Forty-Two Minutes

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Chapter Fourteen

LEXY

The late night air is still warm as I make my way towards the stables. I can't sleep. I still can't get used to the quiet. I'm scared to be alone. I don't want to dream and see my mother staring at me, pleading with me not to leave her, tears and betrayal and fear in her eyes.

The house is dark behind me with only the glow from the porch light shining out like a beacon to guide me back. Everyone went to sleep hours ago. The night feels sultry as if I'm walking underwater.

There's a quarter moon tonight, stars glittering above the canopy of the trees overhead. I've never seen so many. They seem like they are so close I could reach up and grab a handful of them.

Insects whir and click on the air and stir in the grasses. Fireflies flash and wink and fascinate me. I'm still not used to seeing them. The croak of frogs and crickets sing and hum, a constant buzz and chatter. Silver glowing moonlight helps me find the path that leads out towards the barn and stables. The weight of my guitar is familiar and reassuring on my shoulder.

I want to see Glory. I remember how I felt the first time I looked at her today, that pull I couldn't explain. Some sort of kinship. I know what it's like to hurt like her. I understand the fear and her desperation to know there is someone out there she can trust. She's so strong, so valiant, and somehow, so fragile. I don't want to be alone in my fear and I want her to know she's not alone in hers.

As I pass the cottage where Nick lives, I try not to look over, but my curiosity is too strong. A light is on in the small house and it doesn't surprise me he's still up. I wouldn't be able to sleep either if I were him. I remember the night he found me on the porch, how late it had been. Maybe he doesn't want to dream either. I wonder if the same guilt that hunts me also chases him. Even though I know he can't hear me, I walk a little lighter, trying not to be found.

The stables are only a few feet away now; its silhouette jutting up large against the night sky. Glory is in her own building, away from the other horses until she is ready to be integrated in with the herd. I know it's dangerous for me to be here by myself, but I worry about her being alone. What if she's hurting? Sliding open the heavy door, I quietly slip inside.

It's dim and still except for the few overhead lights that are left on and the moonlight coming in from the windows. The large ceiling fans are kept on day and night. She instantly looks over at me, her eyes wide and alert and wary. I'm not sure if she recognizes me and I move carefully so I don't scare her.

"Hi girl," I murmur, staying near the far wall. Even weak and battered, I'm very aware of her strength and the reality that she could suddenly rear up and charge if threatened or frightened. I don't want either of us to get hurt.

She continues to stare at me, measuring me and gauging her safety. I completely understand the survival instinct. I've been doing it my entire life.

Leaning my guitar against the wall, I stand back, waiting to see if she'll let me get close. As I watch her, I immediately feel her fear and sadness, the heavy helplessness and confusion that comes with being used and mistreated. I experience that same rush of connection and tenderness towards this broken, beautiful animal.

She must sense it, she must need it as much as I do because she presses up against the stall door and bobs her head as if trying to reach me. Smiling, I slowly walk up to her, feeling honored she's letting me in.

I reach out my hand and let her smell me and she bends her head for me to stroke her nose. "Did you miss me, beautiful girl?" I can feel the indention of the scars and trace them gently. "I won't hurt you. I promise." I stroke her neck feeling the tense muscles and her matted coat, wishing I could wipe away every ounce of pain she's ever known. She allows me to stay close and I lean against her letting us both absorb the strength we need.

After a while, I move back and pick up my guitar. "I thought you might like me to sing for you." Glory continues to track my every move as I pull a wooden stool over and sit down near her stall. I begin to strum, not really playing anything in particular, just letting the music drift up. A hush falls over us.

Closing my eyes, I start to hum, letting the song form. The words come to life then, all my secrets I don't ever dare say out loud. I sing of a yearning search for more and trying to find something I can never hold onto. Of not wanting to be afraid to close my eyes because of what I might see. And the hope for a love that won't destroy me simply for wanting it returned. It's the only way to get this bleeding pain out. The music lets me finally feel my own heartbeat and find my way through this unbearable, never-ending darkness. I pour all my anguish, despair, and heartbreak into every feverish note.

There's nothing but melody surrounding me, helping me forget for one blissful moment that I'm an alcoholic's daughter. I crave it like my own breath. I'm alive in a way I can't be when the song ends and I have to go back to being me.

