What Lies Beneath

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Original Post

What Lies Beneath

2009

Written By: Leanna Colonna

Other Titles by Leanna Colonna

Bee’s Diary

Summer of Complications

The Unexpected

The Turn Around

The Journey

Choosing to Love

Love Conquers All Series

Love Never Fails

Love’s Sacred Covenant

Love’s Greatest Gift

Bailey’s Ranch Series

What Lies Beneath

Truth Be Told

Back in the Saddle

Out of the Dark Series

Light in the Darkness

Darkness Flees

Stand Alone Novels

Freedom Reigns

Silver Lining

A Change in Heart

Acknowledgements

I would like to start off by thanking God, Lord of all, for blessing me abundantly with everlasting love and joy. Every time I think I will not have any more ideas to write another novel, somehow an idea sparks in my head and I begin to write another novel. I thank God for loving me and providing me with inspiration to do what I love. I would not be able to do this without Him.

Next I would like to thank my parents for continually supporting my dreams and my passions. I thank you for always being there for me, through good and bad and showing me that I can do all things with Christ.

To my sister, who is always willing to brainstorm with me; whether it is for a book title or designing a book cover. Thank you for always being willing to get involved to help make my novels a success.

Last but definitely not least, I thank my fans. Without you, I could not succeed. I pray that as I continue to do what I love, you will continue to enjoy each novel and the story that it takes you on. I cannot wait to hear your thoughts and opinions on this latest novel.

Ranch Life (1)

I woke up to the smell of fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen and the sound of horse hooves stomping on the ground waiting to be fed. I turned over and shut the alarm off. It was one of those days where all I wanted to do was stay in bed, but I knew it was time to wake up. There was so much to do; there was always so much to do. I opened the blinds and smiled to myself as the sun began to rise, a wave of satisfaction bubbled inside my soul. I put on my overalls and headed down the stairs, I poured myself a mug of coffee with three spoonfuls of sugar and took a seat next to my father.

“Good morning,” he kissed me on the forehead, “I heard you pacing around last night.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Is everything okay?”

I nodded, “Just nightmares that’s all.”

He sighed and went to fix himself something to eat, “Can I get you a bagel?”

I nodded and stayed silent wishing more than anything that the nightmare was in fact a nightmare, only it wasn’t. It was the same nightmare I had every once in a while that woke me up in the middle of the night and left me yearning for what I’ve been missing the last ten years of my life.

My father, Joe, looked out the kitchen window and like myself, smiled. Living on a ranch was hard work, it involved long hours and physical labour but the rewards made it worth it.

I was brought back to reality when my father cleared his throat, “You have a few people to interview today. I was looking at the board outside, hopefully we find someone soon; we’re getting behind on everything.”

I nodded. Even with two stable hands including myself and my father, there were never enough hours in the day to finish all that needed to be done.

I rinsed my mug and went to put on my boots, “I know, hopefully I will hire someone today.”

I’ve lived on the Bailey’s Ranch my whole life, it was named after my family, it was a legacy passed down to us, and it’s been passed down for five generations. I’ve lived and breathed ranching since I could remember. My summer jobs were always on the ranch, only I never got paid. It never felt right. The ranch is my life, it’s my dream, it’s my passion, and it’s everything I could ever imagine.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually say I am a trainer because that is what my dream job is. I love working with different horses that have different talents and skills. That is what the Bailey Ranch is all about, people bring us their horses to be trained for specific purposes and we have a talented team to do it.

When I was sixteen I dropped out of school to help run the ranch, I was young and many people criticized my father for allowing me to act foolishly but I didn’t see it that way. All I ever thought about when I was at school was getting home so I could ride Snowflake, my horse. I got Snowflake when I was fifteen, he’s a black Appaloosa with a white star on his forehead, but to me it always looked more like a snowflake rather than a star, hence where I got his name.

I’ve ridden horses for as long as I can remember; my first memories from my childhood are of me on horses. I’ve been in jumping competitions and won gold medals every year with the exception of last year due to an accident I had. I broke a few ribs when training Snappers, a chestnut Palomino with a high temper. It was my own fault, I knew he wasn’t ready for trail rides but I took him out on one only to have him buck at the sound of a bird call. He wasn’t ready but being the go getter than I am, I wanted to test him out. I flew off him and landed on top of broken branches from a fallen tree. It was three hours later that I came to and had the energy to phone the barn for help. I was in the hospital for two days after that, hospitals out in the country I have discovered are very different from those in the city. Then again I have never really been to a big city.

My father was angry with me; he didn’t speak to me for two days once I got back from the hospital. When he gave in, he told me he was only mad at me because he was afraid that he might have lost me. I couldn’t blame him for being angry. I would have been too. So it’s been a year since I’ve been in jumping competitions or training horses. I’m not afraid of what happened but I’m afraid of it happening again and this time, my dad’s nightmare might just come true.

Working with horses is a risk I take every day. I miss training them, I miss going out for runs with them but I don’t miss the look of fear in my father’s eyes. So that’s why I am stuck holding interviews to hire someone instead of training Blackjack myself.

Our two stable hands, Mary and Luca, are in charge of training the horses and my father and I handle working in the barn. I know my father knows I miss working with the horses but he hasn’t tried to encourage me at all; I’ve accepted it.

So that’s what we do here at Bailey’s Ranch. We train horses to be the best horses they can be, whether for competition or pleasure, whatever the client wants. We also hold horseback riding lessons and trail rides on the weekends to make extra money.

As I made my way into the first barn that fits eight horses, I fixed the feeds and went over to each stall placing a pail of food for each of the horses. I closed my eyes to the last memory I had with my mother, we both walked in the barn, hand and hand, and she was singing my favourite song as we did on our night checks on all the horses.

When I was ten, my mother died of cancer, she died in her sleep. No one saw it coming; well I know I never saw it coming. I knew she was sick, but I never thought cancer would take my mother’s life. She used to brush my hair every morning before taking me to school; she would tell me that one day I would run this ranch with my family. She told me how I was her special girl and that I would always be. I miss her every day. I miss the way she would hug me, or the way she would tuck me in at night. I’m twenty one years old and I wish more than anything that my mother was still around to tuck me in at night.

So I didn’t blame my father for not wanting to lose the only family member he had left. I didn’t want that to happen either. My father is my best friend; I tell him everything, almost everything. We’ve always been close especially after my mother died. He tried to do everything my mom used to do. He tried so hard to be exactly what I needed. I respect my father and I love him with all my heart but sometimes I wish he could see that I am not a little girl anymore.

I can make my own decisions. I wish he could understand that all I’ve wanted to do the past few months is to start working with the horses again. I wish he could understand that working with the horses makes me feel closer to my mom. Not only have I not trained a horse since my accident but I haven’t ridden a horse since my accident. I knew my father was happy that I wasn’t but I was beginning to feel a grudge growing towards him as he was the only reason I wasn’t riding a horse right now.

I waved to Luca as he pulled his car up the drive, “Good morning.”

“Good morning lovely lady.”

Luca always had a way of making me smile. He was fifty years old with a lovely family and not to mention he loves horses just as much as I do.

“We got a new horse yesterday,” I started, “His name is Jasper, I put his notes on the board for you to read over, he’s for pleasure riding.”

He nodded, “I’ll start with him as soon as I can, and maybe you could give me a hand.”

I sighed, “I have a lot of work today, I have interviews to get through but I am sure you will be fine, you always are.”

I watched the older man as he frowned; he came over and put his arm around me as we walked towards the barn. Luca asks for my help every morning. He often sees me staring out into the paddock as he trains the horses, at times I’ll shout over what I think he should try doing.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

I frowned, “Yes.”

“Well if you change your mind, you know where I will be.”

“I do, but I won’t change my mind,” I sighed.

I went into the second barn and began to fill up the water buckets when Mary popped her head in around the corner, “Hey Jen, let me help you with those.”

I smiled, “Thank you. So how was your date last night? Did he pop the question?”

Mary held out her hand and there was a beautiful engagement ring, “That is really something!”

Mary, thirty two years old had been dating Sam for five years just waiting for him to pop the question and he finally did. Mary stood up against the stall, her tall legs showing how slim she was. Her blonde hair was tied up and when the sunlight hit her brown eyes it made them look green.

“We are so happy, I can hardly wait.”

I gave her a hug, “I am really happy for you.”

She smiled, “Well I better get to work. I’ll catch you later.”

I nodded and watched as she headed into Flappers stall leading him out and into the training ring.

The day flew by as the sun beat down. I had to go into the house and change before my first interviewee showed up. I needed to look presentable.

At twelve o’clock my first interviewee was seated in my office, “John, you live an hour away?”

He nodded, “Yes, but I can assure you that will not be a problem.”

I didn’t believe it but I went on with the questions, “Does this schedule suit you?”

He nodded, “Yes, I just need to know how much you are willing to pay?”

I was thrown back by how blunt he was, “Well I would start you off with minimum wage.”

John immediately stood up, “I am sorry to have wasted your time, I must be going.”

I couldn’t even say anything; he was already out the door. I scratched his name off the list. The next interview went much the same way only they complained about the long hours.

“Honey, your two o’clock is here,” my father shouted as he passed the barn door.

I exited Blackjack’s stall and headed to the office where a tall woman stood wearing stiletto’s and a dress, although it looked more like a shirt to me.

I smiled politely as I headed over and shook her hand, “Hi, I’m Jennifer. You must be Morgan.”

The woman nodded, “Yes, it’s nice to meet you.”

I lead her into the office and told her to take a seat, “So how did you find out about this job?”

“I saw the posting in town, I just moved here with my boyfriend so we’re both looking for work.”

“Have you ever had any experience working with horses?”

“Not really, I’ve ridden them a few times but I’ve never really worked with them. The job just said it would be ground work.”

“That’s true but we usually look for someone with a little bit of experience. I guess we could always train you for a couple days.”

“I learn quickly.”

I looked at her resume which seemed like gibberish to me. She had a lot of experience in sales and telemarketing; I didn’t know how a city girl could ever work in the country shoveling horse poop.

“Okay well, you would be working Monday to Saturday, you would get Sunday off and two days would be half days, you would be able to choose those days.”

“Oh, well, I can only put in four days a week.”

“Four days? The job posting says five.”

“I know but I have priorities.”

I tried not to laugh. Growing up on a ranch my whole life was not easy, ranch work is not easy. I was always taught that work was a priority, second to family of course.

“Okay, well I will look over your resume some more and get back to you,” I stood up and shook her hand.

“Hope to hear from you soon.”

When she left I let out a sigh of relief, Morgan had been my fifth interview this week and none of them were what I thought was required for a job like this. It seemed like no one wanted to work. Who goes to a ranch dressed in stilettos? Not anyone who actually wants to get the job, that’s for sure.

I scratched her name off the list.

My next interview was at four, “Jamie, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Finally a man with jeans and a shirt came into the office with a smile on his face. He looked like he was in his thirties, looked like he lived in the country and looked like he wanted the job.

“So have you had any experience working with horses?”

“I’ve worked with horses my whole life; my family owns a ranch.”

“Your family owns a ranch?”

He nodded, “Yes, and you must be wondering why I would be applying for a job here but sometimes working with family isn’t the best thing.”

I could agree with him to a certain degree, “Alright and you will be okay with working for minimum wage?”

He nodded, “Yes of course.”

“You are okay with the hours?” I asked.

Again he nodded, “I am not afraid of a little hard work.”

I smiled, “Well then, this makes me very happy.”

“I just have one tiny favor to ask.”

“What’s that?”

“I would need to bring my daughter to work with me.”

I nearly started choking when the words came out. He wanted to bring his daughter to work with him. He wanted to bring a little girl to a place where he would be cleaning out stalls. Where exactly would he put his daughter? It was too dangerous and although he seemed like the perfect candidate, the only candidate at this point, it wouldn’t be a smart move.

He understood when I said it wasn’t possible. As he left I banged my head on my desk. I never thought it would have been this difficult to find a little help. Just then there was a knock on the door. I immediately looked up and smiled as a man stood in the doorway. He must have thought I was crazy with the way I was banging my head.

He was about a head taller than me, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, very appropriate for a ranch interview.

“I’m Jesse, I called yesterday…”

“Yes, come in, I am the one who you spoke with, I’m Jennifer but you can call me Jen.”

He shook my hand without a smile on his face, “I am here for an interview.”

I nodded, “Yes, I will be interviewing you.”

“You? Are you sure about that?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t look over eighteen.”

I blinked my eyes already having a bad feeling about this guy even though he was the last one, “I am twenty one and for your information I pretty much run this place, I have since I was sixteen.”

He looked taken back, “Sorry, I was just expecting…”

“Yeah, I get what you were expecting. Look, I have had a really long day so is there any point in continuing with this interview?”

He nodded, “Yes, please, I really need to find a job.”

“Jesse, have you had any experience with horses?” I was getting tired of asking the same questions.

He shook his head as he handed me his resume, “No but the add said you basically needed mucking out stalls, feeding, grooming and I am sure I can learn quickly.”

I nodded, “Where are you from? I can tell you are not from around here.”

“I’ve travelled a lot,” he simply said.

“I would need you to work five days a week,” I explained the schedule, “You would have to be reachable at all times. Working with horses can be challenging and there will be emergencies where we will need an extra pair of hands, and of course we will pay you for extra time.”

“I understand.”

“And it’s minimum wage to start,” I added.

“That’s fine.”

“Is your travelling going to get in the way of working?” I asked.

He shook his head, “I will make sure to give you plenty of notice if I decide to leave.”

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Twenty-six.”

“Why do you want to work here?”

“I didn’t know these were the types of questions required in an interview,” he replied.

“It’s my assumption that the interviewer gets to ask all the questions she wants and if someone really wants the job, I’m pretty sure they answer them.”

He looked into my eyes, “I take it back”

I was confused, “You take what back?”

“You’re too feisty to be eighteen,” he commented then answered my earlier question, “I want this job because it’s something new, it will be challenging like you said and I believe it will be an interesting experience.”

“So just to clarify, you won’t just quit in a couple weeks because you want to travel to some place new?”

“Honestly? I don’t know what is going to happen but I do not see myself leaving for a while.”

“What’s a while?”

“A few months.”

“That doesn’t seem like very long.”

“For you maybe, but for me I am sure it will feel like a lifetime.”

I tried to think of other questions that I could ask him so that I would not have to hire him but so far the only problem he had was his attitude. That could potentially be a problem but I was desperate to hire someone.

“When would you be able to start?”

“I could start now if you like?”

Again he surprised me, but I couldn’t help but wonder why he was so cold, “You can start tomorrow morning, seven a.m. sharp. Don’t be late or don’t show up.”

He stood up and nodded, “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet.”

“I will because I won’t be late. I really needed a job so I am very grateful right now,” finally he showed a little appreciation.

I smiled, “You’re welcome. Just come in a better mood tomorrow.”

“A better mood?”

“I am not feisty.”

At that he laughed, “Okay! I probably shouldn’t have talked to my boss that way.”

“You’re right, you’re lucky I’m desperate.”

“Desperate?”

“Like I said, I already had five interviews before you.”

“Well I am not sorry that you had to endure it all, otherwise I would be out of a job right now.”

I nodded, “Don’t make me regret this.”

He nodded as he headed out the door. I exhaled wondering if I made a big mistake or a good decision, hopefully one that would not turn out a disaster.

The last thing I wanted was someone to cause problems and cause more work rather than lessen the work. I would take no more than two days to train him and show him the ropes then I would leave him to do the work without a chaperon and evaluate him.

Second Impression (2)

The sun shone through my window Tuesday morning as I forgot to close the blinds the day before. I looked at the clock; it was barely six in the morning. I rolled over and closed my eyes again, waiting until my alarm went off. I decided to get out of bed at 6:15am heading down in my night wear. My father was already down drinking his coffee. The windows and sliding doors were open as a light warm breeze came into the room. I kissed my father on the cheek before grabbing a muffin to eat.

“You are up even earlier than usual,” I smiled.

“I went to bed earlier last night.”

“Well, it looks like it is going to be another hot day.”

“What time did you say Jesse was supposed to be coming?” my father asked as I was about to head upstairs to change into my work clothes.

“7 a.m. He better not be late.”

“I don’t think he will be,” he said standing up and walking towards the window, “I think he may already be here, unless there is a stranger hanging around.”

I looked at the clock that hung on the wall, it was a quarter to seven, “He’s early. I will go change and then start showing him the ropes. You should go and introduce yourself.”

He nodded, “I will.”

Shortly after, I made my way over to see my father chatting away with Jesse. I smiled as I approached them; all I got was a nod. I let my father finish his sentence before leading Jesse towards the barn.

“So this is our barn, these are our ranch horses used for horseback riding lessons and trail rides on the weekends or in the evening.”

“Who’s in charge of the lessons?”

“I’ll introduce you to our other two stable hands after, they do that work.”

“What do you do?” he asked.

I sighed, “I will be helping you. There is another barn so there is plenty to do”

“Another barn?”

“There is another barn behind this one; those horses are those that we train, that belong to our clients.”

“How long has this ranch been around?”

I smiled enjoying the fact that he was curious about the ranch, “It has been in the family for five generations.”

“Wow, that’s a long time.”

I nodded, “Yes it is. Anyways if you come with me I will show you the equipment room.”

Without a word he followed me. We entered a room that was neatly organized; hay on one side, other food and remedies on the other side. The saddles, halters, blankets and ropes were all at the back of the room with the horses names on the chests.

I grabbed a book that lay on the desk in the middle of the room, “This is the most important thing for everyone who works here. This is the list of all the horses and a description of how much food they need to eat, any medical conditions they have, what they are here to be trained for, what type of horse they are, basically all the information you could possible think of.”

