That night they were in about to go to sleep when Astrid turned Hiccup onto his back and stared at him.
"Yes," he asked drowsily, knowing that he was not going to get to sleep until whatever was on his lovely girlfriend's mind was settled.
"Are you afraid that I want to go back to Broadway?"
"What? No," he tried.
She rested her chin on his chest, "Today was second time you've asked me if I missed it."
He started fiddling with the end of her braid, "Maybe a little," he confessed. "I may have watched a few Youtube clips."
"Oh." She could understand his concern. People have posted clips from the shows, talk shows and interviews and did a behind the stage series featuring the principal members of the Broadway cast. Every single piece showed her gloriously happy and thrilled to be there. "What did you think?
"You are very talented."
"Thank you," she gave him a quick kiss and smirked when she could tell something else was on his mind. "I take it you noticed that there were two different people playing Sky?"
Hiccup looked at a spot on the ceiling, unsuccessfully hiding his guilt, "Really?"
She couldn't help but laugh, "Ethan was with the show for most the tour but he never made it to Broadway, that was Corey Cott, super talented and all around nice guy. I wish he had been with the tour but he was in the middle of Newsies."
"I'm not being jealous," he insisted.
She pat his chest, "I know and I don't blame you for being curious after I told you my story. I would want to put a name to a face too. But seriously Honey, you don't need to worry about Broadway. It was great but it's not what I want."
"I know you've said that but honestly, it's just hard to believe. You are crazy talented and it is obvious how much you enjoy being on stage."
She put her head down for a minute to hide her chuckle, he was brilliant but oh so dense sometimes. "You have a genius IQ and a degree in Mathematical Engineering. Yet, we each willingly get up before dawn to put on work boots and run this ranch. Babe, we had this conversation on our first date." She kissed his chest and smiled, "But you are right about me loving being on stage. There is nothing quite like performing and the applause is a drug that not many of us can quit, but that doesn't mean I'm jumping on the next flight to New York." She rested her chin down and sighed, "Anyway, I told you about my lunch with Val, Lisa and her mom. The ice in our glasses hadn't even started to melt when we were talking about musicals and how much they were looking forward to seeing the Community Theater's production of Mamma Mia. Molly asked about my time on Broadway and I ended up telling them all about it, minus the drama with Ethan of course. By the end of lunch they had me volunteering as a vocal coach and promising to audition for the next show." She couldn't help the exasperated sigh, "I love them all but I could tell that lunch invitation had a hidden agenda from the start."
"Mom had wanted to ask you about it but was unsure of the best way to approach you. She had a feeling there was a reason you left and didn't want to intrude on your privacy. I told her that she should just come out and ask. I had no idea she had gotten Lisa and Molly involved."
"No worries, Molly treated us to a beautiful lunch and it was fun to talk about theater again. I do miss it and I know I'll love working with the theater troupe. Auditions are in a few weeks so I should have plenty of time to get my voice back in shape."
"Back in shape? You sounded great the other day."
"Thanks, but singing to the radio is a bit different than being up on stage and if everyone knows who I am, and I think they do by the way Molly and Val were talking, I need to be prepared to blow them away. It takes practice to hit the back of the house."
His look of confusion was sweet. "Projection. Singing in your full voice every day and not hurting yourself takes practice and it's been a few years. If I dig out some of my old stuff will you be my rehearsal pianist?"
As she was laying there thinking of what she needed to do she remembered a certain text from an old friend. If this didn't convince Hiccup that she wanted to be here and not Broadway, nothing would. She reached for her phone and started flipping through it. "I got an interesting text a few weeks back that I think you should see. Here," she handed it to him. "It's from my friend Mala, she was in the show with me. She's still on Broadway, right now she's playing Irene Malloy in Hello Dolly."
