I found Mary talking to Susan as a truck pulled up the drive.
Susan waved as I recognized it was her older brother, Eric, the guy I danced with when I was completely out of my mind.
I turned around hoping he didn’t notice me and walked back into the barn.
I went to hide in one of the stalls but it was too late. Eric walked into the barn and came over the stall in which I was in pretending to clean the hay.
“Hey you,” he said.
“Hey,” I blushed, “Before you say anything, sorry about the other night.”
He smiled, “Don’t worry about it.”
I walked out of the stall, “I’m so embarrassed.”
“A beautiful lady like you doesn’t have the right to be embarrassed,” he said just as Jesse was walking into the barn.
He came over and introduced himself, surely they recognized each other.
“How’s my sister doing?” he asked.
I looked at Jesse who was staring at me, “Honestly,” I said, “She needs some work.”
He nodded, “Yeah that’s what I thought. She loves horses but when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if she wants it bad enough.”
I nodded, “Well she better figure it out otherwise you guys are just wasting your money keeping Woody here.”
“It’s not a complete waste,” he said, “After all I get to see you now right?”
I lightly blushed wishing Jesse wasn’t around, “Do you ride?”
He nodded, “Pleasure riding. We have a few horses so I like to go out every once in a while but nothing competitive.”
I nodded, “We should go for a ride sometime.”
“I’d love to.”
I smiled taking a quick peek at Jesse wondering if he was the tiniest bit jealous. Then I regretted it once I realized he had left, I was too caught up to notice. Eric seemed like a nice guy and he was into horses.
“So what do you recommend for my sister?” he asked.
“Mary is going to change her diet and workout and we’ll see how that works.”
He nodded, “Why aren’t you training them anymore, if you don’t mind me asking?”
I wondered how much I should tell this guy, “Well she knows what she is doing. That’s what we pay her for, plus there’s other work that needs to get done.”
“Alright well I better go see if my sister is ready, I guess I’ll see you around.”
I nodded, “Yeah, you can come by tomorrow with your sister and we’ll take a ride on the trails.”
He smiled, “Sounds good.”
“Don’t trust him eh?” Jesse asked as he was leaving for the day.
“Eric,” he said, “Why didn’t you tell him the truth?”
“As to why you don’t train?”
I realized then that though Jesse may have left he still heard every word, “Not everyone needs to know my life story.”
“I just think if you’re going to date the guy he should know.”
“Who said anything about a date?”
Jesse shrugged his shoulders, “You can come by tomorrow and we’ll go for a trail ride,” he mimicked my voice.
I scowled at him, “What is wrong with you?”
“Me?” he asked, “What is wrong with you?”
“I don’t know what I did that was so wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he sighed, “It’s just me. Sorry.”
“What’s going on?” I said putting my hand on his shoulder, “You have been edgy all day.”
He shook his head, “It’s nothing.”
I frowned, “You can tell me.”
“I know I can, I just don’t want to,” he said walking towards his truck.
His words stung and I wondered why he was being such a jerk. I followed him towards his truck and closed the door when he opened it.
“Why don’t you want to?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Then why not say that instead of not wanting to tell me?”
“This has nothing to do with you,” he said, “I just don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why?” I said, “It’s not okay when I don’t. You don’t leave me alone until I tell you.”
“It’s nothing,” he argued, “I just miss my family.”
“Okay,” I said, “What was so hard about that? Maybe you can take some time off and go visit them.”
He shook his head, “No, I can’t.”
“You can’t?” I questioned.
“I just don’t want to,” he said getting annoyed, “Forget I even mentioned it.”
“You just said you miss them but yet you don’t want to go for a visit?” I pushed, “Its fine with me, you can take time off.”
“No,” he yelled surprising me, “Why do you keep pushing when I said no already? This is none of your business.”
“Fine,” I said getting upset, “I was only trying to help.”
“I know that’s what you do but I don’t need your help.”
I was hurt, “Don’t worry, I will never try to help again.”
“Look, I am not trying to be rude but you don’t understand what it is like to be far from your parents all the time, not to have my parents around to have dinner with me or tell me how stupid I was to stay out all night or tell me they are proud of me.”
“I do understand,” I said trying to get closer to him, “If you miss that, I don’t understand why you don’t want to go see them.”
“I will, one day but they could always come see me you know,” he said, “Look, just forget I mentioned anything okay? You will never understand what it’s like for me.”
Finally I lost it on him, “You’re right. I will never understand what you are going through. It must be so hard for you. Well you know what, at least you can still call your mom up and hear her voice, I would give anything to hear my mom’s voice and I don’t mean to sound like I have it bad because I know a million others have it worse than I do but,” I took a breath and realized Jesse was staring at the ground, “Forget it.”
I began to walk away as he came to stand in front of me, “Wait, I’m sorry.”
I shook my head, “Just leave me alone.”
He grabbed me by the arm, “I’m sorry.”