He simply nodded as I went on, “So before you feed the horses make sure you know how much you need to give them, you can measure it and put it in one of those pails with water. I have everything written down on the bulletin board just outside of this room in case you or anyone else forgets. So don’t worry if you do. So that is your first job every morning.”

I walked along the side of the room where there was a shelf of grooming supplies, “Here is everything you will need to groom the horses, I will show you how to do it shortly. This is where the saddles are, lead ropes, etc. You are going to need to learn how to saddle the horses, for trail rides, in case one of the stable hands needs your help with it. Here are the rakes you will use to clean out the dirty hay in the stalls, there is a wheelbarrow in the next room and you can dump everything in the back of the barn, there is a hole back there.”

I finally glanced at Jesse, “Do you have any questions?”

He shook his head.

I nodded, “Okay well, I will show you how to groom the horses.”

I grabbed the tools I would need and brought them into Snowflake’s stall. He snorted as I walked in and I laughed as I patted his neck, “Hey there, how are you today?”

Again Snowflake snored putting a smile on my face, “Yeah, I know I spoil you.”

“You talk to the horses?” Jesse asked.

I nodded, “You will too once you get used to the surroundings. Horses are great companions and friends.”

I could see a look of amusement cross his face, “I doubt that.”

I sighed, “Well, this is a special horse. He’s mine, his name is Snowflake.”

He nodded as he reached up and rubbed his side.

“Okay so first you use this brush, it’s called a curry comb, and it’s to rub off any dirt that’s stuck on their hair from being out in the field or going out on one of the trails. Don’t be afraid to apply pressure, they don’t feel much so just do it like this,” I showed him, “always brush left to right, have the comb in your right hand.”

I did one side and moved to his other side, “When you walk behind them, rub your hand along them so they know you are behind them. They cannot see what is directly behind them so it’s important that you tell them you are there so they do not randomly kick backwards. You wouldn’t want that, believe me, it hurts.”

“It’s happened to you?”

“Five times,” I said.

“I guess you didn’t tell them you were there.”

“Nope, so you can see why it’s important that you don’t forget. I was younger though and not as careful. Anyways, you could also talk to them, if they hear your voice they know you are there as well. Our horses are very trained so they do not usually act up but it is possible. If they do, usually they are in pain so if you see something odd, it’s important to come talk to me about it.”

“What does your dad do?”

I frowned, “He will be helping us but he does a lot of the paper work that needs to get done, he’s more involved in the business side of things.”

He nodded, “Okay, so what’s next?”

“You use this brush next, it mainly gets rid of any residue that you may have missed. The hooves come next; this is tricky, especially their back legs because of the way they bend. You have to bend over like this,” I said crouching down, “squeeze their ankle and they will lift it up for you, then you use this tool and dig the dirt stuck in the hoof. You move it in the shape of a V. You do not want to dig in the middle, which would be their foot and would hurt them.”

When I stood back up to look at him he nodded, “Do you want to try one?”

He grabbed the tool and mimicked my earlier actions. I was surprised at how well he did it for the first time. I smiled at him when he finished, “That was good.”

He nodded, “I told you I could learn fast.”

Again with the attitude, “I guess you did. You don’t seem the type to enjoy this type of work. What made you want to apply for it?”

“I needed to work, I saw the ad, and I figured I could give it a shot.”

I nodded, “What other work did you do before?”

“Mainly business related things, accounting and finance.”

“So you are completely changing fields, you can’t be happy about that? Did you get fired or something?”

“Does it matter?” he asked.

“No, I just like to know about the people who work for me.”

“It was my choice to leave, like I said, I like to travel.”

I nodded feeling as though there was something strange about Jesse, “Okay, we’re pretty much done with the grooming. You can go get the saddle, it has his name next to it, bring it here and I will show you how to do it.”

Moments later he showed up, “I wasn’t sure whether or not you needed this so I brought it.”

I nodded, “Yeah, we need that; the blanket goes beneath the saddle.”

Step by step I talked him through the process of putting the saddle on the horse. I also showed him how to properly dismantle it. I then watched as he did it. I occasionally reminded him of the next step, it wasn’t unusual for someone not to remember, it wasn’t easy but over time it gets to be second nature. I could saddle a horse with my eyes closed with the amount of times that I did it.

By the time we finished up it was already noon. I headed out with Jesse and spotted Mary carrying a basket of blankets into the equipment room washed and folded.

“Thank you,” I told her when she came out, “Mary, I would like you to meet Jesse.”

Mary shook his hand, “Welcome to the team, I hope you like it here.”

“I’m sure I will,” Jesse simply said.

“Where is Luca?” I asked.

“In the ring with Blackjack, I think he wants to start working with him today.”

I nodded as I brought Jesse towards the ring, “This is one of our training rings.”

“What are you training this one for?”

“Luca is training him to be a race horse.”

“That guy is going to race on him?”

“No, he’s just training it; Mary will be the one who actually tests him out, checks his speed and stuff like that.”

Luca walked over towards the gate, “You must be Jesse, pleasure to meet you.”

“Pleasure is mine.”

A while later my father came out with a basket of sandwiches, everyone took half an hour and ate on the picnic table near the house.

“So where are you staying?” Luca asked Jesse.

“I’m renting out a basement about ten minutes away.”

“The Brady’s place?” my father asked.

He nodded, “Yeah.”

“We know that family, we are good family friends. They are really sweet.”

He nodded, “That’s the impression I got.”

I still couldn’t help but feel as though there was something odd about the way Jesse behaved. There was something about our conversations, some points were interesting and I felt as though he would enjoy the work here but at other times he seemed really cold and I felt as if he couldn’t care less about the work he had to do.

“Thank you for lunch,” he stood up, “I think I will go start on another stall.”

I nodded and stood up, “Me too.”

“Oh Jesse, everyone is going to be staying for dinner Friday night, we like to have dinner together once a month, so we hope you can stay.”

He looked pensive but finally nodded, “Sure, that sounds great.”

We walked into the barn together, I went into one stall and Jesse went into the next. He had a couple questions he asked and I politely answered them. Throughout the day he had other work related questions and at 5:30pm he left.

Mary and Luca left shortly after. When I walked into the house a quarter after six, my father already had dinner on the table so immediately after I showered, we ate.

“How do you think it went today?” he asked.

I nodded, “I think it was okay. He seems a little weird to tell you the truth but I think he just needs to get used to it. He’s used to travelling and business stuff, makes me wonder what he’s doing here. I mean ranching is completely different than business.”

He shrugged his shoulders, “Well we will just try to make him feel comfortable and a part of the team. I am sure once he gets the swing of things he will be fine.”

I nodded, “I think so too. He did a good job though and he was a big help, I would have never gotten through all of the stalls on my own today. I will have a lot more time now.”

He nodded, “Well that gives you the chance to hang out with Sara, I haven’t seen her around for a while, you have been so busy lately.”

I nodded; Sara was my closest friend from high school. We usually got together once a week but lately there has been so much to do and I had to cancel on her for the past two weeks.

“I will call her tomorrow; maybe she will come by for a bit. Maybe we will go riding,” I said wanting to see my father’s reaction.

He nodded, “I think that is a nice idea. The weather looks good so you guys could go on a trail ride, just walk with the horses though, if it’s too hot they shouldn’t run.”

I was surprised that he agreed to it, but of course there was a condition, I could only walk with the horses.

I sighed, “Dad, we’re going for a trail ride, the horses are trained.”

“I know but you haven’t been riding for a while.”

“A year dad and I haven’t sooner because I know you don’t want me to.”

“I never told you that you can’t go riding.”

“You never encouraged me to get back on a horse either.”

What I really wanted to tell him was that I wanted to start training the horses again in my free time but clearly it was too soon. I would get him used to the idea of me riding the horses first.

“Honey, I only want what makes you happy. I think you should go riding tomorrow with Sara.”

I nodded as I began to clear the dishes. I wanted to start training again this summer, without training horses, I haven’t felt like myself. Training horses and riders was my passion, it was what I wanted, and it was what I was good at. I needed to work with different horses. I wanted to take Snowflake cantering through the fields. I wanted to ride bareback through the forest but I haven’t for a year. It was time my father accepted the fact that I missed it and wanted to get back into it. Slowly I would tell him.

After cleaning up I went to call Sara, she answered on the second ring, “Hi stranger.”

“I know, it’s been too long but I was wondering if you want to come by tomorrow, we could go for a ride.”

“A ride?”

I smiled, “Yeah, I know. I can’t not go riding anymore; my dad said it was fine. I think he’s fine with the idea if you come with me.”

“Yeah well of course I will come.”

“You can meet the new stable hand too.”

“So you found someone?”

“Yeah, he’s a little peculiar but I think it’s because it’s all new to him.”

I could hear Sara’s laughter on the other end, “Weird eh? I guess a little weird never hurt anyone, might even make your life more interesting.”

“Very funny.”

“It was a joke, so what time should I come by?”

“Maybe noon? That way I could help Jesse out with the stalls in the morning.”

“Sounds good, I will see you then. I can’t wait to see you; I have a lot to tell you.”

“More boy drama?” I asked.

“Of course!”

I laughed as I hung up the phone. Sara had the craziest boy stories; she kept me entertained at all times.

Back on the Saddle(3)

Wednesday morning came quickly, I didn’t feel like getting up; I felt like lying in bed all day but at seven I got out of bed. I greeted everyone warmly and headed into the barn where I found Jesse in the equipment room getting the grooming tools.

“Good morning,” I said heading next to him to grab another set of grooming tools.

“Morning.”

I smiled, “Have you ever been riding before?”

He shook his head as we headed into the barn, “Once or twice.”

“I’m going out with my friend for a trail ride around noon; you are more than welcome to join us.”

He shook his head, “No thanks, I’m good.”

“Okay, well if you ever want to, it’s not a problem.”

He nodded, “I guess you ride often?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Umm, not too often.”

He nodded, “Well I better get to work.”

“Hey do you mind grooming Gerry? Sara, my friend, will be riding him.”

He nodded, “Sure.”

Jesse headed down the barn and let himself into Gerry’s stall. He patted him lightly on the head and began grooming him. I was surprised by how quickly he learned. It was only his second day and it looked as if he had been working with horses his whole life.

The morning went by quickly; Sara showed up at 11:30am and found me in the barn with straw in my hair because Snowflake was eating his hay while I was grooming him.

Sara gave me a big hug when she spotted me, “It’s about time you find time to hang out with me.”

I smiled lifting her off the floor, she was so tiny, sometimes I was envious, “I know, you’re early.”

“I figured I could groom Gerry, I miss seeing him all the time.”

“I actually got Jesse to do it earlier but you can go and have a chat with him and reacquaint yourself. I will just finish up here.”

She nodded, “Take your time.”

Ten minutes later I entered into Gerry’s stall, “Ready?”

Sara led Gerry out by the lead rope; she tied him up and went to grab his saddle. Jesse was walking into the barn when Sara came back, “Sara, this is Jesse.”

They shook hands, “Hi.”

Jesse smiled and headed back to work.

When he was out of sight Sara turned to me and whispered, “He is gorgeous.”

I shook my head, “Do you ever have anything else on your mind?”

“Like what? School? Work? I would much rather have that on my mind,” she winked as she glanced over her shoulder, “As if you never noticed his looks, I’m sure you were sizing him up in the interview.”

I laughed, “I don’t size people up Sara. I ask them questions.”

“He fits your description of a guy perfectly. You always said brown hair and green eyes were a great combination.”

I did always say that but I hardly noticed the colour of his eyes. I began to think of Jesse and realized that he was attractive behind the awkwardness and apart from his attitude.

“I never really noticed. He’s an employee.”

“How old is he?”

“Twenty six.”

“Perfect.”

I smiled, “If he is so perfect, you can have him.”

“You are trying to tell me you are not attracted to him at all?”

I nodded, “That is exactly what I am saying. I don’t even know the guy. Yes, I will admit he is cute physically but he’s not my type.”

“You get to see that all day,” she commented when we exited the barn with the horses.

“You can have him.”

“No thanks, I have enough boy drama. Plus, I wouldn’t feel right, you saw him first.”

I laughed, “Don’t let me stop you.”

Slowly I put my foot into the stirrup and lifted myself up on the horse loving the feel of it.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

I nodded, “Yes, it feels weird though. I can’t believe I haven’t been on a horse for a year. It feels like ten years.”

“That’s because you love it.”

I nodded and patted Snowflake, “I missed riding you Snowflake. Did you miss me too?”

We rode for a while in silence; I was absorbing every part of the ride into my memory. We finally stopped when we got to my favourite spot, two trees side by side. We both got down and went to sit on the grass.

“So what’s going on?”

Sara laughed, “So remember I told you about Frank?”

“That’s the one who asked you out three times now and you keep turning him down?”

She nodded, “Yes, well he asked me out again.”

“Stop torturing the guy and just go out with him.”

“I said yes.”

“Finally,” I smiled, “What took so long?”

“I like him.”

“That’s why you kept turning him down?”

She nodded, “Yeah, it’s not the same going out with guys who don’t really mean anything. I go out with them and they pay. The date ends and I go on the next date. I actually like this guy. What if it doesn’t work out, what if we go out and he doesn’t call back?”

“He’s already asked you out three times, of course he will call you back. He clearly is into you, otherwise he wouldn’t be so persistent.”

She nodded, “Yeah I know, you are right.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, take it easy, go on your first date and see where things go from there.”

She nodded, “Since when have you been the advice giver?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I have always had good advice.”

She nodded, “So what about you? How have you really been?”

“I’ve been okay. I want to start training again.”

“That’s great, you should.”

“I just don’t know how to tell my dad.”

“Just be honest with him, I mean, I could see a part of you is missing, training horses is your life.”

“I love it but I know my dad doesn’t want me to.”

“Have you asked him about it?”

I shook my head, “I could see he didn’t even want me to come on this ride. He didn’t say it but I could see it all over his face.”

“Well maybe mention the idea to him and see what he says.”

I nodded, “I will soon.”

“What about Eric?”

“What about him?”

“You guys broke up two weeks ago; you can’t be over it already.”

“I am.”

“You dated the guy for one year.”

“And it was a big mistake. He never understood my passion for horses; he didn’t understand how much I missed it after my accident. I should have broken up with him a long time ago. I didn’t even see him often.”

“I know but that’s besides the point.”

“I miss having someone to talk, but at the same time I feel like he never really listened to me. Plus, I talk to you and I have my dad to talk to. Honestly, he is the last thing on my mind.”

“Alright, well if you say you are over it then I believe you.”

“Good, because I am.”

She nodded, “Shall we head back?”

I looked at my watch, we had already been out for two hours, “Yeah we should.”

As we got back on the horses we began to jog lightly through the open field, “Where are you going?” Sara asked, “That’s the wrong way.”

“Let’s canter.”

Sara smiled and nodded, “I’ll follow you.”

I lightly pushed Snowflake to go faster; once we were cantering I wanted to go faster so I encouraged him. I looked back and saw Sara shake her head. I slowed down and waited for her to catch up.

“Really? Galloping on your first time back on a horse? I thought you said canter.”

I nodded, “I couldn’t control myself, let’s do it again.”

“You go; I’m going to take it easy.”

I smiled, “Be back in a jiffy.”

I nudged Snowflake and we took off, the wind blew my light brown straight long hair back. I closed my eyes and felt the wind on my face. I opened my eyes to see a piece of wood on the ground that should not be in the open field but took it as an opportunity to jump it. I set Snowflake up for the jump and we ended on the other side.

However midway in the jump I lost hold of the reins losing my balance. I tried to reach and grab the lost rein but Snowflake continued to gallop. I couldn’t balance myself any longer and as I leaned forward as a last attempt to grab the rein, I went flying over Snowflakes head first onto the ground.

I gasped for air as I hit the ground. Snowflake immediately stopped running and came back nudging me on the floor.

“Hey boy, I know you didn’t mean to. It was my fault. I am okay,” I said trying to stand up.

I stood up slowly, feeling a little dizzy. I rubbed Snowflakes mane, “You did good boy.”

I was about to get back on when I raised my arm but I couldn’t. I felt a sharp pain through my right arm. I held it tightly against my chest. This was all I needed, my father to condemn me for going against his word. Of course this would happen. The Bible said we should honor our parents and the first thing I did was disobey. It wasn’t because I was being rebellious, it was because this was my passion and my father didn’t seem to completely understand that I was born for this. I took a deep breath and tried to roll my shoulder but the pain shot through my side prevented me. I took another deep breath trying to forget about the pain.

Shortly after Sara approached and jumped off Gerry, “Are you okay? I saw everything.”

I looked at her and shook my head, I kept taking deep breathes to prevent the dizziness, “I am afraid to look at the damage.”

“Of course this had to happen. I told you it was too soon.”

“It’s not too soon, I just wasn’t holding on hard enough and I didn’t see the log soon enough.”

She frowned, “What is your father going to say now? Your dad is never going to let you start training again; it’s more dangerous than this.”

“He won’t find out because you are not going to tell him.”

Sara shook his head, “Can you get back on the horse?”

“If you give me lift.”

Sara bent down and I put my boot in her hands but my arm felt really weak.

I shook my head, “Give me a couple more minutes.”

“Maybe we should just walk back.”

“That would take too long and my father would get suspicious don’t you think?”

“How’s your arm?”

“Sore.”

“You probably have a bruise.”

“I’m not going to look now,” I said knowing she was right, it was a good thing I wore a long sleeved shirt.

“Maybe it’s bleeding.”

I nodded, “I am sure it is but there is nothing we can do here so there is no point in looking at it. Give me a lift, we’ll try this again.”

This time I let out a little shout of anguish but I managed to throw myself over Snowflake again.

“You okay?” Sara asked before getting back on Gerry.

“Yeah, let’s get back.”

