by Tawa Witko & Deanna Milda
Viviana lived a quiet life in the city, studying and doing everything possible to ensure she was accepted into a good college. She never thought much about who she was or where she came from but all of that will change when her father dies in the line of duty and she is asked to do something she never thought imaginable, participate in the annual Dakota 38 + 2 Ride. It was something that absolutely terrified her but with the encouragement of her uncle and the guidance of her new friends, Dre and Hope, she will discover something within her she never knew existed. She will learn that culture and tradition live within one’s heart and cannot be easily forgotten. Our spirit remembers our ancestors and beckons us to them, even if we are reluctant to go. Thirty Eight is a story of acceptance and love while finding one’s way back home.
Excerpt from THIRTY EIGHT
The school was bristling with activity. Everywhere one looked you could find streamers and flags, balloons and festive decorations lining the long halls. Every nook and cranny seemed to be bursting at the seams with the blue and silver of Centennial High School. Finals week was upon the students, soon summer would be approaching, along with the parties and excitement of life in the city. All seemed ecstatic to start, all but one.
Viviana passed some of her friends, lost in a daze of memories and sadness. It had been nearly seven months since her father passed away and she couldn’t seem to get her life back on track. She continued to excel in school, it was nearly impossible for her not to, but her heart was not in it. How could she be expected to know important dates in European History when her heart was breaking? It simply wasn’t manageable.
“Viv, wait up,” Steffi shouted as she ran up to her.
“Hey Steffi,” she greeted her friend with little inflection of happiness in her tone.
“Viv, come with us this weekend. There’s a party at Chase’s house and I know for a fact that Dylan is going to be there.”
Viviana let out an exaggerated noise of discomfort. “I don’t care if Dylan is there.”
“Seriously, Viv, he’s the hottest guy at school and everyone says he’s totally into you.” Viviana shot her a disparaging look but that didn’t stop Steffi. It never did. “Look, I know you miss your dad and all but I’m sure he doesn’t want you moping around. He’d want you to be out living your life.”
“This isn’t about my dad,” Viviana lied.
Steffi stopped her by tugging on her arm. “I know you’re lying.”
Viviana closed her eyes momentarily. She didn’t want to have this conversation right now. Truthfully, not ever, but especially not now when she was about to take her final exam for her advanced literature class.
“I don’t blame you, Viv. If I lost my dad I’d be a mess but you always said that your dad wanted you to experience life to the fullest, that he wanted you to have everything.”
“I don’t think that he meant ‘the hottest guy in school’,” Viviana muttered, looking to the ground.
“Well, maybe not,” Steffi laughed. “But seriously, you need to get out. We haven’t done anything together in ages.”
“I know,” she said before looking at her friend. “I’ll think about the party. I gotta go, though. I have a final right now.”
“I’m calling you later.”
Viviana waved her friend off and rushed to class. Ms. Jenkins smiled at her as she entered the room and took her seat. Once again, Viviana noticed the pitiful look on her teacher’s face. All her instructors bore it whenever she was near. All had offered to listen to her should she need it but Viviana couldn’t articulate to any of them what was on her mind. How could she tell them what she really wanted when she wasn’t even sure what that was?
Viviana took a steadying breath and began her exam which required her to compare and contrast one American, French and English poet from the turn of the 17th century. While this was not her most liked subject, she had prepared and immediately began writing. She only had this final today and then nothing else until Thursday which was her big exam, AP Anatomy.
With fifteen minutes to spare, Viviana closed her composition book. She smiled at Ms. Jenkins as she placed it on the desk and walked out. She carefully avoided the crowd of eager students, ready to disembark from school and made her way to the parking lot before she could be stopped. She found herself driving and before she knew it, she was in front of the 1369 Coffee House. She chuckled to herself and found parking.
The coffee house was just a little over a mile from Harvard University, where her mother taught in the math department. Marie had often brought her there to sip the café’s signature hot chocolate while they visited about the goings on in their lives. It was funny to Viviana that she found herself there today. She glanced around, almost hoping that her mother would be around but unfortunately she wasn’t.
“Hey Viv, it’s been awhile,” the perky barista stated as Viviana approached her.
“Yeah, school’s been keeping me away.” It amazed her that she was able to lie so easily. “I’ll get a Spiced Americano and one of the blueberry muffins.”
“You got it.”
Viviana paid and found a spot to sit. It was still early enough that it wasn’t extremely crowded, although more people were starting to trickle in. She pulled out her Anatomy study guide and slowly read through each of her note cards. By the time she had run through the first few cards a second time they had called her name.
Viviana tried her best to review but her mind kept drifting. She fluctuated between memories of her father, his burial and then as it usually did, riding Eagle Bear. When Eagle Bear let her on him, she had been beyond shocked but when he had begun to run with purpose she felt something else. While she had been terrified, she had also been invigorated with life and energy. In that moment she was happy and free, it was something she hadn’t felt since returning home.
Eagle Bear stopped running, unable to push himself any further. Viviana felt her heart racing uncontrollably as she lowered her head, grasping the panting horse around the neck. His heart was racing as well. She could hear the steady thrumming in her ear, bringing her much needed peace of mind. She wasn’t sure how but Eagle Bear seemed to know exactly what she needed and gave it to her.
“Thank you Eagle Bear.”
“Viv,” her mother stated, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Were we meeting today? Did I forget?”
“Ummm, no, I just…” Her brows scrunched together and she shook her head. “I just finished my Lit final and thought I’d come here to study.”
Marie smiled and glanced down at the uneaten muffin and coffee that was likely cold by now. The notecards she always made to study with were strewn along the table, untouched. She wondered how long her daughter had been sitting there, gazing off. She took a seat across from her and gave her a small smile as she set her satchel onto the seat beside her.
“You seemed lost in thought when I came in,” Marie stated as a matter of fact.
Viviana didn’t reply, she simply picked up the coffee and took a sip, frowning at how cold it was. She realized that she must have been daydreaming for longer than she had initially thought. She found herself picking at her muffin, crumbling little pieces onto the plate, unable to meet her mother’s thoughtful and worried eyes.
“Mom, how would you feel if I were to forego the Summer Institute this year?”
Viviana heard her mother’s sharp intake of breath but didn’t look up. Instead she broke off another piece of the muffin, its tender goodness never making it to Viviana’s mouth. She finally met her mother’s eyes and could see the fear reflected in them.
“I know it’s important. I’m just not… feeling it.” She swallowed and glanced around the eatery. “Nothing feels right anymore but…” she turned to her mother again. “But I felt right on Eagle Bear.”
“I see. Well, it would be a tremendous opportunity you’d be passing up, something that could make you stand out against other applicants.”
“Viv, you’ve always been so goal driven.” Marie clenched her fingers around each other, willing herself to remain calm. “If you don’t do the institute, what’s your plan?”
She shrugged with a sigh. “I’m not 100% certain at this point. I just know that my heart and head are not in the Institute.” She took her mother’s hands in hers. “But it doesn’t change my desire to go to a great school or anything like that.”
