So, I'm doing something different-- sharing an entire chapter. Dairy Princess was teh book that was GOING to be book 2, but we go anther direction.
Hope you like it!
For a long moment, I’m not sure what woke me up.
Then I see a stripe of light slide across the ceiling of my bedroom.
A shiver of fear ripples down my spine. Why is someone outside my window with a flashlight? I twist the sheets in my fist to calm myself down. I’m on the second floor, so it’s not like they’re going to get into my room.
A glance at my alarm clock reveals the time: 2:05.
If Nick is messing with me, I’m totally going to kill him. Sometimes living next door to my best friend is great. Other times it’s just an opportunity for him to pop up unexpectedly.
Then I see the other lights: blue, red, blue, red, flashing so brightly it lights up my room. It’s not Nick.
It’s the police.
I spring out of bed, grateful to be wearing two piece flannel pajamas instead of one of my oversized t-shirts. I yank open the window and have to squint when the flashlight swings around and glares into my face.
“What’s going on?” I say, holding up a hand to shield my eyes. The cop gets the hint; he switches off the light. Now only the flashing red and blue fill the air. I can’t quite see his eyes; they’re dark orbs as his face turns blue and red.
“There’s a bunch of cows in the street up that way,” he says, pointing toward the eastern fields. “I was driving by when I spotted ‘em. I think they’re yours. Gate by the neighbor’s place was open, but I closed it so the others wouldn’t get out.”
Oh, no. I shut my eyes and let loose with a long, slow sigh.
The eastern fields. The ones Nick and I rode through earlier today. How was I supposed to know my dad was going to rotate the cows? We didn’t close the gate because we were going to ride there tomorrow, too. Er, today, technically.
“Be down in a minute!” I say. I shut the window, as quietly as possible. I grab my cell phone and head towards the stairs, but then pause on the landing. The painted hardwood floors of the farmhouse are cold on my feet, even through a thick pair of socks. This house never stays warm. It has no furnace, just a wood stove downstairs and a bunch of old drafty windows.
My dad’s snoring cuts through the silence.
I won’t wake him up. He just went to bed a few hours ago, after the evening milking and feeding and God knows what else. My dad is a one man show—he does all three milkings most days. My mom died years ago, when I was so little that I don’t remember anything about her. I’m pretty sure my dad is Superman.
But even Superman needs sleep. If I wake him up… man he’s going to be mad when he hears about me leaving the gate open.
So he just won’t find out about it.
I make my way to the back porch, skipping the last creaky step, and then dig through the pile of rubber boots. No matter how many pairs we have, I can never find a matching set. I grab a big black one for my left foot, and end up with a shorter green one on the right.
I hit the number five on speed dial and Nick answers after one ring.
“Get on your quad and meet me by the Greenwood house. Cows are out.”
I don’t give him a chance to protest; I just slam the phone shut and duck out the back door, where the cop is waiting for me.
“I got it, thanks!”
I don’t give him a chance to respond, I just dash across the lawn and pick up a jog towards the neighbor’s house. The green boot sounds more like a flip-flop as the rubber slaps my calves with each step. I settle into a rhythm, jogging down the asphalt surrounded by cattail-filled ditches.
Calling the Greenwood family our neighbors might be a little bit of a stretch. The Dairy is a big square chunk of land. Over a hundred acres, bordered along the front and back by roads, and on the other two sides by creeks. The house sits in the middle. The Greenwood family lives a quarter mile down the road, which means it takes a few minutes at a steady pace for me to get there.
By the time I’m standing in their driveway, staring at about a dozen of our Holsteins, the cop is pulling his cruiser into the driveway behind me. Apparently he fancies himself a big help, because he gets out and stands next to me, literally rolling up the sleeves of his navy blue uniform.
Must be a slow night for Enumclaw’s finest.
“I’m Hannah, by the way,” I say, and hold my hand out.
“Officer Hawkins,” he says. “But you can just call me Ron.”
“So what’s the plan? Can we just grab one of them by the necklace and lead them back, and the others will follow?” Ron asks.
I cross my arms at my chest, then bite my lip to keep from bursting out laughing. He is trying to be helpful. I have to remember that.
All of our cows wear chain necklaces with big plastic blue pendants. The pendants are equipped with microchips. When a cow walks up to the grain feeder and drops their head to eat, the necklace slides down, swipes the reader, and the machine spits out the appropriate amount of grain based upon that cow’s milk production.
The necklaces, handy as they were, were not meant for leading a cow. Especially not a cow that was one of three hundred others--as in, these things are not pets. And they will scurry away if I walk straight up to them.
“No. Just back your car up into the road so they can’t go further that direction. I’ll get them.”
As I step forward, I hear a roaring, growing louder as it gets closer.
Nick. And his quad.
I grin and wait for him to skid to a stop on the road, and then kill the engine.
True, it’s illegal to drive a quad on the roads and Nick slid to a stop just two feet shy of the cruiser. But I guess the cop doesn’t care, because he doesn’t say a word.
“You rang?” he asks, pulling off his helmet. Nick has this crazy wild blonde hair, and the combination of sleeping on it for a few hours and then wearing a helmet has done him no favors.
“Yeah. I’ll get these few and get them back down to the driveway. Can you park in the road on the other side and make sure we don’t pass it? Then we’ll have to figure out where the rest are.”