My father was not going to find out, he couldn’t or Sara was right, he would never let me train again. He might not even let me on a horse again. We got home around three in the afternoon. I used the gate to help me dismount. I brought Snowflake into the ring and set him free to cool down a little bit.

My father came around the corner and scared me, “How was your ride girls?”

“Hey Mr. Bailey,” Sara said giving him a hug, “We had a great time.”

He smiled and looked at me, “Did you have fun?”

I nodded not making eye contact, “It was amazing dad, I’ve missed riding.”

He nodded, “I know.”

“I’m just going to let them cool down a bit before taking them in,” I said trying to hide the pain in my arm, “I’m going to go wash my hands.”

Sara followed me into the equipment room where there was always an emergency kit. I made sure my father wasn’t coming in before rolling up my sleeve as Sara got some rubbing alcohol and a cloth. As I rolled up my sleeve my skin was already turning purple, there were a couple scrapes that were a little bloody but other than that it was nothing.

“Looks like you will be wearing long sleeves for a while.”

I sighed, “It’s pretty big.”

“That is an understatement; it’s practically your whole arm. I can see why it hurt so much.”

“It’s really nothing, it could have been worse.”

“Could have been prevented!”

“Oh come on, you’ve been trying to get me to ride for months.”

“Yeah to ride, not to gallop and fall again.”

“It’s not a big deal,” I said as Jesse walked in and nearly scared me to death thinking it was my father.

At first he glanced from Sara to myself then he looked at Sara as she rubbed the alcohol on my arm.

“Some ride,” he said.

I hated his attitude, I felt like he was the type to think the world revolves around him, that he was better than everyone else.

“It was,” I said, “It was the best ride I’ve had in a long time.”

“I’m suddenly reassured of my decision not to come with you girls,” he laughed, the first time he laughed since he arrived.

“Did I say something to bother you? Did I offend you? Or did I do something to you?”

“No,” he shook his head.

“So you are naturally rude?”

He looked into my eyes, “I’m just saying.”

“Well next time, don’t.”

Sara unintentionally pressed my arm and caused me to squeak, “That hurts.”

“Sorry,” she finished wrapping the cloth around my arm with a look of amusement on her face.

“Are you okay?” Jesse said, suddenly feeling bad.

“Does it look like it?” I raised my voice.

“Look who’s being rude now.”

“I guess your attitude it rubbing off on me.”

“Look, I meant nothing by it okay? I just don’t want to get attached.”

Sara cleared her throat, “I’ll bring in the horses.”

“I’ll help.”

She shook her head, “No, I’ll do it. Don’t strain your arm.”

I sighed and nodded, “Thanks.”

I looked up at Jesse, “You don’t want to get attached to what?”

“To anything, people, work, this place.”

“Because you are going to move?”

He nodded, “Eventually.”

“You said not for a few months. I hope you are not leaving for a few months. I mean, I hope I didn’t waste my time hiring you if you are going to quit.”

“Don’t worry, unless something urgent comes up which I doubt, I will be here.”

I nodded feeling a little more at ease, “Okay.”

He nodded, “Sorry if I made you feel awkward earlier, I know we just met and I haven’t been very friendly, I just like to keep to myself.”

“I understand. I’ll leave you alone, but I can’t promise you won’t get attached to this place, it’s way too beautiful. This is only your second day; I would be surprised if you weren’t attached by the end of the week.”

“It is nice out here.”

“Are you here on your own?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean are you here with your parents, siblings, friends?”

He shook his head, “Just me.”

Not wanting to further the conversation if he didn’t want to I smiled, “Well you have been doing great, I’m honestly surprised at how well.”

“I told you, I learn fast,” he smiled.

“So I’ve heard.”

Just then Sara came back in, “They are away in there stalls. I gave them a quick rub down.”

“Thanks, you’re the best.”

“How’s the arm?”

I shrugged, “Numb.”

“You better role the sleeve down before your father sees it.”

“What happened out there?” Jesse finally asked.

“Don’t you not want to get involved?” I curiously asked.

“I believe I used the word attached and I am sorry if curiosity got the best of me.”

I rolled my eyes noticing for the first time that his eyes were a beautiful shade of green, “I fell.”

“Fell? Is that what you call it?” Sara said, “She flew off of a galloping horse which she shouldn’t have been galloping on in the first place considering it was her first time getting back on a horse. Cantering would have been good enough but noooo, not for Jen.”

“Canter? Gallop? You are forgetting that you are speaking to a guy who knows nothing about horse terminology.”

“Fast, she was going really, really fast with the horse, canter is like running and galloping is sort of what horses do when they race in competitions.”

Jesse looked into my eyes, “Can you do that? I thought you only go riding every so often.”

“Every so often? Can you do that?” Sara laughed, “Jennifer hasn’t been riding in a year and yes she can do that. Hell, she can do more than gallop, she used to race in competitions, not gambling ones but still…”

Sara stopped talking when I shoved her with my good arm, “Okay, I think he gets the picture.”

Jesse glared at me, “Why didn’t you tell me this when I asked you about riding earlier?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I didn’t think it was important.”

He nodded, “So I’m guessing all those awards and medals in the back room are yours?”

Shyly I nodded, “Yes.”

“Wow, you don’t appear to be that type.”

“What type?” I asked defensively, “You don’t know a thing about me.”

“I know, but someone who has won all those medals shouldn’t be cleaning out stalls, she should be out there doing what she loves, at least in my opinion.”

I smiled at his words, “Maybe, but I don’t love it.”

“She just loved training them,” Sara pointed out.

I rolled my eyes, “Really? Why don’t you just tell him my life story? I’m sure you would do a better job than I could.”

Jesse laughed, “Come on, it’s just me.”

“Yeah, the one who doesn’t want to get attached to people, places or work. So why are you still here listening?”

He sighed, “You also seem like the uptight type. You need to relax a little bit. Just because I want to know some of your history doesn’t mean I am going to get attached.”

“What’s with the sudden interest?”

“I guess when I first met you, you intimidated me a little, I mean, come on, you’re so young and yet you were giving me an interview. Now, I can see you are a lot older than you seem. You’re mysterious.”

“There are so many things in that sentence that bug me but since you think I need to relax I will ignore your interpretation of me.”

“I’m just saying.”

“Well don’t! Just so you know…I had my own interpretation of you, but I am not going to tell you.”

Sara started laughed as I made my way to the door, I turned to face Jesse, “Shouldn’t you be getting back to work?”

Sara continued to laugh and pointed at me, “You think she is mysterious?”

“I guess she’s not?”

Sara continued to laugh making me put my hands on my hip, “Really?”

“It’s funny.”

I still didn’t laugh.

Jesse followed me out, “Why did you stop training if you love it so much?”

I turned to face him wondering if I should tell him or not, “I got into an accident.”

“Car accident?”

I laughed, “No, horse accident. I fell off of a horse onto a fallen log in the forest.”

His smiled disappeared as he turned serious, “Are you okay?”

I nodded, “I am now, I broke a few ribs but that’s all.”

Just then Sara walked in and joined in the conversation, “She was stronger than anyone I’ve ever known.”

“It was nothing, it wasn’t even that bad.”

“It’s understandable why you wouldn’t want to ride again. It sucks that you fell off today though, the first time you got back on the horse.”

Sara shook her head, “It wasn’t her choice not to get back on the horse.”

“I wasn’t afraid,” I said, “I wanted to get back on when I got better but I could tell my father didn’t want me to,” I frowned then raised my voice, “Which is completely unfair.”

“I’m sure he only wants what is best for you.”

“He’s being selfish. If he knew what was best for me, he would be happy to let me train again,” I said not realizing what I just said to a somewhat stranger.

Sara’s eyes grew wide, “What she means is…”

I cleared my thought, “Sorry, I didn’t mean that. He only wants the best for me, you’re right, but sometimes parents don’t know what is best. Anyways, we have a lot of work to do so I’m going to go start in the other barn.”

“Yeah, me too, I finished this barn.”

I nodded and turned to Sara, “We’ll do this again soon?”

She nodded and gave me a hug, “Hang in there okay.”

I nodded, “I’ll call you.”

“Bye!”

Together Jesse and I walked to the second barn. I wanted to say something so he wouldn’t think I was crazy.

Instead he began, “Don’t worry.”

I looked up, “What do you mean?”

“I won’t say anything to your dad. Clearly you didn’t want me to know that stuff so I will pretend you didn’t tell me.”

“It’s not that.”

“And I don’t think you are crazy.”

Again he surprised me, “How did you know I was thinking that?”

“I’m pretty good at reading people.”

“That could come in pretty handy.”

He nodded, “It’s from experience. When you travel you meet a lot of people.”

I nodded as I went into Blackjack’s stall and began grooming him. Jesse went in the next stall as we continued to chat.

“Now that you know about me, tell me something about you?”

I could tell he felt a little uncomfortable but immediately cleared his throat, “What do you want to know?”

“Where were you born?”

“Toronto.”

“Wow, you can’t get any more city than that. Is that where your family is?”

He nodded, “Mom, dad and younger brother.”

I nodded, “So you’re the traveler of the family?”

He nodded, “Yeah.”

Just then Blackjack snorted, “You like being groomed, don’t you?”

“Again she talks to the horses,” Jesse joked.

I rolled my eyes, “I can’t help it.”

“You know what I think?” he asked.

“What?”

“It may not be any of my business but I would tell your dad you want to start training again.”

I looked up into his green eyes which were being reflected in my eyes, “I know, it’s just really hard. If he says no…”

“What if he says okay?”

“That would be a miracle.”

“Do you believe in miracles?” he asked.

I sighed, “You are really different than what I expected you to be.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“A little bit of both I think.”

He frowned, “That’s not good.”

“It’s good because I don’t dislike you anymore. It’s bad because I may not be able to stop myself from getting attached.”

I could see the shock in his eyes so I continued, “By attached I mean, I might actually consider you a friend if we keep this up.”

He smiled, “Well we could always be friends if you like, even when I leave, if I leave.”

I nodded, “I would like that.”

“Can I tell you something?”

“What?”

“I might not be able to stop myself from getting attached either. I mean now that you see through this tough guy routine, I can’t be rude anymore.”

I shook my head, “Not unless you want to lose your job.”

He laughed, “I have to ask you something else.”

“Ask me what?”

“What did you think of me when you first met me?”

I laughed, “I’ll never tell!”

He shook his head, “Fine, I thought we were friends but…”

“I never said we were friends…I said it might lead to that.”

“You sure are complicated.”

I bit my lip, “Maybe a little bit.”

“So do you go to school at all?”

I shook my head, “No, I dropped out when I was sixteen.”

Jesse nodded, “Why?”

“I guess I wanted to be here, I didn’t feel like school would be worth it for me. I knew what I wanted out of life. How about you?”

“I did school for business and engineering.”

“You could probably give my dad some tips, he does our accounting.”

“I’ll be sure to mention it to him next time we chat.”

“You’re staying for dinner tomorrow night right?”

He nodded, “Yeah.”

The rest of the day flew by. At the end of his work day Jesse left, shortly after Mary and Luca left.

The rest of the evening consisted of spending time with Snowflake, having dinner and secretly getting to know Blackjack. It’s important to get to know a horse before you train it, ride it or jump with it. You need to know their stride, their moods, the way they feel the ground. I wanted to get to know Blackjack because I wanted to be the one to help Luca train him and ride him ensuring that he is properly trained for racing.

By the time I headed inside it was night out. I watched a little bit of TV but fell asleep on the couch. I woke up around midnight and trudged my way to my room. I closed the blinds for I was planning to sleep in just a little bit the next day. I was drained.

My arm was beginning to hurt more and more which worried me. I constantly woke up because I would turn over onto the bruised arm. I wanted to scream in pain but knew that would only encourage questions. So around four in the morning I took an Advil to relieve some of the pain.

The next thing I knew, my father came into my room and woke me up. It was already ten in the morning!

Words (4)

By the time I had breakfast the first full barn had already been cleaned and most of the horses had been groomed. I went to find Jesse and found him in Snowflakes stall. I crept up slowly as I heard some whispering.

“I know Jennifer usually grooms you but I think she needed the extra sleep so you will have to settle for me,” he rubbed his mane.

I cleared my throat and made him jump a little. He looked petrified as if someone discovered his deepest darkest secret so I started to laugh as I entered the stall.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”

Jesse lightly smiled, “I don’t know what you are referring to.”

“I’m sure Snowflake appreciated it.”

He shook his head, “It was the only right thing to do, I’m sure he was wondering where his owner was.”

I smiled, “I don’t think this non-attachment thing is working very well for you.”

He laughed, “I think you are right.”

I let Jesse continue to rub him down as I cleaned his hooves, together we worked silently and I began to feel like hiring Jesse was the right decision. Sure he may have seemed a little out of it at first but he proved himself to be a hard worker and we were becoming friends. I enjoyed getting to know him and as we worked side by side I couldn’t help but wish we would always work side by side.

Dinner time came quickly; everyone had a change of clothes and took turns in the bathroom freshening up as I helped my dad set the table.

Once the table was set I went to quickly shower and change leaving my hair to air dry. As I made my way down the stairs everyone was already seated at the table. I smiled at everyone and held Jesse’s eyes a little big longer than the others.

I took my seat and closed my eyes as my father prayed upon the day and the meal we were about to eat. After that everyone began to place some meat and vegetables on their plate.

It was Jesse who broke the silence, “So how big is this ranch?”

My father was the one who replied, “One hundred acres.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of land.”

I nodded, “Yeah but not compared to some other places.”

“Everything is delicious,” Luca said, “Thanks for having us.”

“My pleasure, I love to cook.”

“Of course you do, if you didn’t you would have to eat what Jen makes and we all know how that would turn out.”

I laughed, “I can cook.”

“Yeah, maybe scrambled eggs,” Mary said.

Jesse grinned, “You mean there is something she can’t do?”

I rolled my eyes, “I know it may shock you but I am not perfect.”

Jesse widened his eyes, “That does shock me.”

I finished the last piece of meat that lay in my plate before grabbing a second piece.

“Someone’s hungry tonight,” my father said.

“It’s not every night you make a spread like this.”

Mary smiled, “I just don’t know where you put it all.”

Mary had a point, I could eat however much I wanted and not gain a pound, not that I am complaining. I wouldn’t say I’m skinny, but I’m built, I have muscle, you need muscle when working on a ranch.

Mary cleared her throat, “So Jennifer, what about you give Luca a hand tomorrow with Blackjack.”

I coughed out the potato in my mouth, embarrassed that Jesse witnessed it but I was preoccupied with other thoughts as I looked at my father who shook his head, “That’s your job Mary.”

“I know but I’m thinking I’m going to start training Bethy, she’s here for pleasure riding and it shouldn’t take long. The faster we work with them the more clients you can bring in.”

“Don’t worry about time, you guys are doing fine.”

I sighed, “Well dad, I was thinking maybe I could.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you know you are not ready.”

“I think she’s ready,” Jesse added which surprised me, “I saw her riding today and she looked like a pro.”

I smiled at his kind words, “Dad, I am ready. It’s been a year.”

“Yes but you got hurt. You are not thinking straight, you don’t know what you want.”

“I’ve been healed for months, and how do you know what I want?”

“You just got back on a horse Jennifer; you need to take things slow.”

“I will, I’ll train myself again for a couple days but dad, it’s fine. I haven’t forgotten how to ride.”

“No! I can’t have you training again in a couple of days. You are not ready.”

“Dad,” I said calmly, “I am ready; I have been for a long time.”

Everyone seated around the table were silent waiting to hear what my father would say.

When my father didn’t say anything I went on, “Dad, I need to do this.”

“Why?” he yelled.

“This is my life.”

“This ranch is your life, not training. You’ve been happy this past year.”

“No dad, I haven’t. I mean yes, I am happy but I miss training. There’s something missing from my life daddy, you have to understand that.”

“We will talk about this later, okay,” he said.

Knowing he would never change his mind I banged my hand on the table, “I am going to start training again dad, there is nothing you can do about it. This is my life; if I can’t train then we might as well sell the ranch because I will not muck out stalls my whole life.”

He glared into my eyes, “There is nothing I can do about it? Oh you better believe there is.”

I huffed, “What are you going to do dad?”

“We will talk about this later.”

“No! Just say it,” I looked at everyone whose eyes were in shock, “They are going to find out eventually. I have nothing to hide.”

“I will take Snowflake away.”

“You can’t do that,” I raised my voice feeling the ache in my heart at just that thought; “He is my horse. I am not a child anymore, so don’t treat me like one.”

“Who bought him Jennifer?” he asked.

I stood up in fury, “Just try it dad.”

“If you push me I will, I do not want you training horses. It is too dangerous and you already were in a serious accident.”

“Get over it, I only broke a couple ribs, it could have been worse.”

“Exactly, it could have been worse; I won’t put you at risk anymore.”

“That’s not your decision to make. I gave up school for training dad.”

“I never asked you to.”

“I know,” I shouted, “I wanted to dad, I wanted to train horses and nothing is going to stop me.”

My father cleared his throat, “You want to put your life at risk everyday?”

Mary cut in, “Joe, I’ve never seen someone more talented than your daughter. She is better than Luca and I will ever be in training horses. What happened last year was an accident, it could have happened to anyone.”

I appreciated Mary’s help but my father didn’t even acknowledge her words, “I don’t want to lose my daughter when it could be prevented.”

“You know what dad?” I said standing up from my chair, “If you take Snowflake away, you’re going to lose me anyways.”

With that I walked out of the house. Once I was out of sight I leaped into the barn and entered Snowflake’s stall shedding a tear, fearful of my father’s words.

I buried my head into Snowflake’s neck, “You’re such a good boy. Don’t worry. I won’t let him take you away from me. That will never happen. We belong together, you know me better than anyone.”