“Of course, Viv, I know you would never give up on your dreams.” Marie squeezed her daughter’s hands. “I also know that you aren’t happy. I want to see that smile again. So once you figure out how to do that you let me know and I’ll do whatever you need.”
Viviana nodded and reached over the table to hug her mother. She wasn’t aware until that moment how much she needed her mother’s unconditional love and support but now that she had it, she almost felt as if her mind could consider all possibilities.
Chase Bordeaux lived in a beautiful two story house, modeled after the home of some actor Viviana didn’t know. As she passed the other nice homes in the area, she reflected on the fact that there were definitely ‘have’s and ‘have nots’ in her community, especially at her school. Her mom had joked once that it reminded her sometimes of an old movie called Pretty in Pink. Viviana had never heard of it but had rented it once and laughed, not just at the outrageous clothes of the 80’s but also at the fact that there were some universal similarities between then and now.
She pulled into the long driveway and found a parking spot. Glancing in her rear view mirror, she checked her makeup, applying another layer of lip gloss. She had debated with herself for hours, trying to decide if she wanted to venture out of the house or not. Eventually, Steffi’s constant and somewhat annoying text messages had done the trick and she quickly changed into a short black dress with rhinestones trimming the hem and a pair of matching black heels, one of the only outfits she owned befitting of an end of the year party.
“VIV!” Steffi shouted as she stormed out of the house to greet her friend.
“Dylan is gonna shit himself when he sees you in this dress.”
Viviana rolled her eyes and muttered, “I can already tell that this is gonna be a long night.”
“Oh stop. Now come inside.”
The inside of Chase’s home was magnificent. Plush leather furniture filled to the brim with people ‘getting to know each other’ as Steffi always called it. But Viviana called it what it was, making out or attempting to make out. Her mind wandered as she admired the priceless artwork on the walls and the crystal vases with fresh cut flowers strategically placed to highlight just how much wealth the family had. Viviana sighed as she imagined that pretty much any of the paintings probably cost as much as her mother’s salary.
Steffi escorted, or drug if you were to ask Viviana, her friend through the throes of people into the dining room where there were coolers of various drinks. Both girls grabbed wine coolers. It was the only alcohol Viviana would drink, having decided that they carried the least amount of alcohol and were something she could sip throughout the night while still keeping her wits about her.
“Why don’t you let me make you something?” Dylan stated provocatively from behind her.
Viviana turned around quickly and shook her head, lifting the wine cooler to her lips and taking a small sip. Dylan grinned back at her. He was indeed handsome in your typical Anglo Saxon way. He had a strong jaw, blond wavy hair, piercing blue eyes that seemed able to hypnotize you and a smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. He was straight out of a romantic novel.
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
“That makes two of us,” Viviana replied.
“Sorry about your dad.”
“Thanks, I didn’t know you knew about that.” She hoped her voice sounded smoother than what she felt.
“I heard. Hey, you want to hang out?”
“Well, I’m actually here with…” she paused when she realized that Steffi had disappeared. Traitor! She smiled reluctantly at Dylan, “Umm, sure, I guess.”
He took her hand and she frowned at his forwardness, though Dylan didn’t seem to notice. As they walked through the crowd of people Viviana couldn’t help but notice that he was leading her upstairs. He grinned at her and then stopped at a room, opening the door.
“I’m not going in your bedroom,” Viviana stated fiercely.
“It’s just a quiet place to talk.” He motioned downstairs. “It’s loud down there. I promise I won’t try anything,” he said as he pulled the hand he was holding and placed it over his heart.
Viviana stared at him incredulously and then laughed. She suddenly had a vision of Pretty in Pink. The current scene was eerily familiar and comical in a horrifying way. It was hard to fathom but the reality was that Dylan probably thought that just because he was popular and cute and, not to mention, quite rich that Viviana, the middle class daughter of a college professor, would just jump at the opportunity to ‘be’ with him.
“What’s so funny?”
Viviana shook her head. “Ya know, I really need to go.”
“But you just got here.”
“Oh, I’m positive that you’ll find some way to occupy your time without me.”
“Viviana, what are you upset about?”
She didn’t respond, she simply turned on her heels and took the steps much faster that was deemed safe but she needed to get out of there and quickly. Steffi, having seen Viviana darting down the staircase, caught up to her as she reached the door and quickly stopped her.
“Viviana what happened. Did he try something? Do you need me to kick his ass ’cause you know I will?”
“It’s fine. I just need to go. I don’t feel right here anymore.”
“What do you mean? Not right here in this house or not right in Cambridge?” she shoved them both outside and shut the door, cancelling out the loud music behind them. “Viv, what’s going on with you?”
Viviana ran her fingers through her hair. “I just keep thinking that something’s… wrong. I can’t explain it.”
Steffi stared at her friend and then stepped up to her, looping her arm around her waist. Viviana looked at her confused when Steffi started walking them down the long cobblestone pathway towards the parked vehicles.
“Where are we going?”
“To your place, silly,” Steffi replied casually.
“But I thought you wanted to go to this party.”
“I did but, ya know, I’ll end up ‘accidentally’,” she emphasized the word with quotation marks, “spilling a bottle of booze on Dylan’s face, lap, head and I’ll just end up in trouble. So me leaving is probably the best course of action I can take,” she finished with a smirk and a wink.
“Well, I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble,” Viviana replied, leaning against her friend.
“Besides, you and I need some girl bonding time.”
Viviana nodded. “Yes, I think we do.”
The next several days were fairly uneventful. She and Steffi had spent time together and Viviana had told her, as best as she could, about what she was thinking and feeling. While Steffi was not completely on board with what Viviana was considering doing, she supported her anyway because that’s what best friends did for one another.
Viviana stared at her reflection in the vanity mirror on the dresser. She looked as she always did, it seemed. Her hair was a bit longer than normal, landing mid-back in soft chestnut curls. She wanted to look confident and hoped that it was reflected in her unwavering brown eyes. She had dreamed almost every night for the past couple of weeks of Eagle Bear. She wasn’t sure whether it was Eagle Bear or her father but something was calling to her, beckoning her home, so to speak. She just hoped her mother would understand. She quickly exited her bedroom and strode down the hall towards the living room. Her mom was in the recliner reading a book. Viviana smiled. She had lost track of how many times she had found her mother doing just that.
“Hey mom,” Viviana interrupted her mother’s reading.
Marie looked up, setting the book on her lap. Her daughter had been on edge for a week now, something had been gnawing at her but Marie refused to push her. She knew when Viviana was ready that she would talk to her about it. It appeared that today was that day.
“You have that determined look on your face,” Marie smiled. “What’s on your mind?”
“I want to know if it would be possible to go to Flandreau. Maybe spend 3 or 4 weeks with Uncle John.”
Marie gave a thoughtful nod. She had suspected that this might be what was on her mind. She had actually called John a few days ago with her suspicions and had been reassured that Viviana was welcome whenever she wanted to come down. Marie didn’t want to make that decision for her daughter though. Viviana needed to approach her with it.