I yanked my arm away pushing him lightly, “I don’t care anymore okay? I don’t want to know anything about your life anymore. I guess you were right to think no attachments would be better. I just wanted to get to know you better but clearly that was a mistake. You make me feel bad for actually caring so I will just not care anymore.”
“You don’t know how not to care,” he pointed out.
“From now on, if you have a problem with your schedule or the way things operate around here or you need a day off, come talk to me but that is where it ends. I don’t want to know anything else,” I said turning away.
“You don’t mean that,” he called out.
“Yes, I do,” I said facing him as I reached the front door, “You push and you push until you practically force things out of me that I didn’t want to tell you and you freak out on me when I try to get to know you. I am not okay with that. You know, I was falling…”I stopped mid-sentence.
“You were falling for what?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said getting upset, “Nothing okay. Just leave, go home.”
“No, let’s talk,” he said.
“You are the last person I want to talk to,” I said walking in the door and slamming it shut.
He knocked at the door but I ignored it and eventually I saw him leave. My dad simply watched until I sat at the table and buried my head in my hands.
“What was that about?” my father asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
“You like that boy don’t you?”
“So why are you so angry?”
“I am not angry.”
“I saw you two arguing outside,” he said, “What was it about?”
“I decided that things are going to be strictly business between us.”
“Why? You guys got along great. I could tell he likes you.”
“Then you are really bad at reading people,” I pointed out.
“You still didn’t answer my question. Why were you arguing?”
I sighed, “Because he wasn’t being honest with me.”
“He lied to you?”
“No, he just wasn’t open with me the way I have been with him.”
“That brings me back to my theory that you like him, otherwise you wouldn’t be so upset.”
“Yeah, okay maybe I like him a little bit but that’s because I thought I could trust him. I thought he was a real friend.”
“So maybe he was having an off day.”
I shook my head, “I don’t think it’s that.”
“Then ask him.”
“No, it’s too late. We are just going to work together.”
“Whatever makes you happy,” he said as he left me in the kitchen to think.
The next morning I got up early and was finished half the barn before Jesse arrived. We greeted each other with a smile but that was it. Around lunch time he came into my office.
“You busy?” he asked.
“Well, can I talk to you?”
“Do you need a day off?” I asked.
“Then no, you cannot talk to me,” I said standing up.
“Jen, come on. I am sorry.”
“I know,” I sighed, “You are sorry. I don’t care. Just leave me alone.”
He mumbled, “Fine.”
I turned and flipped my hair, “By the way, I need Gerry and Snowflake saddled.”
A little while later Susan and Eric arrived. I put a smile on my face even though my heart was aching.
“You ready?” I asked.
He nodded, “Yeah,” he faced Susan, “I’ll watch you a bit when I come back.”
I led him into the barn and barely acknowledged Jesse. I took off my sweater and was only wearing a tank top. Eric followed behind me with Gerry and once we were out of the barn we mounted on the horses.
As we took off I couldn’t help but notice Jesse watch from the barn door.
“So tell me about this ranch?” Eric asked.
I began to tell him the history of the ranch, I told him about my mom and I told him all about my days in the ring. In the back of my mind I couldn’t stop thinking about Jesse and the look on his face when I fell down the stairs, or when he helped me change or when he was with me in the hospital. I began to have butterflies in my stomach.
“So tell me about yourself.”
“Like you I grew up on a ranch, so I know all the basic stuff, I’ve had to do it. Unlike you, I decided living on the ranch wasn’t my life so I went to school and I got a degree. I just graduated last year and I’m hoping to start my own business one day. Right now I’m just the manager at a retail store but we’ll see where things take me.”
I smiled as he told me all about his life, without me having to ask him a bunch of questions.
“Sorry about your mom,” he said when he finished, “That must have been difficult.”
“It still is,” I admitted.
We went around for a couple hours but eventually got back to the ranch. Susan was waiting in the barn and chatting away with Jesse.
“I don’t pay you to converse,” I whispered as I walked by them.
As Eric and I placed our horses back in the stall he came over, “Thanks for the ride. I had a great time.”
I nodded, “Me too.”
“If you ever want someone to listen, I am a good listener,” he said, “Instead of getting drunk next time.”
I smiled, “I might take you up on that one day.”
“I hope you do.”
We were interrupted when Susan walked over, “Good ride?”
“Good company,” Eric said.
“Are you ready?”
He nodded, “Yeah, sorry I didn’t watch you.”
“No worries, I can see you were busy,” she smirked.
“Hey Susan,” I called, “Did Mary talk to you about your new workout?”
She nodded, “Yeah.”
“If you need some motivation, I’m going to start running in the mornings as well so you could come by and we could go together.”
She smiled, “We’ll see. Thanks for the offer. Are you going to start jumping again?”
I thought about it and shook my head, “No.”
“You should,” she said, “I used to watch you in shows when I was little, you were really good.”
“You could be just as good,” I pointed out, “You just have to want it.”
She nodded and followed Eric out of the barn.