Mala: Hey how's my favorite singing cowgirl? Show is going great! Just wanted to let you know that we lost a cast member to a part in Mean Girls (she can have it) and I would love for you to come and grab that spot. Care to ditch the horses for a bit? No one could do this better than you – The casting director remembers you from Mamma and she thinks you would be perfect!
Astrid: You're killing me! It sounds like a great spot and I would love to work with you again but I think the horses would miss me…plus – well, I'll let the pic speak for itself.
(attached is selfie of Astrid and Hiccup riding double on Toothless –looking adorable and very much in love)
Mala: Ok, I give in - you're blissfully happy and look FABULOUS! Like the cover of those cowboy romance novels you love so much. Dag and I will have to visit for a long weekend. I miss my dressing room buddy!
Astrid: YES please visit! Vast Acres is paradise and you need to come meet Stormfly - Hiccup and I are great – I don't think I've ever been this happy!
Hiccup couldn't help his wide smile as he handed her back her phone, "Was it a good part?"
She shrugged, "Didn't even give it a second thought. That's not my life anymore." She tapped on his chest. "This is, and I wouldn't trade it for the lead in Wicked."
Hiccup wrapped his arms around her and rolled them onto their sides, "Ok, I'm convinced. I'll stop brooding about it now. Our little community theater will be lucky to have you."
"It will be fun. It will also give me something to do while you're travelling the country for your clinics and training new horses. I'm going to miss you horribly."
"I'm going to miss you too." He pulled her a bit closer, "Why don't you come with me?"
"I don't think your clients would be too thrilled about that, for what they are paying you I am sure they want one-hundred percent of your attention on their horse. There is also this little thing called my job. You did hire me to run your ranch, remember. I get a paycheck and everything."
"I could easily hire someone to run the ranch while we're gone."
"But I like my job and I kinda need that paycheck to pay my bills and such."
His smirk was a dead giveaway and before he could speak she shushed him, "Yes, I need to pay my own bills. No matter how weird it is, I'm still your employee and we need to keep that part of our lives separate."
He laced their fingers together and brought her hand up for a kiss, "For now."
She had to take a deep breath to calm the butterflies in her stomach. She leaned in for another kiss, "For now."
Saturday's party was a bit more subdued than the tailgate party. Where that had all the grills going and lots of beer and rowdy baseball fans, this was held in the afternoon and was catered with a large white tent, folding chairs, covered tables and a mellow country band providing background music.
"I am so glad we decided to make this a luncheon and not a huge barn dance," said a delighted Val as she looked around at the beautifully set tables and plentiful flower arrangements. "It's such a nice change of pace. We haven't had a party like this in years. Thank you Astrid for the lovely idea and all your hard work."
Astrid smiled up from her tablet, "You're welcome Val. I've always wanted to host a proper southern luncheon."
"It's perfect, right down to the linen napkins and silver serving trays. I haven't had this much fun planning a party in years." She looked up when she heard her husband's booming voice, "Oh, look how handsome our boys are."
Astrid couldn't help but sigh when Hiccup came into view, she loved that black Stetson. "Hey handsome," she said with a bright smile as he greeted her with a sweet kiss on the cheek.
"Milady, you look absolutely beautiful."
"Why thank you," she said as she adjusted her wide brimmed hat and swung her full skirt a few times. Her dress was simple but very stylish, reminiscent of the 1950's.
Hiccup was not a fan of starched shirts and neckties, but Astrid looked amazing so he figured the sacrifice was worth it. He was a man in love and would do anything to keep her smiling like she was right now.
"I have something for you," he said as he reached in his vest pocket and pulled out a black satin pouch.
Astrid watched as he untied it and pulled out a beautiful strand of cream colored pearls. "Oh, Hiccup they are absolutely beautiful."
He motioned for her to turn around so he could place them around her neck and secure the gold clasp.
She placed her hand on them and smiled at their rich smooth surface. "They are lovely. Thank you."
He dropped a kiss on her shoulder, "You are very welcome."
"They go perfectly with my dress."