“I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
Viviana sat down across from her mom. “You do?”
“Why?” she asked hesitantly.
“Viviana, I kept thinking about what you said about Eagle Bear and I remembered how much your father loved his horses. I think maybe that’s why you haven’t been happy. You need that connection as much as he did.”
Viviana opened her mouth to say something but no words came out, so Marie continued.
“I don’t know if that will make you happy or not but if there is a possibility then I’m all for it. What harm could come from you spending time there. Perhaps… well, perhaps it will fill the hole that your father’s death created.”
Viviana smiled brightly and wrapped her arms around her mother, hugging her tightly. She had been prepared to have to prove her case but to know her mother supported her decision was further evidence that it was right choice to make.
Viviana looked left and right, frantic. Her uncle knew what time her plane was to arrive but yet she didn’t see him. She walked past several people and waited for her luggage to arrive, figuring that maybe he was just running a little bit late. Every so often she would catch herself scanning the small airport, hoping to see her Uncle John walking through the doors. She had called him twice but he hadn’t responded yet and just as she reached for her phone to try once more she heard a rustle next to her.
“I can help with that,” she heard as someone reached down to touch the handle of her suitcase.
“That’s alright. I have it,” she responded agitatedly.
She looked up to see a young man, roughly her age standing before her. He was thin and wiry but seemed strong at the same time. He wore a pair of faded jeans and t-shirt with a picture of four Indian men on it bearing the saying, ‘Homeland Security, Fighting Terrorism since 1492’. His eyes were a deep brown and he had a small, jagged scar that ran from the corner of his left eyebrow down to his ear. She wondered briefly how he got it. He smiled at her, showing his white teeth, only slightly crooked in the front.
“You don’t remember me do you?” he asked, his voice kind with a slight drawl she didn’t recognize.
She bit her lip nervously and shook her head. She was pretty sure she would have remembered meeting someone that looked like him. He nodded and stood straight up; releasing the hold he had on her luggage. He carefully removed the baseball cap from his head, revealing his short, dark hair, cut like a soldier might wear it. She let out a soft breath.
“My names Deandre but everyone calls me Dre. I knew your father. In fact, you and I played together back in the day, before your parents split up.”
“Dre,” she stumbled. She vaguely remembered playing with someone named Dre but he was kind of chubby then. He was also a few years older than her, if her memory recalled. “You, umm, look so different.”
He laughed. “Well, I would imagine it would be nearly impossible to look like a 10 year old forever.”
Viviana closed her eyes and shook her head. She couldn’t believe how idiotic she sounded. It wasn’t like her to get tongue tied. She almost smiled thinking that Steffi would be mortified at her behavior. He cleared his throat and she glanced up at him.
“John got tied up at the ranch. We were having some calving issues and he asked me to pick you up.”
“Why didn’t he call to tell me that?”
“Well, primarily because he didn’t have cell signal where he was at and ya know, he…” Dre bounced on his feet slightly and chuckled lightly. “Let’s just say, his hands were a little occupied.”
Viviana stared at him reluctantly, having no idea what he was referring to and wondering why on earth she should trust him.
“Would it help if I said I was in his truck?” He grabbed the handle of her suitcase and she quickly followed, prepared to call security. He then gestured outside where her uncle’s truck was idling. “See.”
“Okay, well, sorry I didn’t believe you but you could be a serial killer or something.”
He chuckled once more. “Eh, no prob but I don’t think there’s many serial killers in South Dakota.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “I suppose not.”
“You hungry, wanna grab something before we leave town?”
“Sure,” she replied, adjusting her backpack.
He lifted her heavy suitcase as if it were nothing and adjusted it in the bed of the truck in the same manner in which her uncle did when she and her mother were here for her father’s funeral. He then opened her door and smiled a toothy grin as she slipped inside the cab.
“Anywhere in particular you want to go?” he asked as he slid behind the wheel.
“No, not at all, burgers are fine.”
He nodded and they went through the local Burger King drive thru. After procuring two Whopper’s, one with everything and one minus all the extras, they jumped onto Interstate 29 and headed towards the reservation.
Flandreau was approximately 45 miles from the airport. Back home 45 miles could take anywhere from 90 minutes to a few hours depending on traffic but on the sparse Dakota highway it would take just over 30 minutes. The roadside looked different this time around though. They were green and full with crops, mostly corn, intermixed with prairie grass blowing side to side in the light wind.
Dre had started to say something to Viviana but had seen that she was staring wistfully out the window, obviously deep in thought, so he kept his mouth shut. It was probably for the better since he figured he would likely have said something stupid, such as telling her that he asked her uncle if he could come get her or that he had a bit of a crush on her. Yes, those were definitely things he didn’t need to say out loud.
“Do you know off hand if my uncle stocked my father’s fridge?”
“Umm, nope, don’t know but if you need to go to the store I can run you to Maynard’s.”
“I don’t want you to go out of your way.”
“It’s okay, Viviana. I’m supposed to be helping you while you’re here.”
Viviana turned to look at him. Her brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Well, uhhh.” Dre gave her a quick glance before pulling off at the Flandreau exit. “You know Eagle Bear can be a bit ornery so we thought it would help if I was with you.”
“So my uncle won’t be there?”
“He will but he can’t be there all the time so that’s where I come in. I know it’s been awhile since you’ve been riding so I’m gonna make sure you can handle him.”
“Thank you. I’m sure I need the help. I just thought it would be my uncle helping me. I didn’t know he was gonna pawn me off on someone else.”
She turned back to the window as they went through town.
“He’s not pawning you off. It’s my job, Viviana. I have worked for your father as well as your uncle. The horses know me. They trust me. It makes sense that I help you. Your uncle is taking some time off while you’re here but in the meantime I’ll be there.”
Viviana nodded as they passed the pow wow grounds and then veered off down a long gravel road. The pasture was full of tall prairie grass that would reach her knees were she to walk through it. She could see that her father’s six horses were bunched together. They looked curiously towards the truck roaring down the path. When they got to the house, Viviana noticed that there was another truck parked near the shed. She presumed that was Dre’s vehicle.
“Did you want to check the fridge first, see what you need or…”
“I want to see Eagle Bear,” she interrupted.
“Sure, no problem.”
As Viviana stepped out of the vehicle, she saw him. Eagle Bear was standing at the fence line, expectantly, just like he did when she had visited him before. Viviana began walking over to him, seeing him nod his head in a majestic fashion. He didn’t move away from her though. He simply eyed her curiously.
“Hello, Eagle Bear,” she said calmly, reaching her hand out to him.
Eagle Bear turned his head just slightly and let her touch him. Her hand smoothed down the hair along his thick and muscular neck before moving to his snout. Dre watched in astonishment as the normally rambunctious horse remained calm. He had heard that she had rode him bareback the last time she was here which no one but Frank had ever done, but he didn’t really believe it. Now, he could see it.
“Would you like to ride him for bit?”
She glanced over her shoulder with a smile that could brighten the world. He couldn’t help but smile in return.