I don't realize I'm crying until I open my eyes and notice that my cheeks are damp. As I wipe the tears away, I look up to see Nick standing a few feet away. I gasp, jolt. How long has he been standing there? He keeps finding me like this. Neither of us speaks as we stare at each other. I can't tell what he's thinking and wonder if I'll ever be able to.

I feel vulnerable and exposed just as I did the other night when he found me on the porch. He's the only person who has ever heard me sing. He's the only person who knows what's really inside of me. Why won't he say something? A flush rises hotly over my neck, face, into my hair. Quickly, I make myself stand up, feeling clumsy and awkward and unsure of what to do. I wish he wouldn't look at me like that.

"I didn't want her to be alone," I stammer, looking towards Glory. I know I'm not supposed to be in here. I wait for him to say it.

But he doesn't. He doesn't say anything as he walks towards Glory's stall. He goes over to the stock shelf where supplies are kept, pulls out bandages and gauze, a jar of ointment. "I've got to check her sores," he tells me, his voice detached and indifferent. "Now is when she's most prone to infection."

Unable to make myself move, I stand where I am and watch him approach Glory, murmuring soothing words like he did that afternoon. It still startles me how someone so closed off can be so unexpectedly tender. It's as if the horses find some part of him none of us get to see. He pulls sugar cubes out of his pocket and she eagerly licks them up. Glory doesn't back away, doesn't paw or stomp, and he knows he can enter her space. He's careful to keep his body between the horse and the stall door in case she rears up or tries to bolt. He strokes her neck, her back, and moves to where he can examine her leg. Even wounded, she still manages to stand defiantly regal and stoic, as if she knows she'll always be a champion thoroughbred. She only flinches once as he gets near where the worst of the sores are.

"Good girl," he soothes. "Just be still a second. This'll be over in a minute." Crouching down, he removes the bandage and examines her. He presses gently around the wound for swelling and knotting abscesses and uses a betadine solution to flush out the cuts. I wince, wondering if it stings her and hope Nick doesn't get kicked. She grunts and tries to step away, but he gently reassures her and hangs back, waits until she goes still again.

He continues to speak low and soft as he applies more ointment and wraps fresh gauze and bandages over her sores. Standing, he comes back around to the front of the stall and holds out more sugar cubes to her. "Here you go, girl." Nick rubs her nose and then steps out of the stall, closes the door, makes sure it's firmly locked.

"How is she doing?"

He tossed the old bandages into the trash. "About the same." He pulls a rag out of his jeans pocket, wipes his hands. "There is still a lot of swelling on that back side so we're going to have to keep a close eye on her. Don't want her to reopen those sores."

We stand there, neither of us knowing what to do. I realize I'm still holding my guitar. It feels strangely heavy and somehow bigger than I remember. There's no way I can hide it without him noticing. I wait for him to tell me to leave. I'm surprised he hasn't yet. I figure he'd want to.

"How do you do that?" he suddenly asks, confusing me.

"Do what?"

"Sing like that."

He'd heard me. Unnerved, I feel my face go hot again. Singing is so personal for me. I'm still not sure how to talk about it. With as closed off as he is, I can't figure out why he is even asking me about it. "I don't know." Embarrassed, I fidget with the guitar strap. I need something to do with my hands. "I just sing whatever I'm feeling in the moment."

He seems to think about that. He glances back to my guitar, looks like he wants to ask me something more. I wait, but he says nothing. That intense silence comes between us again. I wonder if I'm the only one feeling it.

He starts to walk towards the door. He has to move past me to get out and I try not to stare at him. He's a foot away when he stops. "Look, I know Becca told you what happened." He doesn't say Megan's name. He doesn't have to. I already know who he means. "I don't talk about it, and I don't want you asking me about it." He looks right at me, one of the few times he ever has. My entire body goes still. "I just want that clear between us."

All I can do is nod. I can barely breathe and can't figure out why I get so nervous whenever I'm near him. His pain is heavy and thick around us, like body heat. He again looks at my guitar and hesitates, almost says something. Instead, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out some sugar cubes. "These are her favorite," he says and holds them out to me. His fingers brush mine as I take them and I blush, praying he can't tell how embarrassed and aware of him I am. I notice he quickly pulls his hand away and doesn't look at me.

"Thanks," I say, flustered.

"Don't go in her stall. You'll get hurt." He doesn't wait for me to respond and doesn't say anything else as he walks out of the stable. I stay where I am and watch him go, wondering what he would have asked me if he'd said the question out loud.
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