He snorted making me smile, “You’re the best Snowflake.”

I sat down leaning my back against the stall door fidgeting with the hay on the ground, “Why doesn’t he understand me? I wish mom were here, she would have made me get back on a horse right away if it was what I wanted.”

Just then I heard someone’s footsteps. I looked up and saw Jesse staring at me. I faced Snowflake again and wiped the fallen tears that lay on my cheek before getting up.

Embarrassed, I smiled as I put my hair behind my ears.

He could tell I was uncomfortable, “Sorry if I startled you. I was just heading out and wanted to say goodbye.”

I nodded, “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He nodded turning around, however he faced me again moments later, “Are you okay?”

I frowned not wanting to talk about it, afraid I would start to cry, “I’m fine.”

“I don’t buy it, remember I can read people.”

At that I smiled, “I forgot about that.”

“Your dad just wants to keep you safe.”

“Don’t defend him,” I said, not wanting to hear it.

“I’m not; I just think he needs time to get used to the idea.”

“You don’t know my father the way I do.”

“I know I don’t but I’m getting to know you and if I think I know you then I bet whatever he says is not going to stop you.”

I laughed, “You are right, it’s not going to stop me.”

He nodded, “He’ll take your horse away.”

“Not if he doesn’t know I am training.”

“You’re going to lie to him?”

I shook my head, “No, I just won’t tell him the truth.”

“How are you going to manage that?”

“My dad’s heavily involved in the community; he’s not home in the mornings so I’ll just do it then.”

“You don’t think he will find out?”

“How would he? Luca and Mary wouldn’t say anything and I don’t think you would either.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been helping me out with the barns. He’ll notice that the work is not getting done as quickly.”

He had a point, “I’ll wake up earlier and start with the barns, or I’ll say I got together with Sara or went into town, I’ll think of something.”

“Sounds like you got it all planned.”

“I do,” I nodded, hating the fact that I had to do what I loved against my fathers will.

He smiled, “Well, I’ll do what I can to help you.”

I walked out of the stall to be on the same side as Jesse. I leaned over the stall to face Snowflake. It felt nice to be able to talk to someone like Jesse. Someone I saw on a regular basis, even if it was only the first week.

I turned to smile at Jesse, “I change my mind.”

“About what?”

“When I told you we weren’t friends yet, because we are.”

Jesse frowned and looked to the ground. I suddenly got the impression that what I said wasn’t good.

“Did I say something wrong?” I asked.

He sighed and shook his head, “No, I was just thinking.”

“Doesn’t look like a happy thought.”

He shook his head, “I’m glad we’re friends Jennifer. You just caught me by surprise. It’s been a while since I’ve had a real friend.”

“Because of travelling?” I asked.

He nodded, “Yeah, it makes it difficult to get to know people.”

“Can I ask you something?”

He nodded.

“It seems to me like you don’t enjoy travelling, so I was just wondering why you do it.”

He shrugged his shoulders, “I do like it. I love seeing new places and getting experience doing different things. I like meeting new people and learning different languages. There are just a few things you end up missing.”

“How many languages can you speak?” I asked curiously.

“Five.”

“That’s impressive; I bet that looks good on a resume.”

He laughed, “I don’t include it.”

“Why not?”

“People will think I am overqualified.”

“Good point.”

Together we headed out of the barn. I shut the light before closing the barn door.

“Do bears or wolves ever come around?”

I nodded, “Sometimes, but never in the day. We could tell in the morning if they came at night because pots will be turned over and we’ll see some prints in the dirt but the horses are safe in there.”

He nodded, “What about when you go for trail rides or through the forest?”

“I’ve never seen one to tell you the truth but if there is a group of people I don’t think they would show themselves. If I ever saw one when riding alone, I wouldn’t worry too much, horses are fast. If they buck, which they will because they will get scared, I usually have a pretty good grip.”

“Except for the other day,” he pointed out, “How is your arm by the way?”

“It’s purple still and I have trouble sleeping at night when I turn on the arm but it will heal.”

“You’ve got guts you know?” he laughed.

I smiled, “I’m not afraid to get hurt Jesse. It’s a part of the job. I know it’s a risk everyday but it’s worth it. I love it and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.”

He nodded, “Then you shouldn’t give up.”

“I won’t.”

“Well I should go,” he finally said as I walked him to his car.

I nodded, “Well, sorry for tonight, I bet you weren’t expecting that at all. I did warn you though.”

He nodded, “Yes, you did.”

We stopped walking when we got to his truck. He turned to face me and smiled, “Hang in there. Don’t let him get to you.”

I nodded and faced the direction of the house, “I don’t want to go in there.”

“You have to.”

“Maybe I’ll sleep in the barn.”

He frowned, “You can’t do that.”

“I’ve done it tons of times before.”

“Are you serious?”

I nodded.

“Why would you do that? I would never give up the comfort of my bed.”

I laughed, “If one of the horses get sick, I don’t like leaving them alone.”

He nodded, “I guess that makes sense.”

“Hay is pretty comfortable you know?”

“I think I’ll stick with my bed,” he paused, “Has Snowflake ever gotten sick?”

I nodded, “A few times actually.”

“What happened?”

“You’ll be here another hour if I start telling you,” I joked, “I’ll save that story for another time.”

He nodded as he pulled out his keys, “Okay well I will see you tomorrow.”

“It’s your half day tomorrow so if you would like, you can come in later, sleep in a bit since it’s already late.”

“I won’t get fired?” he grinned.

I shook my head, “No.”

“Are you planning to start training tomorrow?” he asked.

I shook my head, “No, my dad doesn’t go anywhere on weekends so I’ll probably start Monday morning.”

“Looking forward to it,” he winked.

“Why?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “I just want to see the way you work with the horses.”

“Are you interested?”

Again he shrugged his shoulders, “Now that I know you’re a pro I want to see what you can really do. I mean I assumed all you could do was clean out their stalls.”

“Very funny,” I smiled.

“Alright I better go…for real this time.”

I smiled as I took a few steps back, “Good night.”

“Good night Jen!”

As I walked towards the house I couldn’t help but notice it was the first time that Jesse used my nickname, usually people began to call me Jen when they were comfortable around me. I smiled at the thought because I already felt comfortable around Jesse, even though we barely knew each other.

I took a deep breath and headed inside, Mary and Luca had left already and my father was sitting at the table. When I shut the door he stood up and followed me into the living room.

“Jen,” he began.

“Don’t dad, I heard enough. I get it; you think you can still treat me like a child. Even after I pretty much ran this place after mom died you still don’t think I can make my own decisions. You don’t want me to train, I get it. Snowflake means too much to me to have him taken away so you got your wish. I won’t train, just don’t expect me to be happy about it. You’re taking my life away, my passion away.”

“Enough,” he said taking a seat on the opposite sofa.

“You’re right. I have had enough for tonight,” I said getting up and heading towards the stairs, “Good night dad.”

With that I made my way to my bedroom, changed and slipped into bed.

I grabbed my laptop and began to write Sara an email. I told her everything that happened this evening, what happened with my father and the threat of taking Snowflake away. I left out the part in the barn with Jesse because she would turn it into something it was not.

When I sent the email I shut the light and when I closed my eyes all I could think about was being in the barn with Jesse. What made the evening so special was that Jesse didn’t just leave when he came into the barn but he asked me if I was okay, knowing I wasn’t. He stayed and tried to take my mind off what happened and he succeeded. He stayed with me a while, not mentioning that he saw me cry, not mentioning the fact that I was crazy. He simply stayed with me and got to know me a little better.

I was attracted to him. I was attracted to the fact that I could easily talk to him; the way he could read me, however scared me. I didn’t want him to ever get the wrong impression.

Soon after that thought, my mind stopped wandering and I fell asleep.

Back in the Groove (5)

I forgot to shut the alarm off the night before so I woke up a quarter to seven. Since it was Jesse’s half day it was better to get a head start. As I headed down the stairs I heard my father talking on the phone.

I quietly grabbed a muffin and headed out the door. In the driveway there were three cars, Luca’s, Mary’s and Jesse’s. As I headed into the barn eating the muffin I spotted Jesse mucking out one of the stalls. I watched him from afar, slowly drawing closer to him.

As I approached him I saw him pat the horse, “You are a beauty, aren’t you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, startling Jesse, “You have to stop sneaking up on me.”

“I don’t think I can do that. I enjoy watching you talk to the horses way too much,” I admitted.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

“You’re here early.”

He nodded, “Yeah well, I couldn’t sleep so I figured I might as well just come early.”

I nodded, “Well you can leave at noon then.”

“Well see if we get the work done.”

“Doesn’t matter, it’s your half day.”

“I don’t have anything planned so it’s not a big deal.”

I stared at Jesse trying to analyze him, he continued to surprise me, and if he kept it up I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from falling in love with him. I headed into the equipment room and grabbed a grooming kit.

“Let’s do these two first,” I said, “Luca’s doing a lesson this morning.”

He nodded and began with the curry comb, “Thanks for dinner last night, I forgot to thank you yesterday.”

“No problem.”

“It’s not every day I eat a meal like that.”

“What do you usually eat?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “Things I can microwave. I’ll make pasta occasionally.”

“Don’t like to cook?” I asked.

“I don’t mind it but it is not fun cooking for one person.”

“Hey, anytime you want to cook for me, just let me know,” I joked.

He smiled, “What did I get myself into?”

“Hey now,” I said playfully, “I will have you know that I will eat anything.”

“Anything?”

“Okay, almost everything.”

“Maybe you should tell me what you don’t eat so I know not to cook it when I invite you over.”

I thought about it, “Well I will start by telling you that I am allergic to nuts. I also don’t like beans or carrots but that’s about it.”

“Carrots?”

I nodded, “They annoy me. They are so crunchy, I just don’t like them.”

“They barely taste like anything.”

I shrugged and wrinkled my nose, “Just don’t like them.”

“Okay well I will be sure to make them; I mean not to make them when you come over.”

I rolled my eyes, “Yeah, yeah.”

The days began to go by faster; Sunday flew by since I had to do all the barn work on my own after coming home from church. Monday came quickly and the moment my father left for town I went to find Luca.

I climbed up onto the gate and shouted for Luca to hear me, “Mind if I take over for a little while?”

Luca brought Blackjack over to the gate, “You want to try her out?”

“I’ve been watching the two of you work together and I think we should try cantering first for a certain distance and do that for a few days until he can go a longer distance. Then we try galloping, same approach, and then see how fast he can really go.”

“Good idea, you sure you’re up for it?”

I nodded, “I was born for this.”

“What about your dad?”

“This is our secret,” I said.

He nodded, “Just be careful.”

I nodded, “Is he ready for it? Are you done with the basics?”

“More or less, he’s ready. I just have a few more things to do but it won’t affect the way he races.”

I nodded knowing what he meant, “Alright, then go take a break. I got this.”

He nodded, “I won’t be far if you need anything.”

I smiled, “Thanks but I am sure I will be fine.”

As I watched Luca head off I smiled in contentment, “Hey there Blackjack. How are you doing today?”

I let him smell me so he knew who I was before I saddled him up; the saddle was already in the ring. I mounted on top of him and began to take him around the ring. I started him off walking, then jogging and then broke him into a canter. I clicked my tongue every time he tried to slow down.

“Don’t be lazy, come on, you know we’re not stopping yet.”

I continued to take him around in circles for five minutes before slowing him down to a jog then a walk.

“Good boy,” I said patting his neck, “Let’s do it again.”

I took him around again doing the same routine, this time he didn’t try to slow down, he was more energized and I barely needed to squeeze my legs to get him going. He was a natural, with a little work; he would be the perfect racing horse. Instead of bringing him to a jog then a walk I immediately pulled on the reins to stop him from the canter to see how well he did on direct stopping. Immediately he stopped, Luca already had him well trained.

One of the hardest things was to teach a horse to stop when cantering or galloping. When going at a fast speed it’s difficult to stop anything without falling or creating an accident but Blackjack was a charm.

This afternoon a new horse was coming to be trained for jumping, Woody was his name. Jumping was my favourite. First I train the horse, and then I train both horse and rider so that they become partners; become one.

An hour later I dismounted and walked Blackjack around the ring to cool down. It is important for horses to cool down after a workout, their heart needs to slow down, it’s important that they don’t go from a heavy work out to simply standing still, it could create heart problems.

“I would have never guessed that you haven’t done that for a year,” Jesse called over from the gate.

As I made my way over to the gate I unhooked Blackjack from the lead rope and let him roam in the field for little bit, “Impressed?”

“Very,” he grinned.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” I pointed out, “I have to take it slow. They need to get used to distances before going full speed, every day they go further and further and a little faster each time. I need to retrain myself too, I’m not as in shape as I was before the accident.”

“Makes sense,” he said looking over his shoulder, “Perfect timing.”

I glanced in his direction and saw my father driving up, “He’s early.”

“Anyways, I was thinking, maybe we could go for a ride one day.”

We began to walk side by side heading towards the barn, “That would be great. We can go tonight if you’d like? I mean after work.”

He nodded, “Looking forward to it.”

I smiled, “Mind if I invite Sara?”

He shook his head, “Of course not, as long as you girls don’t laugh at me.”

“Never. I am a professional. I’ll keep all the laughter inside,” I winked.

“I feel so much more relaxed now.”

I placed my hand on his arm and pushed him lightly, “Relax, we’re only going to canter a little.”

He looked seriously at me and smiled once he realized I was only joking.

Jesse and Sara stayed for dinner, after dinner we headed out and saddled our horses. Jesse rode Sparkster, one of the friendliest and mellowest horses we have.

Once we reached one of the paths we followed one behind the other. I led them towards the open field where we rode side by side.

Jesse turned to look at me, “So tell me about when Snowflake got sick?”

Sara laughed, “Which time?”

I nodded, “That’s true, he got sick quite a bit, he’s getting older.”

“All of them,” Jesse simply said.

I met his eyes for a moment before turning to face the open field where the sun was slowly setting, “Well apart from getting a cold he’s had something called abscess which is pus enclosed beneath the skin, so we had to call the vet of course and he basically cleansed the area with iodine based scrub. It wasn’t nice and I was so little at the time that I didn’t know if he would be okay.”

“I remember that,” Sara said, “She didn’t come to school for a week because she wanted to stay with him.”

“You were allowed to skip school?” Jesse asked.

I nodded, “My teachers were okay with it, they knew how important the ranch was and around here it’s common for ranchers to miss school for longer periods of time.”

He nodded, “What else?”

I thought about it, “He also got something called haematomo which is swelling under his skin but blood gets stuck beneath the swelling. Luckily we discovered the problem early so it was cured by applying ice packs on the swelling and hosing him down with cold water. It reduced the swelling and stopped the bleeding.”

“I never knew horses could get things like that,” Jesse said.

I nodded, “They can, and it’s pretty scary actually.”

Sara continues, “I remember when he got a bone spavin. I think that’s what it was called right?”

“Yeah,” I confirmed and let her tell the story.

“Snowflake had a bone enlargement located in this front leg.”

“How did you cure him of that?” he looked at me.

“He just needed to rest for that, four months,” I said.

“I guess life on a ranch never gets boring.”

“You got that right,” Sara said, “I used to work here during the summers throughout high school.”

“I bet that was exciting.”

“Those were the best summers ever,” she admitted.

“Snowflake hasn’t had it easy,” he pondered.

“Every horse has its problems, I’m just lucky he was always cured. I don’t know what I would do without him.”

Jesse nodded and faced Sara, “So what do you do during the summer now?”

“I volunteer at a school part time while I take summer school.”

“Oh, what program are you taking?”

“Sciences, I want to teach.”

“That sounds good, when do you finish?”

“Not for another two years but I volunteer at the school so I basically will be able to get a job there once a finish my degree.”

“Which is a bonus, since you won’t be moving away,” I added, “You can’t leave me here.”

She smiled, “I wouldn’t leave. This is my home.”

“Have you guys known each other your whole lives?” Jesse asked.

I let Sara reply, it was good for them to get to know each other, “Since we were four.”

Jesse nodded, “Do you have any siblings?”

Sara shook her head, “No, well yes. Jen is my sister.”

I laughed, “Blood sisters.”

Sara and I smiled at each other leaving Jesse in confusion, “Sounds like there is a story there.”

“Let me give you a little tip, when Jen is involved, there is always a story.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said willing her on.

Sara told him the story of when we were ten years old, we were horse back riding and we went to my favourite place. There we got off our horses and promised to always be there for each other, we promised that we would always treat each other like sisters and we set it in stone by cutting our pinkies and rubbing them together.

“You guys are weird,” Jesse said after the story.

I barely noticed that Sara ended the story; I was lost in my own thoughts. Sara neglected to tell him that we made this promise just after my mother had died. I was thankful she didn’t mention it; I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t know whether Jesse knew what happened to my mother but he must have assumed something, what he believed I didn’t know but it wasn’t important.

“Earth to Jennifer,” Sara said bringing her horse to be next to mine.

I came to when I saw Sara grab my reins, “What are you doing?”

“I am not doing anything; I think you left us for a few minutes there. What were you thinking about?”

I smiled, “Nothing.”

“Liar,” Sara said.

I shook my head and she knew then that I was thinking about my mother. Jesse didn’t say a word about what we were talking about instead he changed the subject.

“So where is this famous spot that you talked about in your story?”

“Jen’s favourite?”

He nodded.

“It’s in the opposite direction.”

“You girls will have to take me one day,” he said.

“Sounds like a plan,” Sara said.

“Woah now, who’s favourite spot is it?” I asked, “It is mine so I think I am the one who gets to decide whether or not he is allowed to it.”

“That is true, it is your spot,” Sara said.

“Are you saying I am not special?” Jesse grinned.

“No, I am saying it is my special spot and I don’t know if I want to share it with you,” I giggled.