“I’ll be right back.”
Viviana paid little attention to Dre’s footsteps receding towards the barn. Her sole focus was on Eagle Bear. She stroked this mane and cooed softly to him, telling him how happy she was to see him again. So lost in what she was doing that she actually startled when Dre approached.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said apologetically as he came up to her.
Viviana stepped back as Dre set the saddle on the fence, placing the blanket and then the rest of the gear on top of it. He hopped over the fence and approached Eagle Bear, showing him the halter and lead rope, letting him sniff it before he put it on him.
“It’s always good to let the horse smell things before using them on them.”
“So you gonna have him sniff the saddle too?” Viviana said sarcastically.
If Dre was offended he didn’t let it show. Instead he just laughed and wrapped the lead rope around the fence, tying Eagle Bear to it. He then grabbed the saddle blanket and placed it on Eagle Bear’s back, rubbing along his neck as if to thank him for standing still. He then grabbed the saddle and placed it on top of the blanket. Viviana watched him carefully. She would need to learn how to do this on her own at some point.
“There are different parts to the saddle,” Dre said, noticing her watching him. “This right here is the cinch.” He quickly fastened it under Eagle Bear’s belly. “Then of course these are the stirrups. I grabbed the smallest saddle we got but I’ll have to adjust the stirrups once you get on.”
He stepped towards the fence and looked at her. “Do you want to try to put on his reins and bit?”
“Sure but I’m not sure how to do it.”
“Come on this side of the fence.”
She smiled at Eagle Bear and climbed over the fence, dropping beside Dre. He handed her the reins which were already attached to the bit. She stared at it, trying to determine which way it was supposed to go in. Some guys would have made fun of her but Dre didn’t. He smiled and moved her hands into the right position. He then explained how to insert the bit and buckle the straps.
“He won’t bite you,” he said reassuringly as Viviana hesitated, seeing Eagle Bear’s large teeth.
“He won’t open his mouth,” she noticed the whine in her voice and checked it quickly.
“Just push on them slightly. He’ll release and let you put the bit in.”
As if on cue Eagle Bear opened his mouth just enough for her to slip the metal contraption inside. She followed Dre’s instructions and glanced at him for approval. He was smiling.
“That’s good, Viviana. Now let me help you into the saddle.”
She stuck her foot in the stirrup and Dre gave her a little push as her leg flew over the seat. She listened to Dre as he explained the various parts to the saddle while adjusting her stirrups. He had pulled his hat backwards and Viviana had to stop herself from staring.
“I know you rode him bareback but I’d prefer you ride with a saddle, at least while you’re learning.” Viviana gave him a mock salute. He rolled his eyes and continued. “If you want him to turn just flick the reins in the direction you want to go.”
“That much I do remember.”
He smirked and nodded as he took hold of the lead rope. He led them to the side of the barn where there was a very large bay horse already saddled. Dre stopped her and Eagle Bear and then tied the lead rope loosely around the saddle horn. Moments later he was on his horse beside her.
“We’ll take it slow at first so I can see what you remember but also, this is your time to bond with him. You need to be gentle but firm. Eagle Bear is strong willed. You don’t want to get in a power struggle with him.”
She nodded and rubbed along Eagle Bear’s neck again before snapping the reins slightly for him to move. He began walking and as her body bounced slightly in the saddle she felt it again, that undeniable connection to her father through Eagle Bear.
“You wanna run?” Dre asked, drawing her out of her thoughts.
Without answering, Viviana kicked at Eagle Bear’s sides and flicked the reins forward. Eagle Bear took off quickly, leaving Dre behind. Viviana could hear the steady sound of his horse’s hooves hitting the ground but she kept going, feeling the wind against her skin, flicking her hair in all directions.
Dre pushed passed her and motioned with his free hand for her to follow him. She lightly tugged the reins to the left and Eagle Bear immediately shifted directions, picking up speed to catch up to the flying blur before them. As soon as Eagle Bear neared the other horse it seemed to kick into another gear and sped further ahead, stopping only when it reached a watering hole.
“Oh my God, your horse is so fast!” Viviana stated breathlessly as she came upon them.
Dre leaned down and hugged the neck of his horse. “He’s part Arabian. One of the best racers around,” he said as he dismounted, loosening the lead rope to allow his horse to drink freely.
“What’s his name?”
“Dash for Cash,” Dre replied with a smile as he helped Viviana down.
She grinned at the name as he loosened Eagle Bear’s lead. She led him to the water where he eagerly drank. Suddenly conscious of the tangled mess atop her head, Viviana tried to brush her hair down. That turned out to be a difficult feat considering she only had one hand to use.
“Do you like working for my uncle?”
“Yeah, he’s great. I hope to have my own place though, well, someday I will.” He rubbed along Dash for Cash’s neck again. “Work my own ranch. Been saving everything I have, there’s a piece of land I want not far from here.”
“Isn’t there land for everyone to use?”
“Nah, doesn’t work that way. Lots of the land got sold off but the old guy that has the property I want is thinking about moving. All his kids and grandkids are gone and he’s getting to old to work the land so he’s considering selling it.”
“Not to pry but do you make enough to do that, you know, just working for my uncle?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Your uncle can’t pay me much. He gave me Dash here so I’m working this summer to pay him back for him.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I’m actually going into the guard.”
“The National Guard?”
“Yeah, signed up when I was 17. Gonna do my boot camp this month. I got an extension until after the pow wow and then I report for my official tour of duty.”
“Wow, I didn’t know you could do that.”
“By the time I’m done I’ll be good to go. What about you? Your dad said you were gonna be a doctor.” He leaned back against Dash’s hind quarters.
“Well, I’ve been fast tracking towards that but lately I’ve been feeling kind of out of sync.”
“You’ll do it. You’ve always been smart.”
She laughed. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Because,” he said with a knowing smirk, “your dad said so.”
She rolled her eyes and he grinned.
“Come on, let’s go. Maynard’s ain’t open all night.”
With that, he reached for Eagle Bear’s lead rope and then helped her up into the saddle. They trotted home. Viviana was lost in her head again as thoughts of her father bragging about her to Dre and of Dre himself joining the military as a means to get what he wanted floated through her mind.
Over the next two weeks Viviana worked daily with Dre. He was an excellent teacher, going over every item associated with taking care of Eagle Bear. The small, minuscule things that the untrained eye would not notice were explained in depth. He took his job of training her very seriously. They went on daily journeys around her father’s property but also just anywhere they could. He took the time to show her how to spot snakes and other animals and what to do should her horse be spooked by them. She had learned so much from him. It would be strange without his presence around her. Granted her uncle had been there daily as well but Dre was someone her age.
Viviana enjoyed her uncle’s company. Being around him was the closest she would get to being around her father again. They had taken to eating dinner together every night. After the first few nights she had tired of eating at the casino and told him she would cook for the two of them from then on. He didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.