"I wanted you to have something special for today. They are Norwegian freshwater pearls."
She reached up and kissed him, "Thank you Hiccup, they are perfect and the fact that they are from Norway makes them even more so."
They spent the day mingling with guests and enjoying the beautiful day, thankfully the tent was air conditioned because the Texas sun was showing its true colors and the thermometer was holding in the nineties.
After a wonderful lunch Stoick made his way up to the stage, "Welcome family and friends!" his booming voice quickly getting everyone's attention. "I would like to first thank you all for coming. It's been a tough few years but we certainly have a lot to celebrate, so please forgive me if I'm a little long winded."
"As you know my beautiful bride Vallie has spent the past few years fighting the good fight and is now in full remission." He looked over at Val, "I always knew she was tough, you need to be in our business, but watching the love of my life beat cancer was truly awe inspiring."
He waited for the applause to die down then continued, "Thank you, we are truly blessed. So, in honor of her recovery we will be organizing a Trail Ride for a Cure next Spring. I hope you all come back and join us for what promises to be a great day for a great cause. We will be opening the ranch to the public for a scenic trail ride and then finish the day with an old fashioned BBQ and Barn Dance."
Again he waited for the applause to die down so he could continue. "As some of you may know I have been spending some time over in Val and I's home country, Norway. When my mother passed last year, it was uncertain what was going to happen with the family farm, a beautiful spot on the coast with several hundred acres of green pastures. All three of my brothers have gone into different lines of work and it had looked like Vallie and I were going to end up selling off most of the land and keep just enough for a few horses."
"Well, I'm glad to say that plans have changed. What started as a small place to retire has truly bloomed into something magnificent. My brother Erik and his family have come on board and we've decided to not only re-establish the breeding operation but turn Burke Farm into a leisure destination. We would like to extend an invitation to all of you to come and visit and help muck a few stalls for fun."
He waited for the laughter to die down. "Seriously though, Burke Farm will soon be a place for tourists who want to spend a week or so riding horses and learning about life on a farm. Please feel free to take a look at one of the laptops we've set up with pictures and videos of the property. My brother Alex, who just happens to be in advertising, has put together a preliminary run up, as he calls it."
He clapped his massive hands together, "And finally I would like to ask my lovely wife and my son to join me." He waited for them to make their way there and handed them each a glass of champagne from one of the trays that had been passed around, "I would ask each of you to raise your glass to toast to my brilliant son, Hayden Herryk Haddock, who was just awarded is Doctorate in Animal Behavioral Science from Texas A&M. Hiccup my boy, your mother and I couldn't be more proud."
Hiccup wanted to melt into the floor when Andy and Cole started piping in "Speech, speech!" He glared at them as he took the microphone his father offered him, "I hate making speeches," he started and relaxed a bit at everyone's understanding chuckle. "Thank you all for your support and patience over the last few years. Between the ranch, the book, and the clinics, I have no idea how I managed to get my classwork done. Though, I am happy to say that has been a bit easier these past three months and it is all thanks to our new Ranch Manager, Astrid Hofferson." He motioned to Astrid who was still seated at table with their friends. "Astrid you have been an amazing addition to Vast Acres and on behalf of the entire family, thank you for all your hard work and dedication. This place is running like a well-oiled machine and it promises to be one of our best years yet." He gave her a little wink as he raised his glass to her then downed the remainder of his champagne. "Please everyone, enjoy the rest of the party and thank you all for coming."
The band took the stage again and soon Hiccup had Astrid were enjoying a slow two step around the floor. "Thank you for not embarrassing me," she teased.
Hiccup gave her a little spin and dropped a kiss on her hair, "Trust me, you got off easy. Mom warned me that dad had this whole little speech prepared to introduce you and oh so conveniently mention our relationship at the same time and you know how that would have gone."
She leaned her head on his shoulder, "Oh my God, thank you for saving me. I love your dad but I can only imagine what he had planned."
