanda didn’t wait for an answer as she strode forward to hurry out the door, the screen door snapping shut with a slap behind her.

             
“Sterling, that girl is growing up wild!”

             
Naomi’s voice carried through the open windows and made Amanda grimace. Naomi had it in her head that Amanda was becoming a young lady and should act and look it. Amanda raised a hand in greeting to a couple of hands who stood outside the bunk house opposite the house and across the pond. Amanda hadn’t made the end of the drive when her brother’s truck stopped beside her.

             
“Hop in,” her brother ordered.

             
“You’re leaving early,” Amanda climbed into the cab and dropped her book bag onto the floor to put on her seat belt.

             
“I’m meeting Angela before classes start.”

             
“You know how dad feels about her,” Amanda glanced at her brother. She knew the girls found her brother attractive and she supposed he was. He was six foot even, his long, lanky build deceptive of the firm muscle he had earned through hard manual labor.

             
“I know.”

             
“I won’t tell,” Amanda smiled at her brother.

             
“Thanks, Squirt.”

             
“I won’t tell that I saw you making out in the barn with her either,” Amanda smiled and waited for her brother’s reaction.

             
“You were spying on me?” Trent turned his attention from the road to shoot his sister a fierce frown.

             
“I was reading a book in the loft. I was in plain sight; you just weren’t noticing anything but Angela.”

             
“You brat!”

             
“I told you I wouldn’t tell but if you want to abuse me…” Amanda lifted one thin shoulder and let the threat dangle.

             
“I’m sorry but don’t you be spyin’ on me.”

             
Trent’s face was still that of an injured party and Amanda turned to hide her smile.

             
Trent turned his pick up into the school parking lot and carefully maneuvered around buses as he looked for a place to park. Their community was small, all thirteen grades housed in one large sprawling building that had been added to as needed, but never quite outgrown to the point of being replaced. Amanda hopped from the truck as soon as it stopped moving and hurried to her locker; she wanted to search out Samantha and see if she knew who this new hand her father had hired was. Amanda passed the large mural of a mountain trapper, the school’s mascot, and nodded her head in greeting. It was a whimsical tradition she had started years earlier.

             
“Sam!” Amanda called as she spotted her friend. The petite brunette turned, a smile lighting her brown eyes.

             
“Hi.”

             
Her friend’s greeting brought a smile to Amanda’s young, angled face.

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