Viviana glanced at the young man riding beside her. He was dressed as he always was; in a pair of wranglers that she now assumed was the only brand acceptable for a cowboy to wear, and a t-shirt, with his customary baseball cap atop his head. He had been uncharacteristically quiet as they approached the watering bin near the barn. In fact, he had seemed almost distant for the past couple of days. Generally he was always talking and laughing, it was often hard to get a word in edgewise but she liked it. He had such a laid back presence about him that he made her feel calm so his current state troubled her as it was so out of character from his usual demeanor.
“Are you nervous about leaving on Monday?” Viviana asked curiously as he dismounted from Dash’s back.
He glanced at her and shook his head.
“Nah, not at all. I can handle anything the Guard can dish out. I’m just, well, I guess I wish I could maneuver another week home.”
“Why’s that?” she asked as she carefully got off of Eagle Bear. When she looked at him again she noticed that he was staring at her with a bewildered look on his face. “What?”
“Nothing,” he replied as he began to remove Dash’s saddle.
She frowned. Was she missing something? What was he trying to tell her? She was generally not interested in boys or relationships. From what she had seen with other girls, once that happened, they seemed to forget all about studying or doing well in classes. Relationships were a luxury she couldn’t afford at the moment. Yet, she couldn’t help but think about Dre in that manner.
“I was wondering if you wanted to go to the Wacipi with me tonight,” Dre asked casually, not looking at her.
She blinked herself out of her thoughts. Viviana wasn’t sure how to respond. Had he just asked her out, as in a date or was he simply being nice and showing her around like he had been for the past two weeks. She had actually gone to the pow wow the night before with her uncle and had a blast but she hadn’t seen Dre there.
“They usually have a pretty good fireworks display on Saturday night which, of course, is tonight so I thought maybe you’d like to see it,” he rambled.
“Yeah, sure, that would be great. Who can turn down fireworks?”
He smirked slightly. “Come on; let’s take care of these two.”
Viviana followed him back to the barn where they washed off their respective horses with cool water. Viviana looked up when she heard her uncle’s truck rattling down the gravel road. Smoke billowed around the vehicle as her uncle drove faster than was probably appropriate.
“He’s back early,” Viviana mused as she stroked Eagle Bear’s neck. His eyes were closed and she swore he was asleep.
Dre waved at John who had parked his vehicle and was stepping out of it. Her uncle adjusted his cowboy hat before walking towards them. Viviana released Eagle Bear’s lead rope and he started to walk towards the herd.
“How was he?” John asked, motioning his head in Eagle Bear’s direction.
“He’s great,” Dre replied.
“Good,” he said with a nod before looking at Viviana. “They’re having a feed at the pow wow, thought I’d come and pick you up. We could eat dinner there if that’s alright.”
“Oh, umm, okay.” She stole a quick glance at Dre. He didn’t look upset but she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. She couldn’t tell her Uncle no.
“You coming too?” Uncle John asked, looking in Dre’s direction.
Dre nodded as he let Dash loose to join the other horses. He stretched slightly and then took off his cap, running his hand over his head. It was hot today and he was sweating up a storm.
“Think I’m gonna go run my head in some water, cool off a bit first. But I’ll see you both there.”
Viviana watched him go and turned to her uncle. “Do I have time to take a quick shower?”
He chuckled and removed his cowboy hat, fanning himself. “It is pretty warm today. Can you be ready in 30 minutes?”
“I can,” she replied smiling.
Viviana and her uncle arrived at the pow wow grounds close to 4:30 p.m., plenty of time to catch the last few intertribals and exit before the supper break. She remembered going out to dance when she was in what was called the ‘Tiny Tot’ category but hadn’t danced since then. She loved watching everyone in their regalia. Their dancing was beautifully poetic. She causally glanced around, trying not to be obvious in her search for Dre. There was still no sign of him.
Dre pulled up in his truck, parking near the Gordon Weston lodge area. Several of the men waved at him and wished him well. Everyone knew he was leaving early Monday morning for boot camp and then if he wanted, he could be stationed elsewhere for at least a year or two. But Dre had no intention of leaving South Dakota.
“Anyone seen John?” he asked hopeful.
“Saw him and his niece by the crow’s nest,” one of the men replied.
Dre walked around the circle of the arena until he reached the ‘crow’s nest’, which was what people called the announcer’s stand. He saw John and Viviana immediately. Viviana had changed clothes. She was now wearing one of those long flowing summer dresses that he had seen some of the girls in Sioux Falls wear. Her feet, which were generally covered by cowgirl boots, were now exposed in a pair of sandals. She wore her hair down but she kept fiddling with it the way girls often did when they were debating putting it up in a ponytail. She looked up just as Dre approached and gave him a smile that her uncle quickly picked up on.
“Did I miss chow?” Dre asked with a chuckle.
“Nope. They haven’t even called for people to line up…” John stopped when he saw the vans pulling up. “Looks like you’re just in time.”
People started lining up and Dre motioned his head to Viviana. She followed as they went to wait in the forming line, while her uncle continued his conversation. As they got out of earshot of her uncle Dre leaned close to her ear.
“You look really nice.”
“Thanks,” she said with a smile. “My friend insisted I bring a dress, not sure where she expected me to wear it to. It’s not like I could jump on Eagle Bear in this.”
He laughed. “Well, if you decide to try can you make sure I’m there ’cause I want to see it?”
She rolled her eyes and nudged his shoulder. They walked towards the food line and stepped inside. It was very clear to Viviana that Dre knew pretty much everyone. He talked with everyone or gave a quick nod. They went through the line, gathering plates of chicken and potato salad before finding a place to sit. Viviana kept quiet, listening to the conversation occurring between Dre and her uncle, discussing his upcoming departure. She hated that it made her stomach hurt.
“Wanna walk around?”
“Sure,” she said, but she wasn’t sure how it would be any different from walking around the day before.
He picked up the plates and dumped them into the garbage pail nearby. They walked around perusing the different stands, looking at jewelry and bags. The atmosphere was vibrant. As they began walking outside of the general pow wow vicinity, Viviana noticed many people in their cars. Most were doing their hair or having someone else do it, others were tending to their regalia, preparing for the next ‘Grand Entry’. They started walking passed the pow wow grounds altogether and towards some trees.
“Where are we going?”
He pointed to a large shaded area. “Just over there. It’s quieter.”
She nodded as they continued walking towards it. She heard laughter coming from an area below them and took a peek, noticing several young children splashing around in the shallow river. They were so carefree, as if nothing in the world bothered them. She felt Dre’s hand gently touch her lower back, directing her to an area under the tree. She smiled and took a seat, leaning her back against the massive trunk. He lowered himself beside her, drawing his knees up and picking at the grass.
“So you’re leaving Monday, right?”
He simply nodded. They hadn’t talked much about him leaving or the guard. He generally kept things about her and about the horses. Earlier today he had said he wasn’t nervous, yet he seemed so lost in thought.
“Where will you be doing your boot camp?”
“So how exactly does that work?” she asked.
He glanced at her for the first time since sitting down. “How does what work?”
“You get to live at home, right?”