"And that is exactly why I jumped in and offered to do it. Like we said last night, we know where this is going, we just need to go at our own pace."
"Mmm-hmm, "she said with a dreamy sigh as they continued to slowly move around the floor.
"I'm glad you like your necklace. It was my grandmother's."
Astrid looked up from her daydream, questioningly.
"Your necklace, it was my grandmother's on my mother's side. Mom said that it was the first gift that my grandfather gave my grandmother so it was appropriate that they were my first gift to you."
By the end of the party Astrid was exhausted and before she could get her heels off, Val was already whispering ideas about the Christmas party, and how wonderful it would be to turn that into a proper barn dance, and that Stoick's old Santa costume was looking warn out and, that maybe she should start working on a new one now and, how cute would it be if she finally finished her Mrs. Clause outfit and, while she was at it should could make Hiccup a vest with a matching skirt for Astrid.
Astrid continued to nod and then politely excused herself before Val had her trying to locate eight reindeer and a sleigh for them to arrive in. She loved the woman dearly but she would need to find a way to distract her from actually creating her and Hiccup's matching vest and skirt set. That was a bit too much "holiday cheer" for her liking.
Eventually she found Lisa, "Where are they and what are they up to?" she asked while looking around the practically empty tent.
"You don't know?" she asked as she looked around. "I thought for sure you had them busy to keep them out of trouble."
"They'd been behaving themselves all day. I thought I was in the clear."
Lisa looked at her friend and laughed, "Oh Astrid. I should have warned you. When they're that well behaved is when they cause the most damage. Let's go look in the barns, that's their usual place of mischief."
"Hiccup would never…he knows he needs to say goodbye to the guests with his parents."
"Astrid, they've behaved all day and the last guest left half an hour ago. We should prepare ourselves for the worst."
When they got to the barn they found the boys in one of the stock rings.
"What are they up to?" asked Astrid as she stepped around carefully, the boys might have changed but she and Lisa were still in their dresses and heels.
Suddenly there was a holler and the sound of a metal gate being released.
"You're kidding," sighed Lisa, "It's started already."
"What the…." exclaimed Astrid as they got closer. Cole was in the ring riding Clover, one of the corralling horses, going after a young calf.
"They do this every year about this time. There is a local competition at the end of the summer, sort of a Cowboy Olympics. These three meathead's feel like they need to throw their hat in with the rest of the town's bozo's so they start practicing any chance they get."
Within a minute Cole had the calf roped and he was off his horse and tying its hooves together. Hiccup and Andy cheered him on then jumped in the ring to help him release the calf. As soon the little calf was running freely in the next ring Hiccup and Toothless got set up in the holding pen, ready to go.
Astrid couldn't help herself she got a bit closer to get a better view. He looked so focused, just like when approaching a new horse. She couldn't take her eyes off him. She'd seen him work plenty of times, but this was different, this was sport and a dangerous one at that. Her heart started to beat faster as she watched him prep for his turn. He grabbed his saddle horn and adjusted his seat his eyes focused on the gate.
Andy released a new calf into ring and Cole opened the gate and Hiccup was off like a shot. He and Toothless moved in synch like always and soon the calf was bawling and tied up on the ground.
"WOOHOO!" cheered Astrid as Hiccup raised his hands in the air. He looked up when he heard her, waved then helped Andy and Cole untie the calf and set it free.
"You're going to do great!" she called.
"Thanks," he said with a tired smile, "But these two beat me every year."
Astrid looked over at Andy and Cole who were nodding in agreement.
"Kick his ass is more like it," chimed in Cole as he gave Toothless a good scratch. "This big guy may be fast but the smaller ponies out maneuver him." He looked over at the girls, "I've been polite all day and need to cause some trouble, why don't you girls go and throw on some jeans and we'll hit the Bull for some warm beer and bad food."
Thank you JasmineDragon the Wonder Beta!