“Ouch!”

Sara smiled, “Don’t feel bad, she doesn’t bring anyone there but me and it took her three years for her to do it. I would always hear about it but she would never take me when we were younger.”

“I guess I don’t feel so bad then.”

“We should head back,” I said.

Sara looked at Jesse, “You know, I didn’t think you would be this good.”

Jesse laughed, “I would barely say I am good.”

“She’s right,” I added, “You’re pretty good on him.”

“We have only been walking,” he pointed out.

“I know but you’re good at steering him and not letting him try to boss you around.”

He shrugged his shoulders, “No one is going to boss me around.”

“Except for your boss right?” Sara glanced at him as she pushed her hair back.

“Yeah, except for my boss.”

“Boss,” I repeated, “I like the sound of that.”

“I bet you do,” both Sara and Jesse said at the same time.

They started laughing and I couldn’t help but feel as if they were flirting. The way they casually glanced at each other, the giggles, the compliments that started from Sara. I felt a tint of jealousy but quickly pushed the thought away, it would be okay with me if they got together. Then I remembered Sara was in love with Frank.

A little while later we reached the barn. They set the horses free in the pen to cool down.

Sara had to leave so I walked her to her car, “Thanks for inviting me.”

“Of course I would, looks like you were having fun.”

She nodded, “He’s cute.”

“I can tell you guys had something going back there,” I said.

Sara frowned, “What are you talking about?”

“You like him don’t you?”

She shook her head, “He’s cute and he’s super nice but I told you I like Frank who by the way I am seeing again tonight.”

“Yeah I know, I just thought I saw some flirting going on.”

“You did, between you and Jesse.”

I laughed, “What?”

“He couldn’t stop smiling when he was talking to you.”

I shook my head, “We’re friends Sara. Don’t go playing match maker okay? We work together and we’ve been getting along great, that’s all.”

“Okay but I think if you gave the guy a chance you would actually like him.”

“I do like him, as a friend.”

“I won’t push you; I just think you would have a good time. I think it would be good, when was the last time you actually went out with a guy? A real guy, Eric hardly counts.”

“Alright, you better go. Have fun on your second date,” I winked at her.

“I’ll tell you all about it later.”

“Tomorrow,” I replied, “I don’t need you waking me up early in the morning.”

“Sounds good,” she grabbed her keys and got into the car.

I waved goodbye as I headed back to the pen, I climbed up on the gate and watched as the horses grazed on the grass.

Jesse joined me moments later, “Thanks for the ride.”

“Anytime. You’re pretty good, you could probably go on your own too.”

“I wouldn’t know where to go and I would get lost.”

“Well you could always stay on the trails, they all lead back here so you can’t get lost.”

“Wouldn’t be much fun alone,” he finally said.

I looked into his eyes, “Then why didn’t you just start with that instead of making an excuse?”

He sighed, “See this is why you intimidate me.”

“Okay then I’ll change my reply if it makes you feel better, it could be peaceful going alone.”

“I take it you go out on your own a lot?” he asked.

“Well I haven’t lately since I just got back into it but I used to. I would take Snowflake to my favourite spot and just think about whatever I was going through, it was so peaceful.”

“What would you think about?” he asked without thinking.

“Um,” I tried to think of an answer.

“Sorry, it’s probably personal; it’s none of my business.”

“It’s okay. I don’t know, I guess I would get frustrated with school. It may surprise you but I was never a scholarly student.”

“I’m shocked.”

“So, I would think about that or if I got into an argument with my friends or family. Or even if I was in a good mood, I would just go there to be closer to God.”

“Closer to God?” He asked.

I nodded, “Yeah, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.”

“No, not really.”

“Well, I have a lot to be thankful for and sometimes I forget about it when I get busy so being alone in a beautiful place allows me to reflect and just realize how good I have it.”

“Wow.”

I glanced at him, “Am I freaking you out?”

“In a good way.”

I laughed, “I didn’t know someone could freak one out in a good way.”

“It’s possible.”

“So yeah, that’s about it.”

“You’re nothing like I thought you would be,” he admitted.

“Neither are you.”

“I know but that’s because I was a jerk when I arrived. I’m serious.”

“What did you think I was like?”

“I don’t know. Not like this.”

“Explain,” I encouraged.

“I’m not sure exactly what I thought you would be like but you just seemed… perfect. Not that I’m saying you’re not.”

“I’m not,” I said.

“I just mean you seemed like a perfectionist, maybe a control freak.”

“That’s understandable, I get why you would think that.”

“I don’t anymore, you are far from that.”

“Not really, I am sometimes.”

“Yeah?”

I nodded, “I am really organized and I hate when there are dishes left in the sink or when my dad leaves the newspaper on the kitchen counter.”

He grinned, “You’re crazy.”

“I know.”

I jumped off from the gate and opened it going to get Snowflake. Jesse went to get Gerry and Sparkster. We brought them into their stalls and walked out of the barn. I looked at my watch, it was 8:23.

“So anytime you want to go riding, feel free to.”

He nodded, “Thanks.”

We began to walk towards the house, I wasn’t exactly sure what to say next, I assumed he was going to go home but he wasn’t heading to his truck nor was he saying anything.

“Tell me something about yourself?”

Jesse thought about it, “You know I’ve travelled a lot right?” he continued when I nodded, “Well, my favourite place was California. I only went there for a month but it was amazing. I got a job working in a hotel so it was three days on and four days off. My days off I would just be lazy, hang out near the pool, take a walk on the beach, have a few tropical drinks.”

I smiled as I imagined the picture he painted, “It sounds relaxing.”

“It was and they paid well too,” he said, “but after a month it was time to go.”

“Why?” I asked.

He thought about it for a little while, “It was time.”

“Where else have you been?” I asked as we took a seat on the bench on the porch.

“Australia, New Jersey, France, Greece and Germany.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of travelling. I guess you had a good paying job more than once.”

He nodded as I felt bad for paying him minimum wage. I glanced out at the evening sky and began to wonder whether or not we could afford to give him a raise. I know he was only here for two weeks but he’s been putting in hard work and longer hours the past couple days with all the work that needed to be done.

“Don’t worry,” Jesse said.

“About what?” I asked.

“I know what you are thinking,” he said, “I am happy working here, even if it is minimum wage, I accepted and applied for the job knowing what I was going to be paid remember?”

I couldn’t fathom the surprise I felt, “Are you for real?”

He nodded, “I told you…”

“I know, you can read people,” I cut in, “But it’s starting to freak me out.”

“Okay, I will stop reading you then.”

I shook my head, “No, you can’t do that.”

“Can I ask you about your faith?” he blurted out.

I was a little staggered by his question but I nodded encouraging his questions.

“What exactly do you believe?”

“I believe in God.”

“What else?”

“Um, I’m not sure what you are asking.”

“You believe in having a relationship not a religion right?” he asked.

I nodded, “Yeah, are you Christian too?”

He nodded, “Yeah, I got the impression you were the way you were talking before.”

“Were you always a Christian?” I asked and when he nodded I continued, “Yeah me too. I was born into a family of believers.”

“So it’s just you and your dad?” he asked.

I knew what he was getting at but I suddenly felt uncomfortable, I didn’t want to talk about my mother, I didn’t want to tell him about her or what happened to her.

When I nodded he looked at me from the corner of his eye wanting me to go on but I didn’t.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

“Not really.”

He nodded, “Okay.”

A few minutes later he stood up, “I better go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I nodded as I watched him drive off. I trudged my way inside wishing more than anything my mother was with me. I wanted to talk to her so badly, I wanted to tell her about everything that was going on, I wanted to tell her about Jesse and how he’s been completely sweet and such a good stable hand. I wanted to talk to her about training and ask her how she would start training the new jumper that arrived, Woody.

As I went inside I found my father watching television.

“How was your night sweetheart?” he asked

“It was good.”

“I saw you sitting outside with Jesse. You like him?”

“Jesse works for us dad.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“To me it does, he is an employee.”

“I think he likes you.”

“Dad, we’re friends. I don’t like him that way,” yet… I thought to myself.

Every day I liked him more and more, I knew that was dangerous, it would never work since he would surely be leaving eventually. But what if he didn’t leave? What if he fell in love with the place and wanted to stay? Eventually he had to get tired of travelling; he had to miss the feeling of settling down and staying in one place, having a place to call home.

“Alright well it’s nice to see you have more time to hang out with your friends.”

“I’m going to go to my room,” I said.

“Hold it sweetie,” he said, “About the other night. I’m sorry for telling you I was going to take Snowflake away. I just can’t lose you.”

I felt bad for going behind his back and working with the horses but I didn’t want him to worry about me, “It’s okay dad.”

“No. It is not, I would never take your horse away. Jen, please, just don’t train again. You can do horseback riding lessons and trail rides, just not training.”

“Okay dad,” I said making him happy.

“Good night honey, I love you.”

“I love you too,” I said kissing him on the cheek and heading upstairs.

Test Ride (6)

The next week flew by. I worked with Blackjack and Woody, a new jumper, every time my father went out for the morning. Blackjack began to run further distances each day and I was just beginning to jump with Woody.

I set the jumps to the lowest level before I mounted on top of Woody, “Alright bud, we’re going to try to jump these okay? We’ll go slow.”

Slowly I brought Woody into a jog as we ran around the ring; I turned the reins to lead Woody in front of the jump. I leaned forward as Woody took off for the jump which he breezed over. I took him through the whole course and he cleared all jumps.

“I don’t know how you do it,” Mary said, “Seriously, horses love you, they do whatever you want them to.”

I laughed, “You’ve got the talent too.”

“Not like you,” she sighed, “You’ve been working him for barely a week and you’ve already got him jumping.”

I smiled at the compliment, “Woody listens to me.”

“Mhm, they all listen to you,” she said.

I dismounted and brought Woody back to his stall, Mary tagged along.

“So, we set a date,” Mary said.

“When is it?”

“October 6th,” she said, “and we were wondering…”

“Yeah,” I prompted.

“We were thinking if it was okay with you guys, we wanted to have the reception here. It’s just so perfect and beautiful and it feels like my second home.”

“I don’t see why not, I would love that and I am sure my dad would be all for it.”

“We would definitely pay you guys for it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We are not going to accept your money. You’re like family.”

“I’m going to go talk to your dad,” she said, “I think I just heard his truck.”

I nodded, “See you later.”

Later that day Luca popped his head through my office door, “You busy?”

I shook my head, “Come in.”

“I was just thinking, what are your thoughts on Blackjack?”

“I think I need to test him out and see what he’s all about. I mean really test him out.”

“I think you are right, I’ve been watching and it looks like he has so much energy. I think he might be ready to go.”

I nodded, “I know, I just need to take him out into the field; if he runs good then I will call his owners.”

He nodded as he stood up, “Alright, well just be careful. I don’t like lying to your dad about this.”

“You are not the one lying,” I said as he left, “I am.”

I sat back down in my chair and put my head down on my desk, I said a short prayer asking God whether or not I was doing the right thing. A part of me knew I wasn’t but at the same time I felt like it was my only choice. I tried to tell my dad how I felt but he didn’t want to listen.

There was a knock at the door as I looked up and smiled at Jesse, “Come in.”

“I’m beginning to think you do that a lot, I mean that’s the first position you were in when I met you,” he pointed out.

“Was it?”

He nodded, “Tough day?”

I nodded, “What are you doing tonight?” I asked, an idea brewing in my mind.

“Nothing, go home and relax I suppose.”

“Would you mind taking a ride with me?” I asked.

“Horses or driving?” he clarified.

“I want to test Blackjack but Luca and Mary are busy,” I explained.

“Test him out? You’re going to race him?” he asked.

“That’s the plan, if you come.”

“So, I’m your last choice huh?” he asked pretending to be hurt.

“No, I just know you’re not into horses the way they are and you’ve already been staying later almost every day and I feel bad asking you to stay even later.”

“It’s my choice to stay later,” he pointed out, “and I will stay to go with you.”

I smiled, “Thank you. I would go alone but my dad would ask questions and get suspicious since I’m taking Blackjack.”

“No worries, when do you want to go?”

“You can stay for dinner,” I suggested, “Then we can go.”

“I feel bad; I’ve been having dinner at your house a lot lately.”

“It’s the least we could do. I wish I could pay you more Jesse.”

“I told you, don’t worry about the money.”

“I know but, it still doesn’t make sense to me.”

“What doesn’t make sense?”

“Why you would settle for this,” I explained, “This place is the world to me but to someone like you, I would think this place would be a joke.”

“It’s not a joke,” he argued, “I may have had doubts when I came here because I didn’t understand but the only thing I think about this place now is that it is amazing and beautiful.”

“Still…”

“Okay,” he interrupted, “No more talk about my wage.”

I nodded, “Okay, let’s get back to work so we can have dinner.”

During supper my dad chatted with Jesse about accounting. My father got excited when Jesse told him he was doing a good job or he was doing it correct.

“So you guys are going to go for a ride?” my father asked.

I nodded, “Yeah, it’s a nice night out.”

He nodded, “How do you like it here Jesse?”

“I’m enjoying myself; Jennifer’s even got me talking to the horses now.”

My father laughed, “Is she giving you lessons?”

“Lessons?” he questioned.

My father nodded, I should have probably told Jesse I told my father I was taking him out on the trails to teach him a few things about horses.

I looked at my plate and swallowed as Jesse replied, “Oh yeah, she’s a great teacher.”

I looked into Jesse’s eyes and smiled, “He’s a quick learner.”

My father got up and began to clear the dishes, “Alright, well let me clean up and you guys go for your ride.”

We both stood up, “Thanks dad.”

“Thank you for dinner,” Jesse said as he walked out with me.

As we saddled up the horses I placed my hand on Jesse’s shoulder, “Thank you for backing me up in there, well, for covering for me.”

“I don’t want to lie to your dad so I’ve been thinking maybe you should just give me a few lessons, make me a better rider.”

I smiled, “Sounds good to me. You already are good so I’ll get you cantering in no time.”

“We’ll start tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yeah, we can do it around noon, on break.”

“It’s a date.”

I looked up at Jesse as those words left his mouth. I could tell he didn’t mean anything by it because he didn’t notice the way I was staring at him. I guess a part of me wanted those words to actually mean something to him. I was falling in love with Jesse that much was clear.

“We’ll go to the open field and that’s where I will test him out.”

“Lead the way.”

“Okay so you can roam around if you want,” I began as we got into the open field, “I am just going to see what this guy is all about. I think I’ll bring him around in a circle, looks like five miles. We’ll see how he does.”

He nodded, “I’ll be here.”

“You don’t have to stay here.”

“First of all, I want to see this, and secondly I don’t want you getting hurt.”

I smiled, “I appreciate the concern, but I will be fine.”

He nodded, “You see what he’s got and I’ll see what you got.”

I laughed, “Be prepared to be amazing….not by me but by this fellow.”

I pulled down the goggles that I had sitting on my forehead; the wind that would arise from speed could cause a rider not to see what’s ahead. I led Blackjack in a circle and took him off in a jog for a couple moments before bringing him to his full potential.

I could feel the wind blow my hair wildly; I felt the adrenaline not only through Blackjack but also in my veins as I got a rush of satisfaction. It was like every thought in my mind left, I was at peace, I was at ease, no stress, no pressure, and it was just Blackjack and I. When I slowed him down and brought him back towards where Jesse remained I smiled almost forgetting that I had an audience.

“You can close your mouth now,” I said taking off in the direction of home.

Jesse caught up quickly, “I guess he’s ready to go?”

I nodded, “Definitely.”

“Are you sure you want to be a trainer and not a rider?”

“I’ve been a rider already, it’s great and all but I love working with different horses.”

He nodded, “You would make a much larger salary.”

“Not everything is about money,” I said, “You would know, you’re working for me when you could be working for some multi million dollar company. You know I’ve been wondering why you aren’t, again”

“Haven’t we been through this?” he asked.

I nodded, “Yeah.”

“Have you come to any conclusions?”

I shook my head, “The only thing I could think of is money isn’t everything.”

“You got it.”

“Really?” I asked, “that’s all there is to it?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure about that?” I asked.

“You don’t believe me?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know. I just think it’s odd that you’re telling me I could make more money and yet you are not because clearly it didn’t make you happy.”

“I was simply stating a fact,” he said.

I grinned to myself as I stole a peak at his expression, “You could relax you know, I’m only pulling your leg.”

I could see the tension in his arms leave as a smile crept on his face, “What makes you think I wasn’t playing along?”

“I guess I don’t, but I doubt it,” I winked.

As we arrived back on the barn, we each rubbed the horse down. My father came into the barn with a frown on his face.

“How come you took Blackjack?” he demanded.

“I figured it would be good to take him out,” I tried to think of a better answer but couldn’t.

“Hasn’t he been working hard all day already?”

“Yeah but Luca said he thinks he’s ready to go.”

“So you tested him out?” my father raised his voice.

“No,” I said almost too soon, “I just wanted to spend time with him since he’s leaving. You know how I get when a horse has to leave.”

My father settled down as he looked at Jesse, “What trail did you guys go on?”

“Oakridge,” he responded which was strictly a beginners trail, how he knew that, I did not know.

My father nodded, “How was it?”

“It was great; it was a pretty easy route.”

He nodded, “Well it’s for beginners. I guess you guys will have to go on a different one next time, one that’s more challenging.”

I nodded, “I know how to teach dad,” I was a little frustrated.

“Alright, well I’m going to head in for the night, I am feeling a little under the weather, I’ll see you tomorrow Jesse.”

“Bye Joe,” Jesse waved.

Once he was gone I banged my arm on the stall gate regretting it once I felt the sharp pain in my arm, the same arm that had been hurt two weeks earlier which was still bruised but getting better every day.