“Well, I’ll do 12 weeks of boot camp. I get to come home after that, but one weekend every month I have to leave, unless they need us for something.”
“I hope they don’t need you for anything.”
He laughed and then looked at her seriously. “Have you liked living here this summer?”
“Yes, it’s been great.”
“Is it something you think you’d like to do again?” he asked somewhat hesitantly.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Yeah, I suppose.” She glanced around at the beautiful surroundings. “I really like it here.”
He smiled. “Yeah, I like it here too.”
They sat in the shade talking about life on the reservation before he shifted the conversation to Cambridge. She told him about the coffee shops she absolutely adored and the constant activity that surrounded her. When they heard the announcer call for dancers, Dre stood up and reached his hand down to help her up.
“We better head back.”
“My uncle is probably wondering where I wandered off to,” she said with a smile.
“He knows you’re with me so he’ll know that I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Viviana smiled at that because he was probably right. Although she and her uncle hadn’t talked about Dre she definitely got the sense that her uncle liked him. The two strolled back to the arena and found seats to watch the color guard lead the hundreds of dancers into the arena. Viviana was enthralled with it all. The fluidity of movement, the sounds of the bells on the men’s ankles and the click, click, click of the jingles on the women’s dresses were hypnotizing.
Viviana and Dre had sat most of the night, visiting and eating frybread with honey and powdered sugar sprinkled on it, her new favorite food. Soon, the night descended upon them and it wasn’t long before the announcer called for people to enter the arena. Viviana looked around as the lights began to flicker off. Dre stood and reached for her hand. She pulled it back immediately.
“Come on, let’s go out there.”
“No way, I don’t know how to dance.”
“It’s easy. Come on, I’ll show you. Besides it’s the best place to watch the fireworks.”
Viviana rose hesitantly. He grinned and led her into the arena where there were already lots of people lingering about. Soon a slow and melodic drumbeat emerged from the darkness as people formed a huge circle. They began moving to the steady beat, except for Viviana who was frozen in place.
“Just look at my feet,” Dre said reassuringly.
“But it’s dark!”
He laughed and pulled out a tiny flashlight that was attached to his keys. She watched the movement of his feet and started mimicking him. It felt awkward to her as she struggled to stay on beat trying not to look like a fool. Dre didn’t laugh at her although she was sure he wanted to. And with a loud burst in the night sky, the first round of brilliant fireworks colored the darkness and with it there was a collective squeal of delight from all the children in and out of the arena. She glanced at Dre who smiled brightly. The fireworks continued as he took her hand in his while they continued to dance. Of course, there were other people dancing as well but Dre’s focus was solely on Viviana.
“You were right. They put on a great show,” she said in awe.
He didn’t reply, so she glanced up at him. He was watching her with reverence. Without thinking he leaned his head down, hesitating only slightly to see if she would pull away. She didn’t. Instead she titled her head towards him as their lips touched. It was a simple peck at first. Their lips not moving, until suddenly they did. The kiss slowly took a passionate turn as they gave in to the attraction they had both felt from the first time they met. When the fireworks’ grand finale began, they pulled away from each other. His tongue passed over his lips and then he turned his head up just as everyone started making noises. War cries she would later learn. And standing beside her was Dre, a huge smile plastered on his face as he cried out as well, the loudest amongst those present.
Viviana was quiet as she rode in the cab of her uncle’s truck. She wasn’t sure what to think about what happened with Dre. Her lips still held the memory of his touch and it made her heart flutter. Getting involved with someone was not what she wanted to do when she came out here but here she was, reeling from the intensity of his kiss and knowing that he would be gone soon.
“I have something I want to talk to you about,” John said, breaking the silence.
Viviana swallowed. Here it was. He was going to talk to her about Dre. About having a relationship with someone she wouldn’t be seeing again. Perhaps he would do the fatherly thing and forbade her from seeing him. What happened next was clearly not what she had anticipated in the slightest.
“Did Frank ever speak to you about the ride?”
“The what?” she asked turning to look at him.
He was staring forward, watching the road ahead of them. There was a determination in the posture of his body. His face was frozen in thought; as if he were considering something very carefully while his weathered hands gripped the wheel tightly. He suddenly pulled the truck to the side of the road, startling her.
“Every year, men, women, and children ride their horses from south Dakota to Minnesota, 330 miles to honor the Dakota 38.” He stopped momentarily to see if she was aware of what he was talking about. He continued upon seeing her confusion. “In 1862, President Lincoln ordered the mass hanging of 38 Dakota warriors. It was the largest mass hanging in United States history.”
Viviana’s face dropped. “President Lincoln… ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ Lincoln, freed the slaves Lincoln… you’re kidding me right?”
“No. I’m not kidding you.” Viviana could hear the harshness in his tone. He took a breath, settling himself before he continued. “The Dakota War happened after the people were denied food. Many lives were taken in the battle on both sides. The Dakota were imprisoned. Many were to be executed, but Lincoln ordered only 38 to be hanged.”
Viviana was shaking her head. She had never heard of this event before now. She thought back to her advanced history class and this was never mentioned. She couldn’t comprehend why that was. This was something that people needed to know about.
“In 2005 a man named Jim Miller had a dream. He saw riders coming into Mankato, he saw the 38 warriors. In 2009, his dream became a reality. Now the Dakota 38 Ride happens every year. We start on December 10th and continue through to Christmas Day. Then on the 26th, we ride to the hanging site to honor those men who died there. It’s very powerful. Viviana…” he stopped, noticing she had a blank expression on her normally expressive face.
Viviana was still trying to absorb all that she had just heard. She simply couldn’t fathom that something of this magnitude had happened to her people. But mostly she didn’t understand why her father had never talked to her about it. This seemed like something he should have mentioned to her. Her uncle cleared his throat and she realized that he had been calling her name. She turned her gaze to him.
“Your father was a rider,” he said when they made eye contact again. Viviana noticed that there was a fierceness in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before. “I’d like you to be a rider too.”
“Whhhhaaat?” She stuttered. She couldn’t have heard him correctly.
“I wasn’t sure at first, but seeing you on Eagle Bear. How well you handle him. I know you can do it. It’s what your father wanted.”
Viviana stared, her mouth wide open in disbelief and shock.
“He’s been trying to tell me this but I wasn’t certain. But now, now I know.” He reached over and touched her shoulder. “Viviana, he wants you take his place.”
“I… Uncle, I can’t. I’d have to miss two weeks of school. I… I barely know how to ride. There’s no way I could ride Eagle Bear for 330 miles. It’s… impossible.”
He squeezed her shoulder lightly. “No, it isn’t impossible. It’s within you. I’ve seen the way you are around Eagle Bear. He isn’t an easy horse, yet you manage him with ease. You got that from your father, from our people. We are a horse nation, tonjan.” He removed his hand from her shoulder and touched his chest, right over his heart. “We feel it. We connect with it, right here. I know you feel it too.”
