Diana and her little sister Rita, at the ranch…
BTW, Rita appears in Netwalker Uprising as a cousin. Ulp, no, she’s Melanie’s aunt. Now I’m thinking that Melanie might not know this detail because, reasons.
“And now we get another look,” Will said. He angled the skimmer around a rocky point and sent the skimmer straight up, paralleling the canyon wall.
“God, it’s bare,” Diana said, shaking her head as she looked at the slope.
“We’re here.” Will throttled back as the ranch buildings came into sight. Diana spotted Rita racing her sorrel pony across the pasture, riding bareback with only a halter and lead rope, as they glided in for a landing.
“I’m sending a request to Stephens to see if they’ve got any access to mineral data,” Diana decided out loud. She quickly drafted a short message to one of her contacts inside Stephens Rec and sent it off as Will settled the skimmer, then moved around it gathering up their things. She packed away her tablet and picked up her own bags. Will opened the door and Diana heard the hoofbeats as Rita galloped up.
“Will! Diana!” Rita slid off of Spooky, quickly unbuckling the halter and setting the pony free before crawling through the fence rails to bounce eagerly outside the skimmer door. “Mom said you were coming!”
“Just a moment.” Despite herself, Diana smiled. Her younger sister’s excitement was contagious. She lugged her bags over to the door and Brenda grabbed them, leaving Diana free to step out of the skimmer. Rita charged into Diana, grabbing her in a fierce hug, fiercer than usual. As Diana held Rita, she felt Rita tremble and realized her little sister was fighting back tears.
“Ree-ree, what’s wrong?” she asked in a soft voice, worry rising. Rita wasn’t a crier.
Rita snuffled and buried her face deeper into Diana’s belly, arms wrapping even tighter around Diana. Diana gently stroked Rita’s cheek. Rita moaned something into Diana’s torso.
“I can’t hear you, Ree,” Diana said, dread gripping her as she eased Rita’s stranglehold on her waist. She dropped to one knee so that she looked upward into Rita’s face, twisted as it was with the effort not to cry.
The Andrews’s don’t cry. It had been part of her own indoctrination when growing up.
“Is it Dad?” she asked, her voice even quieter than before.
Rita nodded violently, drawing in a deep, shuddering breath. “He’s really sick today, Di.”
Diana pulled Rita into a big, deep hug of her own. “It’s okay, Ree,” she whispered. “You can cry about this. I–I want to cry, too.” She buried her head in Rita’s shoulder, and they leaned into each other, trembling with partially contained tears. She heard Will, in a low voice, directing Brenda and the rest of Security around them and was grateful for his quiet support. Rita’s reaction brought the fact home even more than ever.
Their father was dying.
She had to save their home, so Rita could charge around on Spooky. If it’s even still safe for her here–I’ll make it safe for Rita.
At last Rita’s shaking eased. She straightened up and blinked down at Diana, rubbing away the dampness that trickled down her cheeks with a grubby hand.
“Let me do that,” Diana said. She used her thumb to brush away the tear tracks.
“This might work better.” Will nudged her shoulder. Diana reached up and he tucked a tissue into her hand.
“Thanks.” She flashed him a quick smile. He nodded, resting his hand gently on her shoulder. Diana gently wiped Rita’s eyes. “We’re still tough Andrewses,” she told Rita. “We can cry but still be tough. ‘Kay?”