Under the Open Sky - By Michelle Maness


Amanda Lynn Jennings loved watching the sun rise over the Bitterroot Range, each day painting her world in brilliant color with broad strokes. Here on her father’s ranch, life was secure and happy and Amanda couldn’t imagine life ever being any other way. Even the absence of her mother, long deceased, seemed to have little effect on Amanda’s life; she supposed it was hard to miss what you never really remembered having. Besides, her Aunt Naomi was most often there with a warm hug or a cool hand for an overheated forehead. This morning, as many others, found Amanda seated on the porch roof outside her bed room window watching the horses romp and run in the corral just off the barn. To her left a large pond reflected the new light of day as wisps of fog began to burn off the night cooled surface of the water. Amanda had been climbing on the roof to watch the sun rise and often stars since she was a young girl. Her Aunt Naomi had fussed, to little avail, ever since.


At her Aunt Naomi’s call, Amada rose to her feet on lanky legs and climbed back through her window before carefully setting the screen back in place. Amanda turned to leave the room and caught site of herself in the long oval mirror that occupied the corner of her room. Her hair was completely disheveled and she knew to go downstairs in such a state would gain censure from her aunt. Amanda grabbed her brush and began pulling it through her long wheat colored locks with impatient strokes before braiding it, securing the end, and flipping it over her shoulder to hang nearly to her waist. Amanda brushed a hand down her cut off jean shorts, and checkered western cut shirt before stepping from her room and taking the stairs in a rapid rhythm that Naomi swore sounded like a horse galloping.

“Good morning, Aunt Naomi,” Amanda kissed her aunt’s cheek as she took the plate of eggs, toast, and bacon her aunt had waiting.

“You’ve been on the roof again haven’t you?” Naomi’s blue eyes were accusing as they slid over Amanda. Naomi kept her pale brown hair neatly coiled in buns or perfectly arranged coils lending her an austere look that often suited her but seldom gave testimony to the love she showered on her brother, niece, and nephew.

“Good morning, Daddy,” Amanda favored her father’s weathered cheek with a kiss and ignored her aunt’s accusation.

“Good morning, Pumpkin,” her father’s brown eyes were warm when they landed on his youngest. Despite the contradiction it appeared, Sterling Jennings was a firm, but indulgent man. He always listened to his children’s requests and ideas, often heading them. When he decided something, however, he expected it to be strictly adhered to: no questions asked.

“Good morning, Trent,” Amanda greeted her brother.

“Mornin’ squirt,” her brother’s smile was affectionate. Her brother shared her wheat colored locks but possessed their father’s dark brown eyes. Amanda’s daddy claimed Amanda got her unusual eye color from her mother, though the faded photographs made it hard for Amanda to confirm this. Her eyes were a luminous medium green: cat eyes her brother called them; Cat eyes to go along with her coltish body that had yet to take on more than the barest hint of feminine shape. Most her friends were beginning to carry around full busts, at least by comparison, and were claiming boyfriends. There was only one boy’s attention Amanda wanted.

Chris Atkins had been causing Amanda fits ever since the school year began. Nearly two years older but in the same grade as Amanda, Chris could make her sigh with no more than a hint of a smile. With thick dark brown hair and brilliant blue eyes to top off a physique that was already being sculpted by his work on his father’s ranch, Chris was more than a little attractive. He had trouble with his reading, meaning he had repeated a grade a few years ago. The last time a classmate had made fun of him for it, Chris had laid the boy out in one punch.

“Have you decided what you’re going to want for your birthday next week?” Naomi asked as they ate.

“My learner’s permit.”

The humph that came from behind her father’s farm journal wasn’t reassuring.

“I can already drive the tractor, how much harder can the truck be?” Amanda had been making her case as well as any lawyer for over two months now. The only explanation for her