Viviana felt tears in her eyes as her heart constricted. She would be lying if she said she didn’t feel a connection to Eagle Bear. She had even accepted that her father’s love of horses had been passed down to her but to believe she could do something so difficult was hard to comprehend. She was a city girl. She wasn’t someone who was able to ride horses all the time.
“Can I think about it?” she finally asked.
He seemed disappointed but he smiled and nodded. “Yes, of course.”
He turned and shifted the truck in gear, pulling out carefully onto the road. She could tell by the firm set of his jaw that he was deep in thought. They were both silent the rest of the way home. It was something she was thankful for. So much had happened that she was at a loss for what to think or say. When they arrived at the house she noticed that Eagle Bear was standing at the fence. The minute the truck stopped, Viviana turned and headed towards him. Her uncle watched her walk away with a sigh before stepping into the house.
“Hey, Eagle Bear,” Viviana said as she approached.
He whinnied and impulsively she climbed over the fence. He immediately moved so that she could straddle his back. She pulled her dress hem up so she could throw her leg over him and then as she had done the very first time she had seen him, she rode as fast as she could, letting the darkness mask her tears while the cold air swept her hair back. She let her thoughts escape her, allowing herself to think with her heart instead of her head. Before long, a decision was made and she knew exactly what she must do.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
Viviana was sure this had been the hundredth time her mom had asked her this question. Overall, she surprisingly understood when Viviana had told her she was going to miss two weeks of school so that she could do the Dakota 38 Ride. Much more understanding than Viviana had expected. But now that the time had come for her to leave for the ride, her mother’s anxiety must have gotten the better of her because she seemed to be repeating herself, something that she rarely did.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Viviana stated reassuringly.
“It’s supposed to be very cold. Did you pack enough warm clothing?”
Viviana turned to look at her, arching her brow before reaching out to her mother, pulling her into a tight hug.
“I feel like I’m losing you.”
“Mom, you’ll never lose me but…” she pulled away and touched her cheek. “You need to let me do this without me worrying about you.” She sighed and went back to her packing. “I have to do this, Mom. I just… I wish I could explain how important this is to me but there just aren’t any words.” She turned back around to see that her mom had tears in her eyes. “Please tell me you understand.”
“I do.” Marie stood tall and breathed in deeply. “I do, Viviana.”
Viviana smiled. “Good. Well… I think I’m packed.”
“Are you allowed to bring that many bags?” Marie asked with a curious smile.
“What do you mean?” Viviana asked, turning to stare at the one suitcase, duffle bag and backpack.
Her mother laughed. “I’m just teasing. I’m sure you are fine.”
“Geez, Mom,” Viviana rolled her eyes and tossed a pillow at her.
“We better go. You know how long it takes to go through security at Logan.”
Viviana nodded as she took a cursory look around her bedroom to make sure she hadn’t forgotten something of importance. Although she wasn’t really sure what she might need aside from warm clothes. She had been hounding her uncle for the past several weeks but all he kept telling her was to pack warm clothes. That didn’t help her decide what else she needed to bring.
Viviana and Marie quietly loaded the vehicle and drove to the airport in relative silence and then said their goodbyes once Viviana had checked in. Viviana found it ironic that in the past year this was the third time that she was about to board a plane to South Dakota. That was more than she had done in the last four years combined. It was a thought that still brought her discomfort. Her phone buzzed and she smiled as she looked at the message.
D: Have a safe trip.
It was a simple message, but it still made her happy. She and Dre continued to talk after she left Flandreau. He had written her once a week while he was in boot camp, telling her all the things he had done while there. While they hadn’t defined their relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend it was clear that there was something brewing between them. Something that was definitely more than friends.
V: at the airport. They just called boarding.
D: text me when you land, k
V: K, be safe
D: hey, rez dude remember, i can handle anything
V: whatever, even a rez dude can’t fight mother nature
D: I gotta go, they’re calling us. Seriously tho, text me when you land.
V: I will. Bye
Viviana grinned as she pocketed her phone. She was disappointed that Dre wouldn’t be on the ride with her but she understood that he couldn’t. He had found out just last week that his unit would be heading to Louisiana to help with some dam that needed mending. This was her first time back to South Dakota where they could actually see each other again and yet, he was located several states away. She shook her head at the thought. She quickly gathered her belongings and scuttled towards the flight attendant who was taking people’s tickets.
The flight itself was uneventful, although her connection was delayed due to the weather in Minneapolis. The delay had worked in her uncle’s favor though as he had been delayed and got there just before she arrived. He had spent the entire drive to Flandreau talking about the horses and what to expect on the ride and was now telling her that they would be leaving in the morning.
“Did you bring a thicker jacket?”
She looked down at her down-filled coat. “No. This isn’t gonna work?”
“It should be okay. I have an old set of coveralls I want you to wear though.”
Viviana scrunched her nose. The thought of wearing coveralls was not appealing. When they turned down the familiar gravel road to her father’s house, her heart leapt. It was funny because her uncle never asked her where she would want to go. He knew she would want to stay there.
“Where’s Eagle Bear?” she asked, having become accustomed to him greeting her at the fence line.
Turning off the engine, he glanced towards the fence. “Oh, he’s inside with the other horses.”
“I’m going to go see him before going inside,” she stated confidently.
She carefully walked towards the barn. It had snowed a week ago and there were still remnants of it on the ground. She jiggled the clasp of the barn door but it was frozen. She hesitated for a moment and then climbed the fence, almost slipping twice on the slick wood. She heard Eagle Bear before she saw him and it made her smile. The thought that he somehow recognized that she was nearby brought her tremendous joy.
“Hey there, boy.”
She reached her hand inside the stall. He nudged at it and then whinnied at the gate. Viviana smiled.
“I’m sorry, Eagle Bear but I can’t let ya out. We’re leaving really early tomorrow and uncle doesn’t want us to have to find you,” she said as she stroked his neck. “But… hmmm.”
Viviana looked towards the open barn door and then back at the eager Eagle Bear. She smiled and tapped his neck twice before stepping away and gathering her saddle and gear. When she got back to Eagle Bear, he was nodding his head and stepped back from the gate so she could enter.
“We’ll do a quick ride okay? Nothing long or uncle will be upset with the both of us.”
Eagle Bear, seeming to understand, snorted his approval. She saddled him as she had been taught, briefly thinking about Dre and the many rides they had gone on together. She walked him out of the barn and mounted him easily. Eagle Bear immediately began to trot. He enjoyed running but she was a little concerned with running him on the unsteady ground so she held him back, much to Eagle Bear’s dismay. He whinnied in protest but Viviana stood her ground.
“Sorry, boy, we’re walking today,” she said through clattering teeth.
It was a lot colder than she realized and she was not properly attired. Her fingers were already starting to feel stiff. After only fifteen minutes she turned Eagle Bear around, shivering. When she got back, her uncle was standing at the fence, a notable scowl on his face. He didn’t say anything though as she dismounted.
“Get in the house, Viviana,” he said angrily.
“Yes, Uncle,” she replied, her head down.
