Forty-Two Minutes

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Chapter Sixteen

LEXY

Dust stirs up into small whirlwinds, evaporating into the air as Glory breaks from Nick's hold and bolts across the training pen. The force of it knocks him back a few steps and he stumbles to the ground.

Nick let out a growl of frustration. He'd been working with her for almost an hour. It was the fourth time she'd broken free from him that morning. He quickly gets to his feet before he got trampled, brushes himself off, being mindful never to have his back to her. Dirt coats his black denim jeans, streaking across his face and arms and hands.

Glory stood stubbornly on the other side of the pen, looking like a sulking child.

I had been helping Ben and Becca unload supplies into the storehouse when Nick had brought Glory out to walk her. After the sacks of grain and feed were stacked, we wandered over to the pen just in time to watch Nick fall face-first into the dirt, his hat tumbling off his head.

"Rough day?" Ben asks, leaning his arms on the rail.

"Yeah, you could say that," Nick mutters, picking up his hat from the ground. "She's in a mood." He bats his hat against his palm to clear off the dust, puts it back on his head. "Won't stay on the reigns."

"Why don't you let Lexy try?" Becca suggests, nodding towards me.

Shocked, I look over at her. "What?" I can already guess what Nick's answer will be. He doesn't disappoint me.

"Why would I let her do that?" he asks, annoyed, not taking his eyes from Glory. "She doesn't know anything about working with the horses."

Already backing up, I shake my head at my aunt. "He's right. I've never trained a horse before."

Becca looks at me. "It's not about training as much as it is about building trust. You get her to trust you, she'll do anything you want her to. And you've already got a bond with her."

"No. It's not a good idea," Nick argues.

"You won't let anything happen to her," Becca told him. I glance warily at Nick who scowls in response.

"She shouldn't be in here, Becca," Nick repeats, and I can tell he's trying to keep his voice low, and even so the horse doesn't get more agitated. "Glory's pretty unpredictable right now. She'll get hurt."

"The most important thing for Glory is that she feels safe," Becca says. "We've all seen how she responds to Lexy. She needs to know no one will hurt her and right now she's doesn't believe that. I don't want that for her and I know you don't either." She looks back at me. "Trust me on this. Nick will stay in the ring with you."

Seeing she's not going to give up on the idea, Nick reluctantly agrees. "Fine," he mutters.

Ben opens the latch for me, offering words of encouragement and reassurance. I don't really believe him, but don't say it.

As I enter the pen, Ben closes the gate, locking me in. The latch clicks shut behind me and I glance warily over my shoulder, wondering if this is a huge mistake. I have no idea what to do. Glory instantly looks over, watching me with her dark eyes volatile and full of mistrust. Her breath snorts out, her tail swishes angrily, frustration vibrates from her. I feel a rush of fear and wonder if she'll suddenly charge me. Nick must be thinking the same thing because he positions himself between us.

"Just stay near the edge for a bit," Becca instructs me. "You don't want her to feel cornered. Let her get used to you being in her space."

Glory and I gauge each other. My heart aches for her. She looks trapped and much too large for the pen. She used to compete on the most famous race tracks in the world and won the Triple Crown three years straight, but now is scarred, scared and sad.

I understand why she's so angry. This isn't what she was supposed to be or how her life was supposed to end up. Her beauty and strength have been used against her and its broken her. All she ever wanted was for someone to love and take care of her. But, instead, she'd been run into the ground and then given up on and forgotten. Now she doesn't trust anyone.

I can feel her exhaustion and weariness. She just wants to be left alone and for everyone to stop pushing at her. She doesn't want the weight of the expectation. It's too much, too painfully hard. She's been let down so many times she doesn't believe anyone anymore.

I instinctively fall completely silent. I'll wait for her. She needs to know I'm not going anywhere more than anything else right now.

The only sounds are the latch of the gate clinking and bumping against the metal bars of the pen, the slight breeze moving through the trees and pastures, the swarming buzz of insects and distant birdsong. Her breath, mine, the crunch of her hooves in the dirt as she shifts under own weight in the shimmering heat. I worry her back leg is hurting her.

Glory continues to defiantly hold her ground on the far side of the pen, almost as if she's daring me to try and catch her. Nick is a few feet away. It makes me feel safe to know he's close. Still challenging us, she jerks her head and stomps but doesn't bolt or rear up. I understand her enough to know not to try and force her to trust me. I don't try to coax her. I don't speak or move towards her or demand she listen and obey. I want her to be the one who chooses and invites me in.

The silence stretches out, one minute...three... we stay that way, quietly watching each other, waiting, letting the frustration and tension simmer and ease out of the air. I block everything else out around us until there's nothing but her and me on this small piece of land underneath the great big blue sky.

And then, just when I think nothing will happen, suddenly, miraculously, she takes a tentative step towards me. Stunned, I catch my breath, but try not to react so I don't startle her. I can feel Nick watching me, straining against his own instincts, wondering what I'm going to do, but I don't take my eyes from Glory. I don't want to break the connection between us.

I slowly take a few steps and then wait to see how she responds. She doesn't back up, shy away or run. She continues to stare at me, trying to figure out my motives and intentions. Where her safety is. If I'll hurt her and take away her last bit of power like the people who had abandoned her before. She remembers what they did to her; every bruised bone in her body reminds her. How can I help her believe I'm different?

