Forty-Two Minutes

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Chapter Fifteen

BEN

The most important thing to know when dealing with an abused horse is that you've got to keep showing up. You've got to keep trying. You've got to let them know they can kick you in the ribs, buck you off, toss you into the dirt, but at the end of the day, you'll come right back, and still care about them. They've got to know you won't give up on them.

They've been taught not to trust the hand that feeds them and so yours needs to be full of kindness. You've got to be gentle and reassuring. People don't realize how much horses know, how sensitive, smart and sweet they are. They want to be loved just as much as anyone and, when they get hurt, they feel it deep. They are naturally tender animals and experiencing pain and abuse, is extremely traumatic for them. Some horses never make it back from that kind of hurt. But the ones that do, reveal a strength, resilience, and beauty that takes your breath away.

You've never experienced freedom until you've seen a horse that was once beaten down, scared, and shut down, running wild and joyfully, its hooves pounding over the earth, with a power, unlike anything.

I whistle as I make my way out of my office in the barn. It's been a good morning so far. Got some bills paid, made arrangements for two more horses to be brought in. Every one we rescue means one more that stands a chance.

I walk out into the early morning light. The air is rich and fragrant as it usually is when the sun begins warming and waking up our land. As I walk past the stable where we are housing Glory, I notice the door is partly open. Concerned an animal had somehow gotten in, I slide the door and step inside and then come to a stop when I see my niece fast asleep on the ground, wrapped in one of the saddle blankets. Abraham is curled up against her side as if protecting her.

"Well, what do you know?" I murmur, unable to stop smiling. She looks just as fragile and vulnerable as the horse she's sleeping near. I wonder what she's doing out here. Her guitar is on the ground near her head, her hand still resting on it. Crouching down next to her, I gently touch her shoulder. "Lexy?"

She stirs as I lightly shake her. Her eyes flutter open, look blearily up at me. I don't think she's awake enough to recognize who I am.

I grin down at her. "Morning."

Suddenly alert, Lexy quickly sits up, looks around, clearly trying to remember where she is. "Morning," she says, her voice raspy, as she clumsily tries to untangle herself from the blanket. Abraham reluctantly rolls over and stretches, ambles sleepily to his feet. His collar jangles as he shakes out. "I must have fallen asleep out here."

"Looks like it. Didn't mean to give you a scare." I hold my hand out and help her stand up.

Still a little groggy, she straightens her clothes, brushes herself off. Looking confused, she bends down and picks up the blanket. "Did you cover me up last night?"

I shake my head. "No, I didn't even know you were out here. Why?"

A strange expression crosses her face as she looks towards the stable door. "No reason," she says, folding up the blanket. "I wanted to check on Glory." She puts the blanket back on the shelf. "I was worried about her being by herself."

I smile, touched by how sweet she is. Nick had told me how Glory had responded to Lexy the day before, how she'd broken through. Being around the horses would be good for her. They'll take care of each other.

I'm pleased with Glory's progress, how well she's settling in. Her wounds, inside and out, are still extremely raw, and she needs a lot of time and care, but she'd already bonded with both Lexy and Nick, which was encouraging. We just need to give her a safe place for healing and let her get used to her new life here. This ranch and land offer a good place to start over.

"I'm sure she appreciated the company."

She yawns, pulls her hands through her tousled hair. "What time is it?"

"A little after six. Becca should have breakfast ready soon. I was just heading back up to the house to help her." Lexy had been here about a week now. She's spending a lot of time with Becca and Nick. She seems comfortable enough around me. I'd like to get to know her. "Why don't I head back with you?" She nods and goes to pick up her guitar.

We walk together back out into the daylight. Abraham bounds happily ahead of us, knowing Becca will have a bowl of buttermilk waiting for him.

I glance at Lexy who is quiet as she walks next to me. "How are you holding up?" I ask her.

"I'm okay." She didn't sound that convincing. I doubt she even believes herself. "It all still doesn't feel real yet." When she finally looks over at me, I see Becca staring back at me. Wounded, bruised, a generation of lost, broken little girls. And now all that pain and loss had come full circle. "Thank you for letting me stay."

"It's nice to finally have you here. Waited a long time to know you. You can stay as long as you like." I nod towards the guitar strapped over her shoulder. "That's a nice Gibson. You sing?"