She watched as her uncle took Eagle Bear’s lead rope and headed towards the house. Her uncle had a fire going which offered a fluttering of light throughout the living room. She shed her coat and peeled the frozen gloves from her hand, noting that the tips of her fingers were red. She pinched her eyes shut, shaking her head before pulling up the ottoman in front of the fire. It felt warm against her cold skin.
“Viviana, what were you thinking going out there without proper clothes? You could have frozen to death,” her uncle stated as he stepped into the house. He walked over and kneeled down in front of her. He took her hands gingerly, letting the warmth of his surround hers. “Don’t ever do that again, do hear me?”
She nodded. “I didn’t realize how cold it was. When I did I turned around and came back.”
“That’s the problem, my girl. By the time you realize, it’s often too late.”
She felt a tear slip down her cheek. Her uncle swiped his thumb under her eyes, just as her father used to do. He then placed his palm lovingly on her face before standing and heading into the kitchen. Viviana heard rattling, then the water running. Her fingers were starting to hurt now that the blood was flowing through them properly. After a bit, her uncle approached her with a mug of something steaming.
“It’s ceyaka… a medicinal tea. Drink it. It will make you feel better.”
She took a sip. It was good, nothing like she had ever tried before. She let the warmth of the liquid and the heat of the fire calm her racing heart and set her mind at ease. A blanket was soon laid across her shoulders. She recognized it as the one her father always kept on the back of the sofa.
“Is it going to be like that on the ride?”
“It will be worse. Some days we are gone longer than others. That’s why it’s best to wear layers of clothes so you can stay warm. You should rest, Viviana. We are going to need to go into Brookings tomorrow before we leave.”
“Okay. I’ll lie down after I finish my tea.”
He smiled, albeit not the full one he normally possessed but at least it was a smile and an indicator that he wasn’t still angry with her. She heard his retreating footsteps and sighed. Her brief encounter with Eagle Bear had made it abundantly clear that she had no clue what she was getting into. Her fears about not being able to actually do the ride pushed to the forefront of her brain, making her doubt her ability to complete this journey. She breathed in deeply and set the cup on the small table near the couch. No, she needed to be confident. Her father would expect nothing less.
They left later than her uncle had planned or wanted. As her uncle had mentioned the night before, they got up early and headed to Brookings where he proceeded to buy her a new jacket and coveralls. Not to mention thicker gloves, well, actually he had bought her two pairs of gloves. By the time they had returned to Flandreau and loaded the horses, it was nearly two in the afternoon.
The route to Lower Brule was long and dull. While Viviana loved the simplified beauty of the plains, it made her tired not having anything to look at. The ground was covered with a thin blanket of white that already seemed to be melting in a few spots. Her uncle was silent. He didn’t seem angry; he was just a man of few words. She glanced at her phone and sighed. She still didn’t have signal.
“We’re almost there,” Uncle John said unceremoniously.
Viviana stretched to look and could see that they were pulling onto a gravel road that led to someone’s home. There were already several horses in a large corral. The road was bumpy and she quickly grabbed onto the handle above the door. He positioned the truck and trailer expertly and shifted it into park.
“Let’s get the horses settled. You can leave your things in the truck though.”
He was already out of the vehicle before she could answer. She zipped up her jacket, adjusted her beanie and flipped the hood of her Carhartt up. She then exited the vehicle, rounding the back of the trailer where her uncle was waiting for her. He gave her a small smile, apparently happy that she was bundled up appropriately. He handed her Eagle Bear’s lead rope.
“We’ll get them all out before we take them inside.”
She nodded as he stepped inside the trailer and brought the first horse out. He motioned for her to get in, which she did, somewhat hesitantly. While she knew how to load and unload the horses, she had only done it a couple of times. Eagle Bear shifted his head towards her, his front hoof kicking at the ground of the trailer. She carefully approached him and snapped the lead rope onto his halter, leading him out.
After she tied Eagle Bear to the side of the trailer, her uncle handed her another lead rope. There were eight horses in the trailer that needed to be removed. Viviana had asked him why they were bringing so many and he had told her that other riders were using some and that it’s good to trade off horses, giving them a rest. At her startled expression, he had smiled and told her that she would ride Eagle Bear throughout the entire ride. Once they were done, they unhooked the trailer and jumped back into the truck to head to the community center.
“This is where we’ll eat. There will be some speakers as well.” He had a thoughtful look on his face. “Everything that you’ll see and hear is a way to promote unity. What we’re going to do is hard, but what our ancestors did was even harder.”
They walked inside and Viviana was surprised by how many people were actually inside. There had to be close to fifty people milling about and all of them seemed to know her uncle. By the time her uncle had introduced her to everyone, she felt dizzy. It was going to be impossible to remember people’s names.
“Is this your first time?” a small voice said beside her.
Viviana looked down to see a young girl standing next to her. She was a good foot shorter than Viviana with these huge brown eyes. Her long hair was pulled back in a braid. She was wearing a jacket similar to Viviana’s except in a deep purple. She had an expectant look about her; as if she knew the answer to the question she asked but wanted confirmation that she was right.
“Yes, it is. And you; are you on the ride as well?”
The girl nodded her head. “This is my third year doing it. But last year I could only jump in at Flandreau. This year I get to do the whole ride,” she said proudly.
“Wow, that’s… that’s pretty amazing. How old are you?”
“I’m eleven but I’ll be twelve in a couple of months.”
Viviana’s mouth dropped in shock. Soon a very tall man, over six feet tall with his hair in two braids began motioning for the girl. She saw him and smiled.
“That’s my dad. Hey, my name’s Hope by the way.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Hope. My name’s…”
“Viviana. I know who you are. You’re Frank Martin’s daughter.”
Viviana quirked her eyebrow, the girl giggled and shrugged her shoulders as she trotted off towards her father. Viviana watched with longing as the young girl listened attentively to what her father was telling her. He then bent down and kissed her on the top of her head. Hope rolled her eyes slightly; she was getting too old for those kinds of things. Viviana wanted to tell her to cherish it, that it would not always be available to her.
“Are you alright?” Uncle John asked with concern.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she replied, choking back the tears.
The remainder of the evening was an emotional roller coaster for Viviana. She listened to elders and leaders speak about the ride and what it represents to the people. The whole time she imagined that her father was there, speaking about how important the ride was, maybe even mentioning his daughter who was so far away. Her throat constricted at the last thought.
She glanced at her uncle, wondering how long he had been calling her name. If it had been a lot, he certainly didn’t say anything.
“We’ll sleep here tonight.”
“Okay,” she said looking around.
There were people setting up their bedding in various places. She noticed that somewhere along the line, her uncle had gone outside to the truck and brought in her cot, which he insisted she use, and both of their bedrolls. She rose and followed her uncle. She watched as he set up her bedding as though she were a young girl unable to care for herself. She was too emotionally exhausted to question it though; she simply slid under her blankets and rolled to the side. She saw Hope watching her. The girl smiled and gave a wave. Viviana smiled and waved back before closing her eyes. Sleep would take her quickly; she only hoped it would bring her peace.
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