He nods. “Of course princess!”
Nick loves calling me princess, even though he knows I’m more likely to punch him in the arm than wear a tiara. I roll my eyes as he kick starts the quad again and takes off, popping a wheelie that lasts at least a hundred feet. If it’s possible to overdose on adrenalin, Nick might be in real trouble.
I circle around to the backside of the group of cows, and then raise my hands and shout. “Hup! Come on girls, hup-hup!”
The word hup has absolutely no meaning. It’s my word of choice for yelling at cows. I guess I could say giddyup or yeehaw or something, but that just seems silly.
Predictably, they stop grazing on the neighbor’s lawn and step away from me, toward the road. A few more yells and hand-waving, and they’re on the road. They’re a little worked up about being out of their normal environment, and they pick up an awkward, clumsy trot. I’m forced to jog behind them to keep up.
The cop pulls his car out of the driveway and flips the light on. They illuminate the reflectors in the street and the white patches on the cows, red and blue, red and blue, as steady as my footsteps.
And suddenly I can’t stop myself; I’m laughing hysterically. There are a dozen cows jogging in front of me, me in my flannel pajamas, my rubber boots slapping my legs, and behind us is a police car, lights flashing as if he’s in hot pursuit.
All at two-thirty in the morning on a crisp spring night. It’s like I’m part of some horribly ridiculous parade.
Welcome to my life.
The following morning, Nick rolls up the driveway in his old Silverado just as I’m walking toward the parlor. His hair has been partially tamed by a recent shower—it’s still damp. He’s wearing a plain black t-shirt and Carharts, along with a Carhart jacket. His romeos, too, but then that’s his usual footwear.
“You’re early,” I shout over my shoulder as I grab a couple buckets and start scooping milk replacer powder into the bottom. As Nick walks in my direction, I duck into the tank room. I walk around the enormous stainless steel tank and make my way to the sink on the opposite wall. This is the only hose that has hot water, and it’s scalding—the same temperature as the water used to sanitize the equipment. I fill the buckets half up with hot water and then add a little cold, and mix it all together.
Nick grabs both the full five-gallon buckets—even though he knows I can handle it—and carries them out to the calf hutches. I carry a couple bottles, for the two youngest calves.
Five minutes later, the calves around us are slurping milk out of their buckets and Nick and I are each holding a giant bottle for the two youngest.
“Did you study for the vocab test?” Nick asks.
Nick rolls his eyes. “I figure eventually hell will freeze over and you’ll actually study.”
“Why? I get a solid 3.5 without studying for any of my classes, let alone a multiple-choice vocab test. It’s hardly worth the effort.” A glance at Nick reveals his annoyance. School has never been his thing. He’d rather strap himself to a rocket or ride a bull or streak through the football game at halftime. Sometimes I’m not sure how I don’t end up in more trouble thanks to his antics.
Plus, driving him crazy is far too enjoyable. “Besides who has time to study when I have to painstakingly apply my makeup and do my hair every morning? It’s not easy looking this flawless, you know.”
Nick groans and pretends to concentrate on the calf next to him, a two day old Holstein that is almost entirely white, except for the black ears and nose, and a spot on its stomach. “All I know is I’m barely skating through that class. I don’t know how you just absorb all that the first time around.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“It was one of the vocab words two weeks ago! Please tell me you know the definition.”
Nick picks up kernel of corn from the grain feeder next to the calf and chucks it at me.
“Whatever. Let’s go. I still need a shower.” I wave a hand toward my flat brown hair and make-up free face. “Flawlessness and all that.”
Nick takes the empty bottle and follows me back to the tank room, then tosses the bottle into the big stainless sink. “Your dad figure out the cows got out?”
I shake my head. “Nope. I think we’re home free.”
“You owe me, though,” I say as we head out of the tank room and start crossing the long gravel drive. I walk straight through the mud puddles in my rubber boots as Nick sidesteps them. Judging by the scuffed, aged appearance of his romeos, I’m betting they have giant holes in the soles.
“Why? I helped you get the cows back in,” he says.
“You were the last one through the gate. You’re supposed to close it.”
“Please. I totally beat you through the gate and you know it.”
I stop, standing in the middle of the puddle. “Don’t make me splash you. For real, I’ll do it.”
“Oh, please, anything but that!” Nick says, his voice high-pitched and girly.
I kick at the water, and Nick jumps back, proving he doesn’t want to show up at school covered in mud. Typical. He can spend all day covered in crud but at school, he’s gotta keep appearances up.
“You know Veronica Masters is never going to notice you. Unless you wear a pair of Jimmy Choos and a tu-tu. And maybe trade in your Silverado for a Silver Audi,” I say, picking up a walk again.
“I’m waiting for her to recognize the sheer brilliance of my low maintenance wardrobe first.”
I snicker. We’ve reached the back porch now, and I shove the screen door open with enough force that Nick can slip through before it slaps shut again. I fling my boots off into the pile with the others, and then step into the kitchen. “Coffee’s fresh. I’ll be down in ten minutes.”
He nods and heads to the cupboards as I ascend the creaky steps and go to my room, where my standard issue jeans and t-shirt await.
Sometimes it’s a lot of work living on a dairy.
Other times, like today, I love every minute of it.
For no reason at all. Or maybe for every reason in the world.