As she gradually begins to soften and relent, we move towards each other, inch by slow inch, until she's within my reach. I'm now close enough that I can feel the heat radiating off her body, her muscles trembling, her loneliness, her need. Not wanting to spook her, I don't grab for her and continue to stay still.

In an act of trust and submission, she bows her head, pressing it against my shoulder. My heart feels as if it's going to burst in my chest as I reach up to pet her. Her coat is warm, musky, and I can feel where the mangy patches have begun to grow in. She's gained a little of her weight back. I've never experienced anything like this. The sweet gift of her letting me in leaves me breathless.

"Hi beautiful girl," I whisper, and stroke her neck. She nuzzles my hair and leans into me, almost as if searching for somewhere to hide.

"Wow," Becca says, astonished. There are tears in her eyes. "That was amazing. You're a natural, Lexy. I knew you two needed each other. Your great-granddaddy Cade would be real proud of you."

I smile at her, struck at how much I need that to be true. I can't remember the last time someone was proud of me for anything.

"Why don't you see if you can try walking her?" Nick says and I realize he's standing next to us.

I look over at him. "What do I do?"

"Take the reigns and stay by her shoulder. Tell her to walk on and then move forward around the ring."

"What if she doesn't follow me?"

"She will," he says, with no trace of doubt in his voice.

Nick walks ahead of us and I let him lead me as I lead Glory. I offer her praise and encouragement as we walk around the pen, once, then twice. When I pass Ben, he winks at me and I grin at him, feeling more alive than I have in years. Being with Glory is healing in its own way. I hadn't realized I needed something like this.

"We'd better give her a break," Nick finally says after we've rounded the pen three more times. "Don't want to wear her out. She's still healing." He decides not to take the reigns as he watches the way Glory stands close to me, almost as if we are protecting each other. He doesn't want to cause the horse to see him as a threat. "You want to walk her back up to the stable?"

"Are you sure?"

Nick nods. "She trusts you."

I look up into Glory's brown eyes. "I trust you too," I murmur. Nick watches us, a look crossing his face I can't read. Before I can figure him out, he turns away and opens up the pen gate and I lead Glory out of the ring.

"Good job, Lexy," Becca says, beaming at me. "I'm going to go get lunch ready," she says as I walk Glory past her. "Y'all meet us up at the house when you're done."

Ben follows Becca, and I notice the sweet way he takes her hand as they walk up the path together, still fascinated by how affectionate they are with each other. I'm not used to it yet.

Looking back towards Nick, I'm suddenly very aware that we are alone together. I notice he won't look at me or say anything as I lead Glory out onto the path back up to the barn. It's easier to be with him while Becca and Ben are around.

The wall is back up between us. He's walking right next to me, but it feels as if he's somewhere else. He always keeps me on the outside. He's so quiet and lost in thought. I wonder if I'll ever understand him.

We reach the stables. Glory is still in her own building while she gets used to being in her new home. He removes the halter, bridle, and bit from her before she gets put back in the stall. I had already figured out it was to prevent her from getting tangled.

She doesn't fight or resist him and he murmurs praises to her, gives her a few bites of apple which she licks up. "Go on in, girl," Nick says, giving her a soft pat on her hindquarters and she ambles into her stall and he closes and latches the door behind her.

We stand side by side leaning against the stall, watching Glory. The fans keep the warm air moving around us. "You did good today," he finally says.

Surprised, I glance over at him. I know the words weren't easy for him to give me. "Thanks. I'm glad you were in there with me."

He nods towards Glory. "She'll follow you anywhere now."

I feel both protective and tender as I look over at her. "I hope so," I say, smiling as I gently rub her scarred nose. "I want her to."

My easy smile fades when I meet Nick's eyes and notice his expression. I see his loneliness, his weariness, his grief. I expect him to look away, to step back like he always does, but for some reason, he doesn't.

That same intensity and awareness I feel whenever I'm around him are like an electric charge on the air. I know what he's thinking about. I wonder if he's finally going to tell me about Megan if he's going to let me into the one place so few really know about him, if he'll just once say her name out loud to me. I never dare ask, and walk on eggshells to avoid the subject, the slightest idea, the smallest memory of her. I can't stand to see what it will do to him.

The desperation to know what he's thinking, to somehow figure out how to break through his walls, is quickly turning into an obsession. I constantly wonder. He keeps me up nights. I've even dreamt about him.

"Do you ever wish you could just-" he begins quietly.

I hold my breath and wait, wondering what he's going to do, if he's going to finish his sentence if he'll go all the way. "Do I ever wish I could what?" I whisper, trying to keep him with me.

The space between us feels thin and fragile and seems to burn with all the things he wants to say. I'm so absorbed and focused on him that I see the exact moment he changes his mind, notice his eyes darken, watch as they become guilty and guarded and distant. His breathing is heavy as if he caught himself just in time before his feet slipped off the ledge. "Nothing," he mutters hopelessly. "Forget it."

"Nick-" I stop when he shakes his head, a warning in his eyes. I can't tell if he thinks he's protecting me or himself.

"It doesn't matter." He abruptly steps back and starts walking out of the stable. "We better get up to the main house."

I'm not ready to move yet. The breath I had been holding shudders out and I have to force myself to come back from where we just were. I look once more at Glory, murmuring that I'll be back soon, and then turn and follow wherever Nick leads.
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