Allie carefully placed the jars of freshly canned pears in the canning cupboard. All summer she’d helped Mom can fruits and vegetables. Only the shelf for peaches remained empty, but it would probably stay that way because they didn’t have any peach trees and money was too tight to buy any peaches. Closing the cupboard, Allie raced up the basement steps. She still had time to go over to Kim’s to help get the horses ready for the horse show tomorrow. Kim had promised to let her ride in the rescue race.
Mom was talking on the phone when Allie reached the kitchen. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” her mom was saying.
“Where are you going?” Allie asked the minute her mom hung up.
“Aunt Trudy is in the hospital, and Uncle Eric wants me to come right away. Will you run up to the attic and bring down the brown suitcase while I call your father? Please hurry—I have a dozen things to do before I leave.”
The next hour flew by in a flurry of packing and last-minute decisions. When Dad arrived with Allie’s brother, Rod, they sat down to a hurried meal.
“Who’s going to take care of things here while you’re gone?” Rod asked when he heard the news.
“Allie can manage the housework and cooking,” Mom answered.
Allie dropped her fork. “Does that mean that I can’t go to the horse show with Kim tomorrow? Kim promised that I could ride Socks in the rescue race.”
Rod rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Are horses the only thing that you ever think about?”
“That will do,” Dad said sternly as he pushed back his chair. “I’m going to drive your mother over to Randell. I’ll be back around eleven.”
Mom gave Allie a quick hug. “I’m depending on you to take care of things while I’m gone. You may go with Kim tomorrow if you finish your chores first.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Allie watched her parents drive away, then dashed out of the house, past the empty stables, and across the back pasture to Kim’s house to help her get ready for the next day.
The next morning Allie leaped out of bed and fixed breakfast.
“Dad, will you drop me off at Pringles on your way to the mill?” Rod asked as he ate the last slice of toast. “I finished at the Kellys’ yesterday, and Mr. Pringle hired me to mend his pasture fences.”
“Sure,” his father said, reaching for his hat. “They’re talking about closing the mill again this winter, so every extra job you can get will help out here. Let’s go.”
Allie rushed through her housework, then dashed upstairs to change clothes before Kim came. She had just finished fixing her hair when she heard a truck pull into the yard. She was out the back door before she realized that it wasn’t Kim.
“Morning, Allie,” Mr. Kelly called. “Rod said that you folks could use some peaches. We had a good crop this year, so I brought you some.” He lifted two large boxes from the truck and stacked them on the porch. “Tell your mother that she’d better can them today, or they’ll be too ripe.”
A mouth-watering smell rose from the boxes. What a waste! Too bad Mom isn’t here to can them, Allie thought. Then she remembered what her father had said a few days earlier: “If the mill closes again this winter, we’ll need all that Mom has canned and more.”
When Kim arrived a short time later, Allie had changed back into her old clothes and was washing jars.
“Aren’t you ready yet?” Kim asked.
“I’m not going.” Allie shook the soapy water from her hands. “I tried to call you.”
“Not going! Why not?” Kim demanded. “You can’t miss this competition. Diane Pringle is going to be there with Shalazod. It’s the last time we’ll see her gorgeous horse before she goes away to college. And what about the rescue race? I thought that you were dying to be in it.”
“I’m sorry,” Allie said, motioning toward the back porch. “Mr. Kelly brought us some ripe peaches. I can’t go off and let them spoil.”
Three quick blasts on a horn put an end to the discussion. “Mom’s getting impatient. See you later,” Kim called as she ran down the steps.
Allie rushed to the back porch. She wanted to yell to Kim to wait for her. But she caught her lower lip between her teeth and turned back to the kitchen. As she got out the canning equipment, she tried not to think about the horses and all the fun that she was going to miss.
It was past noon when Allie finished the first box of peaches. She was hot and tired. Peach fuzz made her arms itch, and the floor and stove were sticky with juice.
“Mom always makes it look easy,” she grumbled as she started on the second box of peaches.
Allie was lifting the last rack of jars from the canner when her father and brother came home from work.
“What’s all this?” her father asked. “I thought that you were going to the horse show with Kim today.”
Allie added the hot jars to the ones already covering the counters. “I was, but Mr. Kelly brought us two boxes of peaches this morning, and they needed to be canned before they spoiled.” She looked at the cluttered kitchen. “Sorry—I haven’t had time to start dinner yet.”
“I think that we can make do with soup and sandwiches,” Dad said. “Rod, give Allie a hand while I make a phone call.”
When dinner was over, Allie was almost too tired to move, but she felt a surge of pride when she looked at the rows of bottled peaches.
“How about taking a walk with me,” her father said.
“Right now?” Allie didn’t want to get out of her chair.
“If you’re too tired, I guess I’ll just have to pick out the best stall for Shalazod by myself.”
Dad nodded. “Mr. Pringle asked me today if we could board him while Diane is away at college. Diane likes the way that you handle horses. At first I had decided to say no because I figured that you’d spend all of your time with the horse and neglect everything else. But after what you did today, I’ve changed my mind.”
“Oh, Dad!” Allie threw her arms around his neck. “It’s a dream come true! It’s almost as good as having a horse of my own.”
“Come on, let’s go pick out his stall. Shalazod will be here the day after tomorrow.”
Allie didn’t feel tired at all as she raced her dad to the stables.