I let out a yelp before clutching my arm to my stomach. Jesse came over right away and grabbed my arm. He rolled my sleeve up and took off the bandage. The colour on my arm was now green.

“Think twice next time, before you let your frustrations out on the poor door,” he grinned, “What did it ever do to you?”

I laughed as I watched him lightly run his fingers over the bruise. I got lost in his touch I barely heard when he asked me if it hurt. The only thing I felt was butterflies in my stomach.

“Hey,” he now looked into my eyes, “Are you okay?”

I nodded, “Yeah, it hurts a little still, more now that I banged it but it’s nothing. I’ve gone through worse.”

“Come on, I’ll wrap a new bandage around it.”

I followed him into the equipment room as I took a seat on a stack of hay. He went to get a white cloth from the emergency kit.

“Thanks for coming tonight,” I whispered once he came back and began wrapping my arm up, “and for covering for me again. Did you see how he freaked; can you imagine if I told him I was training?”

“Don’t worry, I got your back,” he smiled and I couldn’t help but notice what perfect teeth he had.

“I bet you didn’t know you were going to get drama when you applied here.”

“Trust me, this is not drama.”

“Sounds like you’ve had some drama in your life.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Tell me a story.”

He thought about it, “You don’t really want to hear a story of drama; if you want drama you could just watch a soap opera.”

I laughed, “Okay, then tell me a story of your childhood.”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“So do you.”

“Fair enough,” he said pulling my sleeve down, “Well I broke my arm once.”

“How?”

“I fell off my house balcony, one story up so it wasn’t too bad. Jessica and I were fooling around and not paying attention. I took a step back and fell, they rushed me to the hospital, I was bleeding from a few places but it was all external, they told me I only broke my arm.”

“Who’s Jessica?” I asked.

“Oh,” he paused, “Just a friend.”

“Just a friend that you were fooling around with,” I grinned, “Are you sure she didn’t push you off?”

He laughed, “It’s not what you’re thinking. I was seven at the time.”

“I wasn’t thinking anything,” I lied a little relieved that it wasn’t what I was thinking.

The Unexpected (7)

Jesse and I left the barn, closing it up and began to walk towards the house as we took a seat on the chairs on the porch.

“Tell me about your family.”

“What do you want to know?”

I thought about it and made eye contact with him, “everything.”

He looked petrified at first then began to talk, “Well my mom and dad met when they were teenagers, they were high school sweethearts. They got married when they were young and had me. I was the first to actually go to university in my family. My brother was born five years later, he didn’t go to university. He works; he likes working with his hands better than his brain.”

When I didn’t respond he continued, “I miss it back home, a lot sometimes. Not the place but just seeing my family every day.”

“Do you ever go home to visit?” I asked.

“Sometimes,” he said, “Anyways that’s basically my family tree. Grandparents all died and apart from a couple cousins that’s it. I’m afraid it’s not very interesting.”

I looked out into the distant sky, “It doesn’t have to be interesting.”

“What about you?” he asked, “I know you don’t have siblings but…”

The question that still remained unanswered as I waited for him to say it.

“What about your mom?” he asked, “Are your parents divorced?”

I swallowed hard knowing I couldn’t keep putting it off any longer, “You haven’t asked anyone yet?”

“No,” he said, “I figured you would just tell me when you were ready to.”

“I don’t know if I am ready,” I admitted, “I’m never ready to talk about it.”

“You can trust me Jen.”

I nodded, “I know.”

“I know it can be hard when parents get divorced, I hear it all the time. It’s the children who get affected the most.”

I stood up and walked to lean against the railing, he assumed my parents were divorced.

He followed me, I could see his shadow, I could sense his body behind mine, “Did she leave you guys?”

I turned to face him, “I wish they got divorced. My mother died.”

He looked down at the floor, “I’m sorry.”

I nodded, “Yeah, I miss her every day and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wish I could be with her.”

“You don’t mean that,” he said.

“I mean that she could be here with me.”

“Maybe she is,” he said putting his hand behind my back for support, “in your heart.”

I nodded, “You’re right but sometimes that’s not enough. A girl needs her mother’s touch. My mom, she used to be good at everything.”

“Must be where you get it from,” he said seriously.

I tried to smile at him, “I can’t do half the things my mother did.”

“How did she die?”

I sighed, “Can we talk about it another time?”

He nodded without a thought, “Sure, sorry. I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories.”

“It’s okay; I should have told you before.”

“Well if you ever need anything,” he paused, “you know where to find me.”

“I appreciate that,” I said.

“I should get going though, it’s getting late.”

I nodded. Jesse was slowly drawing near when we heard a loud noise from inside. I immediately ran inside. I found my father lying on the floor next to the stairs. I threw myself at his side and shook his body, there was no movement. I started freaking out as I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the phone.

Jesse was standing in the kitchen with his cell phone already in his hands, “I got it; I’m calling the ambulance. Go to him.”

I rushed to his side again and I began to shake him, “Daddy, wake up.”

I could hear him groan but his eyes remained shut, “It’s okay daddy. Help is on its way.”

I began to shed a tear out of fear, I didn’t know what happened. I know my dad said he felt under the weather but usually that just meant a headache or a soar throat. It looked like he fell down the stairs but why wasn’t he moving? I tried to stop the silent tears the flooded my eyes but couldn’t as I held my daddy’s hand and prayed that he would be alright.

As we arrived at the hospital, I watched as the paramedics brought my dad into a room. They told me I couldn’t go in until they knew what was happening. Jesse stayed back at the house I assumed, I hadn’t been paying attention to anything. The minute the ambulance arrived I did not leave my fathers side, I got a ride in the ambulance.

I sat down on the bench in the hallway and put my head into my hands as I whispered, “Please God, just let him be okay.”

“Jen?” I lifted my head as I saw Sara.

I stood up and embraced her, “What are you doing here?”

“Jesse found my number and called me to tell me what happened. He thought you could use a friend.”

I smiled, “That was sweet. I don’t know what’s going on.”

I found a nurse and asked if they could tell me anything, “Right now your father is alright, they are doing a few tests so I am sure the doctor will come and talk to you as soon as he can.”

I nodded as I sat back on the bench with Sara, “I don’t know what happened. I was outside and I heard a loud noise so I rushed inside and he was on the floor. I think he fell down the stairs but I don’t know…”

“Don’t worry,” she rubbed my back, “He will be okay. I am sure they are going to come out and tell you some good news.”

I nodded hoping she was right.

If I ever lost my father, I don’t know what I would do. It got me thinking about training. My father was scared to lose me and now I was in the same position. How could I keep doing something against my fathers will and worse, behind his back? It was wrong no matter how much I love it. I didn’t know what to do. If I lost my dad, I would be alone in this world, with no family left. I would never be able to accept that.

I shook my head trying to push the negative thoughts away as the doctor came out of the room.

“Jennifer?” he asked, “You are Joe’s daughter correct?”

I nodded, “Yes, is he alright?”

“You’re father had a heart attack, a mild one.”

I inhaled sharply wanting him to tell me it was a joke as he went on, “His arteries seem to be clogged. You said you found him near the bottom of stairs so I assume that he must have had it as he was using the stairs and must have fell so he also has a minor concussion. He’s alright right now but we would like to operate on him.”

It was all too much, “Operate?”

“Yes, we want to clear out his arteries, it’s a very common procedure.”

“So he will be fine?”

“Well no operation is one hundred percent guaranteed but we do it often and most of the time there are no complications. Your father is also in shape and does not seem to have any other problems based on his records so that increases the chances of success significantly.”

“When will this take place?”

“Tomorrow morning. I already discussed it with you’re father. You can go in and see him when you are ready.”

I nodded, “Okay.”

“If you have any questions feel free to ask a nurse to find me. Everything will be okay.”

I nodded biting my lip before walking into the room.

I went by my father’s side, “Hi daddy.”

“Hi beautiful, I’m sorry if I scared you.”

I placed my head on the side of the bed, “I thought I lost you.”

“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’m not going to leave you.”

“They told me you’re going to have an operation tomorrow morning.”

He nodded, “Yeah, they said I should be home in a couple days. Recovery is only a day. I will be back on my feet in no time.”

“Don’t worry about anything daddy, I will take care of everything.”

“I know you will, you’ve been running the ranch pretty much on your own since you turned seventeen. I am only worried about you staying alone.”

I shook my head, “I won’t because I will be here with you.”

He shook his head, “No honey, I will be fine. You go home and get some rest.”

I shook my head, “Dad, don’t argue with me because I am not changing my mind.”

He looked at Sara, “See what you can do Sara, maybe she will listen to you.”

“I doubt it,” Sara smiled.

“Can I get you anything daddy?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No, I am just tired. I think I am going to rest.”

I nodded, “Okay well I will go out for a little bit so you can fall asleep. I will be close by if you need me.”

He nodded as he closed his eyes. Sara and I tipped toed out of the room.

“You might as well go home Jen, you heard your dad, there is really nothing you can do here. Go home, get some sleep and come back tomorrow early.”

I shook my head, “I won’t be able to sleep in that house all alone.”

“Then come to my place.”

“I’m going to stay here.”

Just then a nurse walked by, “I’m sorry but only one person is allowed to usually stay. I didn’t tell you girls right away because this all happened suddenly but only family members can stay.”

We nodded as she walked away, “Don’t worry Sara. I will be okay.”

“Okay, do you need anything?”

I looked at my watch; it was one in the morning, “No. Did you say Jesse was at the house?”

She nodded as I went on, “Here, take my keys if you don’t mind. Lock up the place, and tell Jesse to go home. I’ll get my keys tomorrow or I’ll use my dad’s.”

She nodded, “No problem. Call me if you need anything. Don’t worry if it’s late.”

I grabbed her in a hug, “Thank you for coming, it means a lot.”

“Of course I would come. I will see you tomorrow.”

A little while later I walked back into my father’s room. I sat on the small bench for a little while before I tried to lie down on it. It was long enough but it was as hard as a rock. I got up and went by my father’s bed, I turned to see the door open and saw Jesse standing by the door way.

Surprised as I was it was good to see his face. I got up, forgetting about how tired I was and made my way out the door. I noticed the time was 4:00 am.

Without warning Jesse grabbed me in a hug. At first I stood still but slowly I accepted his touch as I lay my head on his shoulder. He felt warm and I couldn’t help but wish that I could spend more moments in his arms, under a different circumstance.

Finally we took a step back, “How are you?”

I sighed, “I am okay, what are you doing here?”

“Sara locked up and told me what happened. I just wanted to come see how you were doing. I guess I didn’t think you should be left alone.”

I appreciated his concern, “I am okay.”

“I don’t believe you.”

I huffed, “They said the operation is almost always successful.”

“That’s a good thing.”

“What if he is part of the percentage that isn’t successful?”

“Don’t think like that, your dad is strong, think positive.”

I nodded, “I’m trying but what if I lose him?”

“You won’t,” he put his hand on my arm.

Just then I saw a nurse coming our way, “The nurse is going to kick you out, only family members are allowed to stay and usually only one.”

He nodded, “Do you want to go for a coffee or something?”

I shook my head, “I don’t want to leave,” but I didn’t want him to leave either.

“I’m sorry, you are going to have to leave,” the nurse said.

“We’re engaged,” I exploded, “He’s family.”

She nodded, “Okay but only tonight.”

I nodded as I looked up at Jesse, “Sorry, I just, I didn’t want you to leave yet.”

He nodded putting his arm around my shoulder, “It’s okay.”

“Do you want to come in there with me?” I asked.

He grabbed my hand as he followed me into the room. We took a seat on the bench and I lay my head on his shoulder.

“He’s going to be okay Jen,” Jesse whispered when he sensed I needed to hear comforting words.

“I keep telling myself that.”

“Trust me, and more importantly trust God!”

I smiled, “Thanks for calling Sara.”

“I figured you would need someone here, just for support and I would have come sooner but I didn’t want to leave the place without locking it up.”

“Thank you,” I said lifting my head, “for everything. You should go though, it’s late.”

“I’ll stay with you.”

“No, you need to get some sleep too. You can go in later tomorrow, don’t even worry about getting all the work done, it’s not going to happen.”

“Don’t worry about me; I can get a couple hours here with you.”

I shook my head, “No really, you should go. You can tell Luca and Mary what happened tomorrow morning. I’m going to stay here and I’ll come home a little after the operation ends if he is okay.”

“Look, I am your fiancé for the night,” he joked, “so I am staying with you.”

I had to smile at his words as I watched him take off his sweater, make a pillow out of it and place it on his lap, “Come here.”

I placed my head in his lap and looked up at him, “Well since you are my fiancé tonight, I guess I could tell you how grateful I am that you are staying.”

He nodded, “Yes you could. I could also tell you that I think you are amazing for everything you do.”

I slightly blushed, “I could tell you that I really like your eyes.”

He smiled, “Get some sleep.”

I nodded as I closed my eyes!

At some point in the early morning I heard my father wake up, “Jesse?”

I kept my eyes closed and my head firmly in Jesse’s lap as he spoke, “Yeah, how are you feeling?”

“I’m okay, what are you doing here?”

“I stayed with your daughter last night,” he responded, “She’s worried about you.”

“I know, thank you for staying with her,” he sounded tired.

“The nurses were here a few minutes ago, you were still asleep. They are going to take you into the operation room shortly.”

“You care about my daughter, don’t you?” my father asked changing the subject.

“Yeah, I do,” Jesse spoke truth the added, “I really do.”

“Then don’t break her heart.”

“Oh,” Jesse began, “You meant like that? Jennifer and I are just friends.”

“Friends?” my father repeated, “Is that why you stayed the night and let her sleep on your lap?”

“Yes,” Jesse sounded unsure.

“Okay well, either way, don’t break her heart.”

“I won’t,” he said.

I tried not to smile; my father was so over protective. I felt sorry for Jesse who was being interrogated. Finally I began to stir in his lap; I slowly fluttered my eyes open not expecting Jesse to be staring directly at me.

“Good morning,” he said.

I slowly got up, “Sorry.”

“For what?”

“For keeping you here all night,” I said, “I probably put your legs to sleep.”

“I didn’t feel a thing; I slept a few hours too.”

I looked at my dad who was watching us, “Hi dad,” I went over to him and grabbed his hand, “Are you okay?”

He nodded then looked at Jesse, “Take her home.”

I shook my head, “No. I will go home after the operation.”

“Promise?”

I nodded, “I’ll call Sara and she will pick me up.”

My father then looked at Jesse, “Why don’t you take the day off today. You could use the sleep.”

I nodded agreeing with my dad, “He’s right.”

“I’ll go and sleep a bit but I’ll put in a half day.”

“Honestly, don’t. We will be fine. You already did a lot,” I said looking deep into his green eyes.

“Okay, well I will leave you guys, get better okay.”

I followed him out thanking him again, “I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry about it, you would have done the same,” he said as if he knew I would.

I nodded, “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” he said before grabbing me in a hug, “Be strong for your dad. He will be fine okay. Once he’s out, you better go home and rest a few hours.”

“Yes sir.”

The three hour operation felt like twenty four. I paced the hallways, had four coffees and chewed a pack of gum. Eventually a nurse came and told me the operation was successful and my father was back in his room. He was a little sedated but he was more or less himself.

“Hey daddy, they told me everything went well. How do you feel?”

“I feel great; I still don’t feel a thing.”

“You’re not supposed to. They said you could come home tomorrow morning.”

He nodded, “Yes but right now you have to go home and get some rest. You heard yourself; I am fine so you do not have to worry about me. I am just going to take a nap anyways.”

I nodded, “Alright, I will be back for tonight okay?”

“Okay, oh and bring me something to eat, they are making me starve with the food they bring me.”

“We are going to start eating healthier; I don’t need your arteries to clog up again. One time is more than enough.”

“Okay go or you are never going to leave.”

I made my way outside where Sara had her car parked. As I got in and put my seatbelt on I told her what the doctors said. I wasn’t sure whether or not I should tell her about Jesse but I couldn’t keep it from her.

“Jesse stayed with me last night,” I blurted out.

“Oh really?” she glared at me, “Spill.”

“There is nothing to spill, he came by and well he ended up staying.”

“I thought only family members.”

I looked out the window, “We may have lied to the nurse. I said he was my fiancé.”

“Wow, you went from being friends to being engaged, skipped the whole dating part. You guys move fast,” she joked.

“Oh stop it, we are only friends. Trust me I overheard him talking to my dad. We are strictly friends.”

“Yeah, because he works for you right? So fire his ass and then you can date him, perfect resolution.”

“You always have the answers, don’t you?”

“Yup, not like you ever listen to me.”

We pulled up shortly after and as I got out I spotted Jesse talking to Luca.

“What is he doing here; he is supposed to be at home.”

“I don’t know,” Sara said as we both walked towards the guys.

“Hey Jennifer,” Luca said, “Jesse told me what happened, how is your dad.”

“He’s fine, he can come home tomorrow,” I looked at Jesse, “Why are you here?”

“I just wanted to come do some work,” he said, “I needed to tell someone what happened right.”

“Fine, but you’re going on what? Twenty hours without sleep now? Go home and get some rest.”

He nodded, “Look, I am almost done, just have a few more stalls to do, I skipped a few grooms though, they looked like they could skip a day and Mary helped me out as well.”

“I will do the rest,” I said.

“You go to sleep; I promise I will go as soon as I am done.”

As I watched him walk into the barn I faced Luca and Sara, “He’s too much.”

I began to follow him to the barn as I heard, “Reminds me of someone else I know.”

“I heard you,” I said over my shoulder.

I went to get a rake and entered the stall next to Jesse, “What are you doing?”

“I am helping you so you can go home.”

He shook his head, “Why are you so stubborn?”

“I am not the stubborn one.”

“Yes you are,” he said.