She seems embarrassed, flustered. I notice her blush. "Yeah, I do," she admits.

"I'd love to hear you sometime."

Brow creasing, Lexy watches me thoughtfully, trying to figure me out. "I thought you'd be mad at me," she says quietly.

I can feel her bracing, putting an inch more of distance between us, as if expecting disapproval from me. Becca was right, I realize. She's the saddest girl I've ever seen. No wonder Nick keeps getting tripped up around her. "Seems to me you've had enough of that," I answer, softly. "Besides, what good would it do? I don't blame you for what you didn't know and couldn't change."

Her eyes fall from mine, guilt radiating from her, like an aura. The poor thing is suffocating under it. "I just wish I would have known everything sooner."

"You know now. And you're here." I decide to try and make one decision simple for her. "How about we start from there? Deal?"

She looks back at me almost as if she's afraid to hope it could be that easy. She's used to the struggle and has lost too much. Walking quietly beside her, I hear her slowly let out her breath. I can tell how hard she's trying to put the pieces together and her frustration that she doesn't have them all yet. But, I know how much she wants to be here, needs to be for so many reasons she's just beginning to understand. And she wants to know us as much as we want to get to know her. "Deal," she finally says.

"Good." We reach the house and walk up the back steps. Tail wagging, Abraham is already excitedly waiting and I smile at him as I hold the screen door open. I follow both him and Lexy into the kitchen.

"Look who I found in one of the stables," I say, taking my hat off, setting it on the hook near the door. "She fell asleep keeping watch over Glory."

Becca looks over as we walk in, beaming when she sees her niece. The look on Becca's face is another reason I want Lexy here. It's been a long time since I've seen her smile like that. "You slept out in the stable last night?"

"Yeah, I guess so," she answered, laughing shyly. She still has a few strands of hay in her hair. She motions over her shoulder. "I'll be back in a minute." She goes out of the kitchen and we hear her footsteps running up the stairs, the click and latch of her bedroom door closing.

"That's really where you found her?" Becca asks, as she puts the bowl of buttermilk down for Abraham, who eagerly laps it up.

Laughing, I walk over to the sink to wash my hands. "Sure was." Becca tosses me the towel so I don't drip water on her clean floor. "Did you know she sings?"

Becca nodded. "She's mentioned it. I'm so curious to hear her. She's pretty private about it. I wonder if she's any good."

"Very," Nick says, drinking his coffee at the table.

Both Becca and I turn to look at him. "You've heard her sing?" I ask.

Caught, his brows come up and his mug freezes mid-air. "Accidentally," he admits, clearing his throat. I notice he looks embarrassed and doesn't fully meet our eyes. "I ran into her once on the porch and then again last night in the stable. She's really good. Better than good, actually. I've never heard anyone sing like that."

There was more that he wasn't saying. The fact that he'd even mentioned anything about it was telling in its own way. He normally keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself. Something about her was clearly affecting him. I wonder what else has happened between them. I exchange a secret look with Becca who I can tell is thinking the same thing.

"You knew she was out there?" Becca asks, handing Nick the pitcher of orange juice.

He shrugs, puts the pitcher down next to the syrup. "I went out to check on Glory and found her. She was singing to her when I walked in."

Becca smiles, her expression tender. "How sweet," she murmurs, shaking her head. She walks back over to the griddle and scoops pancakes onto a plate.

We all look over when Lexy comes back into the kitchen. She'd cleaned up and changed her clothes, brushed her hair, pulled it back. I catch Nick staring at her. I haven't missed the way he watches her; he's curious, fascinated, protective of her. He's letting her get closer than most and I can't figure out if he's moving towards her or if it's the other way around. Lexy seems just as fascinated and drawn to him. They are a lot alike and I think Nick knows it. He doesn't seem too happy about it.

He catches me watching him, frowns, and quickly glances away. I think I know who covered Lexy up with the blanket last night. I notice how careful he is not to look at her as she sits down next to him.

Becca hands me the plate of sausage and I carry them to the table and then sit in my usual spot. Becca brings the plate piled high with pancakes and sets them in front of us.

"Breakfast is served," she says as she down sits next to me, completing our little circle. After saying the blessing, I open my eyes and look around at all the people who have found their way to this land and think that even with all our broken pieces, maybe we can somehow help make each other whole.
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