“You want to know something?” I said popping my head over the stall that Jesse was in, “I had a really good time.”
“That’s great for you.”
“You want to know why?” I asked not waiting for his reply, “He actually talked to me.”
When Jesse met my eyes I tapped the wood and began to walk out of the barn.
The next few days I saw Eric every day, Susan came running with me in the mornings and Eric and I spent the time Susan trained together, whether it was watching her or going out for a ride or going out to town for an ice cream. The more time I spent with him the less I saw Jesse which I didn’t mind. The only thing that hurt me was when I got home one afternoon to see Mary giving Jesse a horseback riding lesson.
Jesse was busy cantering in a circle so I went to talk to Mary.
Mary climbed down, “Hey, I hope you don’t mind. He asked me to give him some pointers. I think he wanted to maybe impress you the next time you guys went on a trail.”
“I doubt that,” I said leaving once Jesse spotted me.
Back in the barn I began to muck out a stall. I missed talking to Jesse the way we had before, I missed the way he looked at me, as if I was the only girl around.
When he walked into the stall, I ignored him like I did the past week and he didn’t have a problem with it.
Around six Jesse left without saying goodbye. I headed inside and found my father waiting for me to have dinner.
“Hey sweetheart,” my father began, “I want to talk to you.”
I nodded as I took a seat, “Am I in trouble?”
He shook his head, “No. I am sorry.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For disappointing you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I have been stopping you from doing what you love because I have been selfish.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, “What are you talking about dad?”
“Training,” he said, “I want you to do what makes you happy and I am sorry that I prevented you from doing it for the past year.”
I swallowed, “I understand dad, its okay.”
I got up and walked over to him giving him a hug, “No, it is not okay. You are my daughter and I should have been encouraging you.”
I began to start crying not able to control my emotions, “I am sorry dad. I started training behind your back for a little while but then I couldn’t do it anymore and I stopped.”
I sat on my dad’s lap like a little girl as he wiped the tears away from my face, “I know.”
“I am so sorry I hid it from you,” I said, “Wait what did you say?”
“I said I know. I knew all along.”
“You did?” I asked, “How?”
“You were smiling again,” he said.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He shrugged his shoulders, “I guess I wanted to see when you would tell me.”
“I stopped though.”
“I know that too.”
“You’re not mad?” I asked.
“Honey, I am not mad. I don’t like that you hid it from me but I can’t blame you for it. So no more secrets okay? I want you to start training again and I want you to start with Woody because Mary is having some trouble and she thinks it is because you started working with Woody and so you know him better. She thinks you could get Susan and Woody to work together.”
“I think that is an excuse because she’s a great trainer.”
“Maybe,” he agreed, “Everyone cares about you.”
“So I can train?”
He nodded, “I want you to.”
I smiled as I hugged my father.
“There is something else I want to tell you but am not sure if I should.”
“Of course you should.”
“Jesse is the one who actually had the guts to tell me what Mary and Luca couldn’t.”
I was confused, “What are you talking about?”
“He made me realize how much you love it.”
“So he told you that I stopped training?”
He nodded, “He said it was because you didn’t want me to feel as if I was losing you. I love you so much Jennifer and I never want you to feel like I am not proud of you.”
“I can’t believe he did that,” I whispered.
“Don’t be angry with him, he told me not to tell you. He told me everything, how he threatened you to tell me or he would,” I tuned him out as I began to think.
I wasn’t mad at him; I was in love with him. I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated what he did, even if I said I would be mad. I wanted to tell him how I felt but I couldn’t. Not after everything I said to him.
“Jen?” my father waved his hand in front of my eyes.
“Yeah sorry, don’t worry dad. I am not mad at him. I am a little jealous that he got you to listen to him.”
“He didn’t give me much of a choice. He has guts you know? And I really think he likes you,” he added, “I don’t know why else he would do what he did.”
I smiled, “Maybe you are right.”
“You like him, just admit it. I am your father.”
“Maybe a little,” I laughed, “but just a little.”
After that we began to eat. I cleaned up afterwards and let my dad go watch television. I went to my room right after to do some thinking.
I was confused. If Jesse liked me then why would he find it so hard to open up? I almost felt as if he wanted to push me away. I felt as if he didn’t want to be friends. Almost as if he wanted to just come to work and leave.
I wanted to thank him, but if I did then I would have to admit that I was wrong. If I admitted I was wrong, then he might make a big deal about it.
If I didn’t thank him then we would continue to ignore each other which might be for the best if he leaves once winter rolls around but how could I ignore him once I start training? After all he was the one who spoke with my dad. I wanted to know what he told him, how he told him and how he got my father to actually listen.
My dad said he had guts, what did that mean?
I decided not to do anything tonight, I decided I would just act spontaneously when I saw him and whatever I felt was right, I would do.
My mother always told me I had to lead my heart in the direction I wanted to and once it was there, my heart would know what to do. So that is what I was going to do.