“Last time I checked, you work for me which entitles you to listen to me.”

Jesse shook his head and dropped the rake, “Are you really complaining because I am actually working?”

It sounded stupid when he put it like that, “No, I am complaining because you are going to wear yourself out pretty soon and you won’t be able to work tomorrow.”

“I will be fine tomorrow,” he said, “I think you are the one who needs the sleep the most since you are making a big deal out of nothing.”

“Maybe you are right,” I yelled, “Since you are fine, you can finish up these stalls and I will go take a nap.”

As I began to walk out of the barn Jesse spoke up, “What happened to the girl who slept on my lap last night?”

“She doesn’t exist,” I said, “This is me, I am a control freak and it is too bad if you don’t like it.”

Jesse walked towards me, “Go to sleep.”

“My pleasure.”

As I found Sara to get my keys I went inside. Sara followed me into the living room.

“I’m going to go,” she said, “You get some rest okay?”

I closed my eyes, “Thank you for everything.”

I barely heard when she left as I already dozed off into a deep sleep. I woke up later that afternoon. I went into the barn and found Mary.

“How are the wedding plans going?” I asked.

“They are going, we’re hoping to have nice weather but we’re going to have white tents in case it rains with white lights.”

“It all sounds so beautiful.”

“I was wondering if you would be a bride’s maid?”

My eyes lit up as I gave her a hug, “I would love to.”

“Good, we’ll have a fitting next week sometime, I’ll do weekend so you can make it.”

“Thanks,” I smiled, “I can hardly wait.”

“Are you going back to the hospital?”

I nodded, “Yeah.”

“Tell your dad I say hi okay?”

“I will. Hey what time did Jesse leave?”

“A couple hours ago. He said he was coming to say bye to you but then he said he found you sleeping on the couch.”

I nodded, “Yeah, I was out like a light.”

“You needed it,” she smiled, “Is something going on with you guys?”

I shook my head, “No way. He is not my type.”

“I didn’t think so but I suddenly got the notion that you guys would make a cute couple.”

“He’s too stubborn for me,” I admitted.

“I bet he could say the same about you.”

“Did he?” I asked.

“Maybe,” she winked, “I better get back to work.”

I was a little curious but I let it go, I got into my dad’s truck and went to see my father. He was sleeping when I arrived but woke up shortly after.

“Did you get some sleep?” he asked.

“I did,” I said, “The horses are all good and Mary and Luca send you their best.”

“You would do just fine without me Jen,” he whispered.

“Dad,” I said, “Don’t say that.”

“I am not saying that to worry you, I am just saying that I am proud of you.”

I lay next to my dad on the bed, “Thanks dad. I am proud of you too.”

“Proud of me? For what?”

“You did a good job raising me without mom.”

“Oh honey, I love you so much.”

“I love you too dad.”

We spent some time lying next to each other as my father held me in his arms. After a couple hours my dad told me I should go home.

“You are going to be uncomfortable here, you can come back to pick me up in the morning.”

I got off the bed and agreed, “Okay. I will be here early morning to pick you up.”

“You could always call Jesse,” he winked, “I am sure he would come over and keep you company.”

“Dad we are friends.”

“Yeah, that’s what he said.”

“Really?” I said pretending I didn’t hear their conversation earlier today.

“Yeah but we’ll see.”

“He works for us.”

“So what?”

“So you should not mix pleasure with business.”

“So you admit that you like him?”

I shook my head, “No.”

“That’s okay, I will see you tomorrow.”

“Good night,” I said as I kissed him on the cheek.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Every creek in the house made me hide beneath my blanket. I always heard noises at night but when I knew my father was in the next room, I knew everything was okay. I opened the light on my bed stand and looked at the picture that sat there of my mother and I.

“What do you think of Jesse mom?” I said, “I wish I knew.”

I turned out the light and tried to get some sleep.

You See Through Me (8)

I woke up at six, went to see the horses then got in the car to go pick up my father. On my way out of the driveway I saw Luca in his car.

He slowed down and rolled down his window, “I got a welcome home sign; I’m going to put it up.”

“That’s a great idea, he will love it. I will be home in about an hour. The house door is open if you guys need anything.”

“We’ll be waiting.”

My father was ready to go the moment I arrived. I went to talk to the nurse before we left. She gave me instructions for my father and his medication and pain killers. He was also going to be a strict diet for a couple weeks.

In the car I could tell my father was in pain, “Does it hurt dad?”

“A little bit,” he admitted, “but they said it’s normal. I will feel it for a couple weeks. I can take it.”

“I know you can, so you are going to have to take it easy for a while. Don’t go thinking you are going to be out in the barns or in town.”

“I know, I will, I want to get better.”

As we pulled up to the ranch, a welcome home banner was up across the balcony and Luca, Mary and Jesse stood beneath it. As I helped my dad get out of the car they all came to greet him. Shortly after I took him inside and let him rest on the couch while I went to go help out in the barn.

“So are you in a better mood today?” Jesse asked as he came into my office and took a seat.

“Not really,” I said, “So if you need something get on with it and leave me alone.”

“Did I do something to you?”

I sighed, “No, sorry. I’ve just had a lot on my mind.”

“Like what?”

“Stuff,” I said, “I apologize for my behaviour.”

“You don’t need to apologize but an explanation would be nice.”

“Is there something you want to talk about?” I asked.

“There is someone in the barn wanting to see you, says he’s a friend of yours.”

“A friend of mine?” I asked getting up, “Are you sure?”

“That’s what he said,” Jesse said following me.

As I walked into the barn, Eric rushed over and gave me a hug. The only reason I allowed it was because I was in utter shock.

When he pulled away he was the first to speak, “I heard about your dad. How is he doing?”

Jesse walked behind Eric and went into Snowflake’s stall with a curry comb.

“He is okay, he came home today.”

“That’s great.”

I forgot how good looking Eric was and that made me almost forgot what he did to me, “What are you doing here?”

“I miss you,” he said.

“No you don’t, you are just lonely.”

“No, I am serious. I miss you and I came here to apologize to you.”

“Apologize?”

“Yes, I shouldn’t have…”

“You shouldn’t have what?”

“I shouldn’t have done what I did,” he said.

“Damn right you shouldn’t have,” I said catching Jesse’s eyes and suddenly felt nervous.

“Can we maybe go back and try this again?”

“Like what I wanted two months ago? No, it’s too late now.”

“Why? Have you moved on?”

“Yes I have moved on, you were a mistake Eric.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“We had a lot of good times Eric, but that’s where it ends. You never supported me in what I do here and you made it quite clear that you think what I do here is stupid.”

“I made a mistake.”

“Yeah you did, now deal with it.”

“You seem different, are you seeing someone?”

“It’s none of your business if I am but no I am not. I have no time to and I don’t want to, I am perfectly happy single.”

“Fine,” he said, “But if you change your mind…”

“I won’t,” I interrupted.

“I guess I will see you around.”

I watched as he walked out of the barn. I let out my breath as I turned to find Jesse by my side.

“Don’t start,” I said walking back into my office.

“So Jen has a love life.”

“No, Jen had a love life.”

“What’s the story? That seemed intense.”

“No story, I just wasn’t into it.”

“How long?”

“One year.”

He laughed, “You dated him for a year before you realized you weren’t into him.”

I stood up getting angry, “It is really none of your business.”

“What is up with you? I guess the honeymoon is already over,” he commented.

At first I was confused but then I caught on, I only rolled my eyes.

Jesse stood in front of me, “Maybe I know why it didn’t work out.”

“Really?”

“He didn’t have nice eyes like mine,” he winked.

I pushed him out of my way as I spoke under my breath, “You wish.”

He followed me, “Hey now, you told me you liked my eyes.”

“I was delusional and extremely tired,” I lied.

“Really? Because you seemed pretty present to me,” he stood in front of me again.

“Okay so what? So what if you have nice eyes, I never knew it was a sin to tell someone they have nice eyes.”

“It’s not, so why were you just trying to deny it?”

I tried not to smile, “I didn’t want it to go to your head.”

He nodded, “Now that we got that settled, why don’t you tell me what happened with lover boy?”

“It is none of your business.”

“Oh come on, after everything you don’t trust me?”

“It is not about trust,” I said, “I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“Clearly lover boy was sorry,” he said, “I sure would hate to be on your bad side.”

“Then you better watch it because you are almost there,” I winked as I walked out of the barn, “You’re right on the border line.”

“I think you should give the poor guy another chance.”

“He’s had his chances,” I admitted, “Too many.”

“So it was lover boy’s fault?”

“Stop calling him that,” I said frustrated.

“Okay okay, I give up. I will see you later; I’ll be in the barn if you need me.”

After dinner I cleared the table and helped my dad walk up the stairs. He was tired and wanted to go to bed early.

“I am just going to go out and check on the horses, I will be back to check on you soon.”

“Okay, don’t stay out too late.”

As I put on my work boots and made my way out into the barn I entered Snowflakes stall.

“Hey there,” I said, “Look what I brought you.”

I fed him a carrot slowly as I leaned against his body, “Mom always told me the secret to winning a horse’s heart is to feed it a carrot. Was she right boy?”

He snorted lightly making me giggle, “I think she was right.”

A little while later I left his stall to checked on the other horses before closing the barn doors. I walked towards the training ring as I began to think about my father, in his bed sleeping. I was thankful that he was okay, that it wasn’t more serious.

I pulled myself up to sit on the gate as I watched the empty ring in the darkness. I couldn’t help but shed a tear. It was all confusing to me and I didn’t even know I was crying until I felt the tears fall down my cheek. It was all too much.

I thought about Eric, I thought about his apology. The truth was sometimes I got lonely, I missed having someone to hold me when I was sad. I just wish Eric was different, I wish he knew when I needed him. I wish he didn’t need me to tell him I was upset or filled with sadness. He never knew the real me because I was too afraid to show him who I really was.

The first few months were great but after that we argued almost every week because he didn’t understand that I was busy and when I wasn’t I was exhausted. He didn’t want to come over and relax, he wanted to go out. He told me it was because he wanted to show me off.

When we were together I felt special, I felt like someone cared, most of the time. Other times I felt like I didn’t exist. I thought about the days after my accident, he didn’t tell me things were going to be okay. He told me I should stop riding and get a real job. He told me I should finish school and get a degree. He told me I could never be happy on a ranch. That’s when I realized he didn’t understand me at all.

I began to think about all the medals I won from jumping, I closed my eyes as I could imagine myself jumping at one show after another. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing from my eyes.

“I need you mom,” I said running my hand through my hair, “Why did you have to die?”

“Jen?” a voice called out from behind, scaring me and causing me to lose my balance and fall off the gate.

“Jesse?” I asked recognizing the voice.

As he came closer I could see his silhouette, “Sorry if I scared you.”

My voice was all groggy as I turned around so he couldn’t see the tears falling down, “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t seem yourself today,” he said, “and I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Slowly I climbed back on the gate, “I’m fine.”

I tried not to think too much about it, about the fact that he could tell there was something wrong when I thought I was doing such a good job to hide it.

“I heard you,” he said climbing up on the gate, “You don’t have to pretend in front of me.”

“Pretend what?”

“That everything is okay,” he said, “I know it’s not.”

I but my lip, “Jesse, you didn’t need to come all the way here to check up on me.”

“I know I didn’t have to but I wanted to. That’s what friends do right?”

“No,” I raised my voice, “Friends call and ask how everything is going.”

“I’ll leave if you want me to,” he said.

“I want you to leave,” I said wondering if he would actually go.

“Okay then,” he said climbing down the gate, “I will go; I was only trying to be here for you.”

“Why?” I asked, “Why couldn’t you stop thinking of me?”

“I don’t know,” he said facing me again, “Maybe because I could see that there is something bothering you, something upsetting you.”

I climbed down the gate, “Tell me about relationships you have had.”

“What sort of relationship?”

“Girlfriend,” I asked, “Maybe Jessica?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Why don’t you ever want to talk about your life?” I asked.

“I’ve answered all your questions; I just wanted to know why my dating has anything to do with you and what you are going through?”

“It doesn’t have to do with me.”

“My last girlfriend was two years ago, her name was Teresa. We dated for about nine months.”

“Why did it end?”

“I wanted to travel; she didn’t want to come with me.”

“How intimate were you guys?” I bluntly asked.

“Excuse me?” he asked.

“You heard me.”

“Um, pretty intimate I guess.”

“So what? Did you like plan the night in your head before you guys actually got together or did it just happen?”

“Are you referring to sex?” he clarified.

“Yes.”

“Well we didn’t have sex and I am beginning to regret answering your questions.”

“You said fairly intimate,” I said.

“Yeah, but not that intimate.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t want to.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“So it wasn’t that she didn’t want to and you did?”

“No, we both didn’t want to.”

“So you dated for nine months, when you were twenty four and you didn’t have sex with her?”

“That is correct. I don’t do that sort of thing, I couldn’t and call myself a Christian.”

I began walking away from him shedding another tear.

“Wait, you can’t just walk away from me after that,” he pulled me around, “Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, “I have no idea what is wrong with me. Maybe I am happy that my dad is okay or maybe I am angry that Eric thinks he could just come here and want me back when he tried to have sex with me in the back seat of his car knowing that I didn’t want to,” I covered my mouth regretting what I just said.

“So you guys did or didn’t?”

“We didn’t,” I said closing my eyes, “I don’t know how we didn’t. I kept telling him to stop but he wouldn’t let me go. I was scared; I never saw that side of him. He was drunk so I blame the alcohol but I know he wanted it without the alcohol. He stopped when he realized I was crying. I walked home that night. He apologized a million times the day after but I just couldn’t see past what happened. I couldn’t forgive him.”

“That’s understandable. I’m sorry I told you to give him another chance. I didn’t know what happened.”

“Now you do. I never told anyone that Jesse.”

“Sara?” he asked.

“No, nobody knows.”

“You shouldn’t have had that bottled up inside all this time; you need someone you can talk to.”

“I do, I tell Sara everything, except for that. I was embarrassed.”

“Why me?”

“Because you saw through me, through my smile.”

With that he grabbed my hand and pulled me into his arms, “I am sorry that happened to you. I am not sorry you told me.”

I buried my head in his neck and held him tight, “I was ashamed.”

He pulled away, “You have nothing to be ashamed about. You are amazing and he’s an idiot for not realizing it.”

“You want to know something else?”

He nodded, “I want to know everything about you Jen.”

“When I saw Eric, I didn’t remember what he did; I remembered the good times we had. It was only after thinking about the good things that I started to remember how it ended. I forgive him, everyone makes mistakes.”

“You forgive him?” he asked as if not believing my words, “Why?”

“Everyone needs to be forgiven, God knows how many times I screw up but God forgives me and His love is never ending so I forgive him. I am not mad at him even though it seemed that way; I just want him to know that we can’t be together again.”

“If you forgive him why can’t you?” he asked.

“I don’t love him and he doesn’t love me no matter what he says. He never understood me.”

“You continue to amaze me,” he smiled, “I am glad I know you.”

I nodded, “I am glad too.”

“You can talk to me about anything okay? Any time.”

“Thanks,” I said as I gave his hand a squeeze.

Jesse grabbed my hand as he walked me up the porch, “You should go in.”

I nodded, “I don’t know how you knew I needed someone but I am glad you did.”

“Are you going to be okay?”

I nodded, “Yeah.”

“Okay then, good night Jen,” he kissed me on the cheek sending butterflies down my spine.

“Good night!”

Once I got inside I locked the door and watched Jesse’s car drive off though the window. I let out my breath as I headed up to check on my dad. My dad was sleeping so I shut the light near his bed off and headed to my room.

I lay on my bed without changing and thought about Jesse. He continued to amaze me, the way he knew I needed a friend to talk to. I was also surprised that I told him what happened with Eric. I smiled as I remembered him telling me that he didn’t sleep with his girlfriend, even though that didn’t matter.

I took out my Bible and began to read a few chapters before putting it away.

“I think you would like him mom,” I whispered, “But I don’t know what is going to happen, we’re just friends.”

Once I stopped thinking of Jesse I couldn’t help but feel depressed, I knew why I just didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t tell Jesse because I didn’t want to accept it just yet.

The fact was that with my dad needing to recover and making me realize that I could have lost him, I needed to be respectful of my father’s wishes, even if it went against what I wanted.

“Dad doesn’t want me to train mom,” I said, “I’ve been hiding it from him but I can’t do that anymore.”

I swallowed hard trying not to cry. I would have to give up training again. I wouldn’t put myself at risk against my father’s will.

I needed to believe that he knew what was best. I needed to believe that training wasn’t what I was meant to do.

“Help me mom, give me the strength to move on and forget about training. Help me to be happy so dad won’t see I am not.”

A little while later I shut my own light and went to bed.

The next couple days went by slowly. No one noticed I wasn’t training. I went with Mary to try my brides maid’s dress which was orange and helped her with sending out her wedding invitations.

I finally gave Jesse a horseback riding lesson, just the basics; we ended when we got to jogging. I told him that the next lesson I would have him cantering.

Things seemed to be back to normal but I felt anything but normal. Jesse began to ask questions but I ignored them. He finally let it go and didn’t ask me how I was feeling anymore. I didn’t blame him; there was only so much he could do.

I didn’t want to burden him with all my problems, I was sure he had his own problems which I often wondered about. Here I was always telling him about myself but I felt like I had to beg information out of him. Yet that wasn’t true because I knew a lot about him, I knew about his family, his girlfriend, his travelling. What else was I supposed to know?

Getting Loose (9)

On Wednesday night I couldn’t take it anymore, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I met Sara at the town bar as we sat and had a couple of drinks.

“Okay what’s going on? I have never seen you drink like this.”

“I just want to forget about everything tonight, I want to forget about horses, problems, boys and everything else.”

