Alexis was feeling quite grownup after her first sleepover with a non-family member. Eileen’s husband and her sons enjoyed having the child visit. Eileen earlier warned her husband that the Archies didn’t let Alexis watch television, so after dinner he entertained Alexis by making shadow animals on the wall with his hands and reading her fairytales from an old book that was his when he was boy. Eileen’s sons, who seemed to be showing no desire to leave the farm and start their own families, sat watching their normally silent father come to life playing with the child. Eileen watched her men, watching their father, and hoped that actually having a child in the house, even for a little while might stoke the desire in their hearts for children of their own. Though she married young, it seemed to Eileen that her sons were determined to make her wait until she was the right age to let her become a grandmother.
Theirs being a working farm, the family went to bed as early as Alexis was accustomed. Alexis was surprised that when it was her bedtime all the men got up and went off to their rooms, rather than stay up reading or writing like her night-owl father tended to do. Alexis was a little afraid of going to sleep in a strange place, but when Eileen tucked her into bed in the room next door to hers, one of Eileen’s house-cats joined her. Alexis’ family had yet to own a house-cat, so she was charmed by the idea of having the warm buzzing animal spend the night with her.
In the morning with her new cat friend in attendance Alexis breakfasted with the family before the men went off to work the farm. Eileen puttered around her kitchen, which while not as roomy and well appointed as the kitchen at the Archies’ farm, was soon filled with wonderful smells as she cooked much of what would be lunch for her men. She would return home later and finish off the hot part of the meal. She tried her best to make each of her families forget that they were sharing their cook with anyone else. Today was there more time to work at home since Mr. Archie asked her not to come back to the farm until he called.
She was glad when the call finally came. She wanted to get back over to the Archies’ and start working on the cake for Alexis’ birthday. She reflected that no one ever baked a birthday cake for Alexis but her. Louise thought that children as young as Alexis shouldn’t have big birthday parties. Though she agreed that big birthday parties like some of the women in the town staged for their kids unfortunate, she thought every birthday should be marked with a cake.
Alexis, who was dividing her time between helping Eileen, and playing with the cat, got restless and was ready to get back home to her room and her toys. She was glad to go home, but was hard to convince her that Kitty wasn’t going to come live with her. Kitty had to be taken out of Alexis’ overnight bag several times before Eileen was able to get Alexis out the door.
As Eileen’s car rolled to a stop alongside the house, Alexis demonstrated her dexterity in opening car doors, and bounded out, intent on dashing into the house, when she saw her parents and Bennie outside the barn walking toward Eileen’s car.
“Daddy I am home! Mommy’s home! Bennie too!” she cried out, not having caught on that her mother was due home that day. She dashed to her father and jumped up with full faith that he would catch her.
“Happy birthday! Alexis!” said Kelly, swinging his little girl up in the air and spinning around before handing her off to her mother for a kiss. “Eileen before you go in, come out and see what is in the barn.”
“Of course, Mr. Kelly,” she said, making her way over to join them.
Giving Bennie a hug while still in her mother’s arms, Alexis announced, “Today is my birthday! I am going to have cake and ice cream for lunch!”
“Oh that is great, Alexis. How old are you now?” asked Bennie, knowing that the little girl was very proud of her age.
Alexis held up three fingers on her right hand, with her thumb and little finger overlapped carefully across her palm, as her mother taught her when explaining what age she would be on her birthday. Then she added something her mother didn’t expect by saying, “On my next birthday I will be four!” and untucking the little finger, held her palm out flat with the thumb still tucked.
Seeing Genevieve’s look of surprise, Eileen said, “My youngest boy taught her that last night after dinner.”
“Well, I think that it is going to be a while before the birthday cake is ready, probably not until after lunch, so how would you like to have your birthday present first?” asked Kelly Alexis.
“Yes, Yes, YES!” cried Alexis cried, with the vigor, which was normally reserved for when she yelled NO, her favorite word of her second year of life.
“Yes, what?” asked Kelly.
“Yes, SIR!” said Alexis joyfully, happy to remember the lesson in manners her father was working on that week with her.
Carrying his child, whom he took from her mother, Kelly led the group into the barn were Cheyenne stood in a beam of sunlight, looking like a golden statue. Alexis was stunned. Though her father said she would get a pony, she thought it was one of those Someday things. She never really expected to get a pony. Ponies were like all the wonderful things she read about in the fairy books, not something real. Alexis sucked in a deep breath and started crying.
“What the …” Kelly started, to say, staring at his bawling daughter. Cheyenne looked on passively having seen this sort performance before. “Alexis, are you afraid of the pony?” he asked.
“It … it … it’s beautiful!” stammered Alexis, through her tears, wiggling to get out of her father’s arms so she could climb up on the rails of the stall and pet the wonderful beast.
“Don’t worry Mr. Kelly, those are happy tears. She loves that pony already,” said Eileen, and headed off to start the cake.
Alexis spent a happy morning perched precariously on the pony’s saddle. While her father led Cheyenne and her mother walked alongside to catch her should her grip on the saddle fail. To Alexis, the ground looked very far away. Though she was frightened, she was so happy that it was hard to get her to get off the animal, until her father pointed out that she would get to brush the pony’s luxuriant white mane before they let her rest.
That night filled with cake and ice cream, Alexis went to bed not accompanied by a friendly cat, but clinging to memories that would last her whole life. Downstairs Bennie, glad that he had Alexis’ special day off from modeling, found his way to Kelly’s office where Kelly sat in his comfortable chair reading a book.
“Mr. Archie, I hope I am not bothering you,” said Bennie, standing at the door.
“No, not at all; what is the matter Bennie?” asked Kelly, laying the book down and worried by Bennie’s suddenly serious demeanor.
“I have a really big favor to ask of you. If you will grant it,” said Bennie shyly.
“Well, I can’t very well grant unless I hear it,” said Kelly, curious that the normally gregarious boy would suddenly become so shy.
“Well, will … you …, well, will you teach me to ride a horse?” He asked.
“What? You don’t know how to ride?” asked Kelly, mentally scolding himself for saying it that way, since he knew that most city kids from poor backgrounds like Bennie didn’t have the opportunity to ride. “Of course you don’t, you are from New York City. And of course I will teach you.”
“Oh, thank-you Mr. Archie, It will make it so more easier to get jobs in the movies if I can ride. There is also a role on a soap that is coming up that they are asking for people who can ride to audition. I don’t know why since it is filmed on a sound stage,” said Bennie in a rush. Thanking Kelly again, Bennie ran off to the little room across the hall and fell asleep happily dreaming of riding alongside The Duke.