Chapter 22: Her
Well, that Jack
McPherson really does have a limit. He’s not just this total pushover of a guy.
He stuck up for me, and got bright red as I complimented him on sticking up for
me again. I’m not an object. I have a mind of my own and if anyone doubts it,
I talk with the driver for most of our drive, and it seems to be bugging Jack. Oh well, I like talking with people and it was almost a 2 hour drive out to the ranch. A guy there is waiting grumpily in the driveway when we pull up. Jack gets the door for me like the gentleman he wants me to think he is.
“Finally! You all decided to show up.” The man in the driveway says. He’s wearing a typical cowboy hat and scowling at me, so I wash all expression from my face.
“I do apologize for our lateness, sir. I believe it was my fault. I take a great deal more time to get ready than the men do. I apologize.” I hold my hand out and he shakes it. “I’m Eliza Rein.”
“Mark Black. What’s a writer and a paper pusher want with a couple of my horses for an afternoon?” he leads us back to the barn and we wave Mr. Campbell off.
“We want to ride them.”
“No kidding!” Mr. Black says sarcastically. “I thought you wanted to put them in little tutus and do their hair in ribbons.”
“We could do that if you like. But we would like to ride them, Mr. Black.”
“Yeah, yeah. I got that from your publisher. Got the paycheck too. Said you’d take good care of them.” Mr. Black gestures around us. “I got almost 200 acres. Don’t go spooking my cows down in the valley, we’ll call it good.”
“Yes sir.” I smile at him. “I’ll be sure to take care of them.”
“You. Guy.” Mr. Black talks to Jack. “You gonna look after my horses?”
“Yes sir.” Jack says quietly, his hands deep in his pockets. “I can look after them for an afternoon.”
“Good. Well, here they are. You’ll saddle and bridle them yourselves, but I got them all caught for you.” Mr. Black gestures to a pretty pair of horses, clearly both palominos, with their soft golden coats.
“They’re beautiful.” I say, a little breathless. “Any ticks we should know?”
“Yeah. The gelding isn’t real fond of birds and the mare will take off on you if you let her.”
“Sounds like my kind of horse.” I smile. He shows us the saddles and the bridles and I saddle up the mare, muttering softly the whole time so she can get used to my voice. Jack saddles up the gelding and we hop up once we’re ready.
“Thanks for this, Mr. Black.” Jack says politely.
“Yeah, whatever. Just be back before it gets dark, ya hear?”
“Yes sir!” I smile, waving at him. “Bye!” we ride out of the corral and out into the fields.
I’ve always loved horses. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved the way they smell and sound. They’re always so very beautiful and so full of life. I look around at everything, smiling like crazy. It feels so good to be out on the back of a horse again, listening to them and breathing everything in. It never ceases to amaze me just how cool horses are. They’ve got enough strength, speed, and power to kick the daylight out of just about anything, but they don’t. They let themselves get caught by us tiny, helpless, little humans, and let us boss them around. They let us put cold pieces of metal in their mouth, and make them carry us on their backs. We’d never stand for it, but we don’t question making them do it. Never ceases to amaze me.
“So why are you so giddy?” Jack asks me, seeming a little grumpy himself.
“I love horses. I love being around them. Why are you so mad?”
“I’m not mad.” He says, clearly mad. “I’m just confused.”
“You were so out of it yesterday, and almost got hurt, but today you’re not even being halfway sarcastic and snide. I’m confused. What’s up with you?”
“Oh. Sorry. I was feeling homesick yesterday. Not so much today. Look around. It’s beautiful out here. We’re on the backs of some beautiful animals, admiring God’s creation. What’s not to be happy about?”
Jack shuts up, looking so confused at me. We ride on for a really long time, coming up at the edge of a small river. I look back and forth and decide it’s not worth it and turn around.
“Hey. Can we stop here for a bit?” Jack asks.
“Why? You sore?” I ask, half smiling.
“Yeah. And the horses seem thirsty.” The gelding already has his face in the water. I laugh.
“Very well.” I hop down and let the mare drink. Jack jumps down and starts rubbing his legs, obviously very sore. “Is this your first time riding, Jack?” I try to make polite conversation.
“No. I go riding sometimes. Not as often as I would like, but I make a point of going about twice a year for a friend of mine.”
“Oh really? A girlfriend?” I ask, trying to see if I’m not just some ploy to get back at a girlfriend, or make one jealous.
“No. I’m single. It’s a buddy of mine who’s got cancer. He can’t climb into the saddle, so sometimes I will go riding with him. He’s 10.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” I say. He seems to be in a really bad mood today. I wonder why.
“It’s no big deal. I wish we could cure it, but for now, I just help him out whenever I can.”
“That’s awfully nice of you. He must get lonely.”
“When he’s not in the hospital at least.” Jack falls silent, zoning out. I sit and wait, admiring the snow that is around, even though there’s not much of it. For being totally unable to leave the state, the weather sure is nice. We must be in the eye of the storm. How frustrating.
“Miss Rein?” Jack asks, breaking into my thoughts.
“Yes?” I look directly at him.
“What…” he pauses, his face rounded with the light from the afternoon sun. It’s a nice face, and one I’ve almost gotten used to. He’s not drop dead gorgeous, obviously, but he has a nice face. The light around here, afternoon, wintery sunshine, reflected off the snow… compliments it quite nicely. Not that he’d ever know that. He was just my ticket to come horseback riding.
“What…?” I prompt, wanting him to go on, despite the nervous look on his face.
“What would you do if you could just go home?”
Well. This is a new development. Why does he suddenly care about me going home?
“Probably unpack and sleep in my own bed. Say hi to my family. Oh shoot!” I suddenly remember! I have not called my parents in days! Oh CRAP!! I whip out my cell. No service. Duh.
“Oh shoot?” he says, looking mildly amused. I didn’t cuss. So what?
“Oh shoot. Yes. Dang. I’ve haven’t called my parents since I got here. They’re probably worried sick. I’m sure they’ve heard about the storm by now… what are you looking at me like that for?”
“Nothing. You just…. You seem too sharp edged to use words like… ‘shoot’ and ‘dang’ as your curses.”
“I beg your pardon? Since when are you a dictionary? Or a therapist? Why you judging?”
“I’m not! It’s just… it’s funny. But I guess it makes sense. You never curse on your blog. For any reason. No matter how angry or violent the topic.”
“I have a more refined vocabulary. If I am forced to resort to curse words, someone’s about to die a very painful and bloody death.” I say calmly, making my point as sharply as I can.
“I am willing to believe that, thanks.”
“You’re welcome!” I smile. “Shall we continue or are you trying to drown the poor horse?”
“Oh! Sorry. Yeah. Sure."