The massive yellow hound closed the gap between them as Silas hurled himself down the dirt path. Crazed barking indicated what he feared. The distance between the dig’s jaws and Silas’ feet had become shorter. The clapboard schoolhouse loomed ahead, but it was too far. The dog would reach his brother first.
“Hurry, Nathan!” Gasping, Silas glanced over his shoulder at his older sibling as they ran, barely inches ahead of the animal. With his arms pumping and his dark hair smacking his bulging eyes, Nathan’s taller, thinner frame had always outrun Silas before. Not today. Nathan’s longest, fastest strides would not best his younger brother nor the bared teeth of the dog chasing them. Silas eyed the fangs of the hound, maybe ten feet away from himself but nearly on top of his brother. “Hurry Nathan!” He turned toward the schoolhouse and churned his legs along the dirt path. “Hurry!”
“Full speed, Silas! Don’t look back!”
The animal’s husky breathing filling his ears, tugs at his heels indicated the hound’s teeth were nipping at him, trying to force him to fall. Nathan focused on one thing.
The door to that schoolhouse.
A slender figure appeared in the doorway. Her blue flowered skirt swayed as she moved, her dark locks dancing around her face.
Nathan was close enough to see it but the dog was closer.
It nipped one last time, sending one foot into the other and launching Nathan face first into the gravel.
“I win!” Silas shouted, racing on to the schoolhouse. He slapped the wood-slat siding and turned with a laugh. “I beat you, Nathan!”
Their dog bounced on Nathan before continuing on to Silas, barking and turning in circles with canine excitement.
Nathan bounced up, smacking the dirt from his white Henley shirt—still a few sizes too big—and his worn, brown canvas pants. He plucked bits of gravel from the palms of his hands as he gazed at the reason for his distraction.
“Good morning, Miss Abigail.”
“Morning?” Abbie stopped sweeping the steps and turned her angelic face to the pale blue Missouri sky. “Why, it’s nigh on noon. You boys must have slept in.”
Silas frowned. “No, we- ”
“Silas. Go help pa with the wagon.”
Nathan narrowed his eyes. “Go on.”
Silas swept his sweaty blond locks from his eyes and glanced down the path where their six mule team pulled their father—and 1,800 pounds of cargo for the new settlers. Sacks of dried corn and beans, canvas to make clothes, kegs of salted fish—the staples for gold rushers headed past St. Louis on their way to strike it rich.
“Boys! Captain Drawdy yelled. “Come on now. Help with the team.”
Silas jumped off the schoolhouse stairs and ran his hand over their dog’s head. “C’mon, Boo.” He trotted towards his father’s wagon, the yellow hound tagging along beside him.
Captain Drawdy’s eldest son turned with wide eyes and a slack jaw to face his father. The stout merchant frowned and raised his hands to flap the leather reins over the lead mule’s rump. “Don’t keep me waiting. I have business with Dr. Parks.”
Nathan turned to Abigail. “It’s nice to see you again, Miss Adams.” As his father’s wagon rolled past the side of the schoolhouse, he lowered his voice and peered into her eyes, smiling from ear to ear. “Will you be tending to the schoolhouse long?”
“Longer than I expect it’ll take you boys to unload that wagon and sell your wares.” She brushed some dirt from her hemline, allowing a faint smile to tug at the corners of her mouth.
“Then I’ll see you here in a little bit.” Nathan’s smile stretched larger. “Don’t wander too far.”
Backing away—practically dancing—he let his eyes linger on her as long as he could. Work beckoned. His father. But Abbie was here now.
He watched as she returned to her chore. The warmth of her smile glowed inside him like sunshine.
Time to go.
He turned toward town.
He stopped in his tracks and whipped around to face her.
“You jump off that wagon and pretend to race your brother here to the schoolhouse just so you can have 30 seconds to talk to me before your father’s wagon gets here?”
The glare of the afternoon sun reflected off his cheeks as he looked up at her on the schoolhouse steps. Wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand, he nodded. “To look into your eyes and see that smile?” His chest heaved as he caught his breath. “I’d run all day for it, Abbie.”
Racing off between the buildings, the sixteen-year-old leaped onto the back of the wagon as it rattled towards the mobs of travelers lining the streets of the now-bustling center of his small town.