“Okay,” Sara said, “Are you sure you should have driven then?”

“I will take a taxi home,” I said.

“I guess you deserve one night.”

“I think so too. So let’s get some music on the jukebox and let’s grab another round of drinks.”

Sara smiled, “You are one crazy gal. What the heck, I guess I will take a cab too.”

“That’s the spirit. I really didn’t feel like drinking alone. Okay so just promise, no questions once I continue drinking.”

“Why?” she asked.

“You will be able to get anything out of me,” I admitted, “So promise me. Whatever you want to know ask me now otherwise you will be sneaky and going against my will.”

“What brought this on tonight?” she asked putting money in the jukebox.

“I have decided to give up training again,” I said, “I haven’t since my dad got out of the hospital and I feel like it is an addiction so I need something to take my mind off of it.”

“Why do you have to give it up?”

“My dad is against it and I can’t keep going against his back. It’s wrong.”

“Isn’t getting drunk sort of wrong to?”

I sighed, “Are you going to back out on me now?”

“No, I’m just checking.”

“Okay so maybe we won’t get drunk, just a few drinks.”

“Alright then,” Sara said as the music began to play.

At the bar I asked the bartender for a shot of tequila. Sara and I both swallowed it fast and we ordered a bowl of French fries.

“So how is the boyfriend doing?” I asked, “You guys are together now right?”

She nodded, “Yeah, we are. It’s going good. I want you guys to meet one of these days. Maybe I will bring him by the ranch one day. I’ve told him all about it; maybe we can go for a ride.”

“Yeah, that would be nice, you two can go together, you know the trails. It will be romantic.”

“No, I would want you to come,” Sara said.

“Oh, because I really want to be a third wheel.”

“Jesse could come too.”

“Can we get another shot please,” I called out to the bartended, “Actually if you could keep them coming, that would be great, just make us a tab.”

“Can we also get another bowl of fries seeing that we are going to need some food in our system with all that we are going to be drinking.”

I already had the giggles, “Jesse, oh Jesse.”

Sara laughed, “Maybe you are already drunk.”

“I am not drunk.”

“Okay so what about Jesse?” she asked.

“I don’t know. He’s interesting. I mean, he could read me like nobody else can and we’ve only known each other what? A little over a month.”

“Maybe that comes from seeing each other every day. I mean you guys talk every day and work together so of course he’s going to get to know you.”

“You don’t understand. Getting to know each other is one thing but he can read me, sometimes he knows what I am thinking. The night at the hospital, he stayed with me; he knew I didn’t want to be alone.”

“Sorry, I should have stayed with you.”

“No,” I shook my head, “I’m not trying to make you feel bad. That is just an example.”

“So is anything happening to make you think he’s into you?”

I shook my head, “No, we keep saying things like; ‘oh you’re such a good friend.’”

“Do you want to be more than that?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I don’t think so; I really do like having him as a friend.”

“But…” Sara willed me on.

“But I can’t stop thinking about his green eyes,” I said placing my head down on the table before drinking another shot.

“I knew you were going to fall for him.”

“I did not fall for him,” I said, “We are friends and I decided that is the way it should be. It is what is best for everybody.”

“Whatever you think is best.”

I nodded drinking another shot, “It’s hot in here.”

“You want to slow down?”

I shook my head, “Not really.”

“Okay so if giving up training is making you drink, do you really think it’s for the best?”

“Yup, after all, daddy knows what is best.”

“It’s not even a weekend,” Sara pointed out.

“Okay what are you? Like three shots behind?”

“I volunteer tomorrow,” she pointed out, “I start at twelve but I still can’t show up drunk.”

I got up and went to change the music to a faster tempo. As I found my way back to Sara I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Why are you laughing?” Sara asked.

“Knock, Knock?”

Sara shook her head, “Who’s there?”

“Sara!”

“Sara who?”

“Sara reason you are not laughing?” I cracked up.

Sara smirked, “Oh boy, this is going to be one long night.”

“Want to hear another one?” I asked.

Her eyes were elsewhere, “Jesse.”

“No I don’t know one with his name,” I said.

She shook her head, “No, Jesse is here.”

I looked at my watch, it was ten and I was already giggling.

“Maybe he won’t see us.”

“I doubt it; he’s already walking towards us.”

I lay my head on the bar table, “Tell him I am not here.”

Sara started to laugh, “I’ll try, not sure if he will believe me.”

“Hey girls,” Jesse said, “What are you guys doing here? Doesn’t seem like your crowd.”

“Oh I just felt like a drink,” Sara said, “What are you doing here?”

“Couldn’t sleep so I thought I would come for a drink too.”

“You driving?” Sara asked.

“Yeah but I’ll be fine if I have one drink.”

“So, how was your day?” she asked.

I wondered if he knew I was there.

“It was good, went by quickly,” Jesse stuttered, “Is she sleeping?”

Sara started to laugh, “Who?”

That was all I needed to burst out laughing, I raised my head and hit her over the shoulder not making eye contact with Jesse. Instead I called the bartended over and ordered vodka.

“Are you sure you want to mix?” Sara asked.

“Has she been drinking?” Jesse asked Sara.

“Would you like to answer that?” Sara smiled finding this amusing.

All I wanted was to forget about everything for one night but no, Jesse had to show up and ruin the plan.

So I took a sip of the Vodka and smiled at him, “Only a couple.”

“Or a few,” Sara corrected.

Jesse grinned, “This is a new side I haven’t seen before. I didn’t know you were a drinker.”

“She’s not,” Sara asked, “She was drunk after her second shot.”

“How many did she have exactly?”

“I lost track after six, but she’s been eating fries so she should be okay. I am worried she’ll be feeling sick tomorrow though, I don’t want her to have anymore.”

“Let’s dance,” I said turning to Sara and grabbing her hand.

“Jen, this is a bar not a club.”

“I know, we don’t do clubbing,” I smiled, “Come on”

She shook her head, “I think I will pass.”

“How about you hot stuff?” I batted my eye lashes at Jesse.

I thought I saw a little smirk but he shook his head, “I think I am going to have to pass, I think you should too. How about you save dancing for another time?”

I got up and made my way to put another quarter in the jukebox. I began to sway my hips from side to side; I could see Jesse’s eyes on me, as well as every other pair of eyes in the bar. A couple minutes later Jesse turned around to talk to Sara. Sara started laughing making me freeze in my position. I wondered what she was laughing about as she whispered something in his ear. I felt envious when I knew I shouldn’t. I knew it was the alcohol.

I thought the alcohol was supposed to make me feel better, not worse. I spotted a guy, mid-twenties seated next to the bar on the opposite direction. I made my way to him, Jesse and Sara were too busy into their conversation to notice that I was no longer dancing.

“Hi,” I said leaning into him.

“Hey there pretty lady,” he winked, “Can I buy you a drink?”

“You certainly can,” I banged my fist on the table.

The man leaned over the bar, “Two martini’s please.”

“Make sure it comes with an olive.”

“Can’t have a martini with no olive,” he smiled.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Eric,” he said.

I closed my eyes, what were the odds that I would be having a drink with another Eric. I tried to ignore it; I tried to tell myself I heard incorrectly so I put a smile back on my face.

“I’m Jen.”

“Is that short for something?” he wondered.

“Jennifer,” I said as I accepted the drink and began to drink it.

“You work at the Bailey’s ranch don’t you?”

I slowly looked up at him, “Do I know you?”

“No, but I believe you are training my sisters horse, Woody?”

Figures, I just couldn’t seem to get away from anything, “Yeah. Well I am not personally training him but we have someone doing it.”

“Last I heard it was you working with him.”

“Well, I was but I took some time off, I’m taking care of my dad now.”

“Yeah, I heard about that.”

My head started to spin; I wanted to change the subject, “Well thanks for the drink.”

“Anytime, I wish I came with my sister to your ranch, we would have met sooner.”

“I just want you to know that I am not always like this.”

“You mean drunk?” he asked.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“From what I hear you’re the best trainer there is so I believe you, I find it hard to believe that an alcoholic would be the best trainer.”

I nodded as I put the olive slowly in my mouth, “Well maybe you should come by the ranch sometime.”

“Maybe I will, I’m just afraid that you won’t remember me after tonight,” he said.

I laughed loudly even though I was sure it wasn’t even funny, I couldn’t help it. Eric seemed like a really nice guy.

“Do you want to dance with me?” I asked as I heard a slow song come on.

He got out of his seat and pulled me into his arms, “How could I say no?”

I smiled as he twirled me around, we weren’t on tempo but we were having fun. I was glad that at least one person in the bar wasn’t embarrassed by me.

“You know what I like about you?” I said.

“What?”

“That you don’t have a problem dancing with me, even though no one else is dancing.”

“How could I have a problem with a beautiful lady like you?”

I giggled as he continued to swirl me around until I felt nauseous. Luckily we were interrupted when Jesse showed up. Finally was the word that crossed my mind.

“May I cut in?” he asked.

I looked from one guy to the other as Eric nodded.

I put my hands by my side and frowned at him, “What are you doing?”

He grabbed my hands and placed one around his neck and he kept the other in his hand as he placed one hand around my waist.

“I am dancing with you.”

“Why? I thought you were embarrassed by me.”

Now it was him who frowned, “I never said that.”

“Yet you didn’t want to dance with me before.”

“Can’t a guy change his mind?”

“What made you change your mind?”

“You did.”

“I might understand if I didn’t consume alcohol but I am going to have to ask you to further explain yourself.”

“You just looked like you were having fun and I wanted to be a part of it.”

“You looked like you were having fun over there too.”

“Your point?” he asked.

“I don’t think I have one.”

“Good, then just shut up and dance with me.”

I was about to say something but Jesse put his finger to my lips making me giggle. I lay my head on his shoulder as I closed my eyes. I breathed his scent in before the song ended.

When I lifted my head he was smiling down at me, “You know, you’re pretty cute when you let loose.”

“Cute?” I asked getting offended, “Loose? Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

“I take it you are upset.”

“You are very perceptive,” I said pushing him away and going to the bar where Sara sat, “Can I get another shot of whatever you have please.”

“A shot of whatever you have?” Sara asked, “Okay, I think it is time to go home.”

I shook my head, “It is only midnight, the night is still young.”

“I know but I have to volunteer tomorrow.”

“Okay well you can go if you want,” I said, “I will be fine.”

“I am not going to leave you, you are way to drunk, and you probably can’t even call a cab.”

Jesse returned and took a seat next to me. He took my shot away and drank it himself.

I turned to the bartended and ordered another one. This time I drank it the moment I got it.

Jesse looked at Sara, “Why is she drinking?”

“She is a little depressed.”

“Why?”

“Maybe you should ask her.”

“I would” he sighed, “But I get the impression that she is pissed at me for calling her cute.”

“She’s sort of drunk so I am pretty sure she will get mad at anything.”

“I am right here you know?” I said, “I can hear you guys.”

“Sorry,” Sara stood up, “Come on, let’s go.”

I frowned, “I will be fine. You go.”

“I’ll stay with her,” Jesse told Sara.

“Are you sure?” Sara confirmed.

He nodded, “Yeah.”

“Okay. I will talk to you tomorrow Jen and I guess I will see you around.”

“For sure,” Jesse smiled making me want to vomit.

“Oh and one more thing,” Sara said, “Don’t ask her anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“You weren’t here when she was sober otherwise she would have made you promise to not try to get any information out of her while she is drinking because it is very possible she would tell you anything you wanted to know, even if she didn’t want to tell you.”

Once she was gone I got up staggering.

I began to walk to the ladies room and turned to Jesse once I arrived, “Are you going to come in with me to?”

“Why are you being such a brat?” he asked, “You had no problem being nice to whomever it was you were dancing with.”

“He was nice.”

“I am nice!” Jesse sounded like a child.

“When you want to be,” I said before walking into the ladies room.

I purposely stayed in the bathroom for ten minutes hoping Jesse would leave but as I made my way out the door, there he was leaning against the wall.

“You are still here?” I asked.

“You are my responsibility now.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“I can see that,” Jesse said.

“Are you making fun of me?” I said defensively.

Jesse began to laugh as I left a hundred dollar bill on the table and left. Jesse continued to laugh as he followed me outside. The fresh air felt nice.

“Aren’t drunken people supposed to look a little happier?” He finally said.

“I despise you,” I said trying to keep a straight face.

“No really?”

“Maybe I am not drunk enough,” I said, “or maybe I would be happy if you didn’t crash my party.”

“You love that I am here, just admit it,” he said.

I pretended to vomit which made me start to laugh. I leaned against an unknown car as I was dying of laughter.

“That is precisely what I thought drunken people looked like.”

Jesse came and grabbed my arm leading me to his car, “Come on, I will drive you home.”

“What about my car?” I asked.

“We’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

I nodded crawling into his car and moving over to let him sit in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t stop laughing the whole way home. When we arrived I didn’t wait for him to open the door. I got out on my own and stumbled on a rock. I giggled as I lay on the ground. Then I stopped as I looked up at the stars.

Jesse came to my recue as he pulled my hands helping me up.

“Have you ever spent the night beneath the stars?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No, I am guessing you have?”

I nodded, “It was one of the romantic things Eric did for me.”

“Eric huh?” Jesse said having an edge to his voice.

“No,” I admitted, “Actually it wasn’t Eric. It was with my mom.”

Jesse shook his head, “Then why did you say it was with Eric?”

Jesse let go of me and I felt like a rag doll. Jesse quickly held me up again and brought me to lean against the car.

“It’s cold out.”

“That’s because you took your shirt off at the bar, leaving you with only a strapless top, you must have forgot it,” he took off his jacket and wrapped it around me.

I laughed, “Yeah, I was hot.”

“Answer the question,” Jesse prompted.

“What was the question?” I asked.

“Why did you say you spent the night beneath the stars with Eric?”

“No, it was with my mom.”

“I know but you said it was with Eric before.”

“I know.”

“Why?”

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

“Doing what?”

“Taking advantage of me?”

“I am not taking advantage of you.”

“Then why are you asking me these questions?”

“I wouldn’t if you didn’t lie.”

“Maybe I wanted to make you jealous,” I blurted out.

I frowned as I realized I didn’t mean to say that. I began to walk towards the house and tripped over my own feet. Again Jesse helped me up. I pushed him once I was balanced.

“Leave,” I yelled, “Just leave, if you want to know something then ask me when I am not drunk. Ask me when I can decide whether or not I want to tell you the truth.”

“Why did you want to make me jealous?” he asked giving in to the temptation.

I sighed as I began to cry, “Because you are a good guy and for once I wanted to know what it was like to have a good guy like me.”

“I do like you,” Jesse said.

“Yeah, I know. We’re friends.”

“Okay, I am sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you that.”

“I forgive you,” I pouted.

“Do you want to tell me why you decided to get drunk tonight?”

I shook my head, “No.”

“Why?”

“Because it hurts too much.”

“Here,” Jesse said handing me a water bottle, “Drink this. You can’t go in there like this.”

I slowly began to drink the water.

“How do you feel?”

“Hyper,” I said, “But tired at the same time.”

“Are you ready to go inside?”

I nodded, “Yeah.”

He walked me to the door and helped me unlock it. He walked in with me and watched me struggle as I tried to take off my shoes. He shook his head as he came in and closed the door behind him.

Jesse took his jacket and put it on the floor as he held my hand leading me into the living room. He took off my shoes and sat next to me putting his arm around me and letting me lean into him. I couldn’t help but cry.

“Why are you crying? I honestly have not seen anyone cry as much as you do.”

At that I pushed him away again, “You really are insensitive.”

“I’m sorry; I just don’t get it tonight. I mean you are drunk, how could you be crying?”

“I thought getting drunk would make me feel better.”

“Did it?” he asked.

“No.”

“Okay now tell me why you did it?”

I leaned forward, “I am nothing Jesse.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I am talking about my life. I decided to stop training.”

“Again?”

I nodded as I explained to him what I told Sara earlier, “I just can’t do it. I don’t want to lose my dad and what happened made me realize that I could have. So why would I make him feel like he could lose me?”

“This is different. I’ve seen you on a horse; you know what you are doing.”

“I can’t do it.”

“Okay fine, you will do something else.”

“Like what Jesse?” I asked, “Without this I am nothing. I don’t have school for anything like you or Sara do. Training was what I grew up doing. I thought I would always do it. Now that I can’t, I have no options.”

“Maybe that’s a sign that you are not supposed to stop training. Maybe what you need to do is tell your dad the truth. He is your dad, he will be upset at first but he will accept it and once he sees you doing what you love he will be happy.”

I laughed, “You think I should tell him? That would just give him another heart attack. He would flip.”

“So tell him with other people around.”

“That wouldn’t change anything.”

“Okay, well I am just giving you my advice, doesn’t mean you have to take it. You shouldn’t feel like nothing, you should feel like a million bucks.”

I sighed as I lay my head on the back of the sofa, “I don’t know what to do.”

“Just take some time to think about your next move.”

I nodded, “I should go to bed.”

“I should leave,” he stood up, “Are you going to be okay?”

I nodded trying to stand up on my own but tripping over my own feet. I started to laugh aloud as Jesse came and stood next to me.

“Be quiet, you are going to wake up your father.”

I smiled as I headed for the stairs, then I remembered I had to lock the door when Jesse left.

“Are you going to make it up those stairs?”

I looked up the twelve stairs I had to climb and nodded with a smile on my face, “Not a problem.”

“I doubt it so why don’t you give me your key. I will help you to your room so you don’t wake your dad up and then I will lock the door on my way out.

“What are you saying?” I asked getting lost in his plan.

He grinned trying not to laugh, “Come on, let’s go up the stairs.”

I climbed two steps and on my third one I slid down the two I climbed catching Jesse off guard and allowing him to slip. His knee banged on the stair making a noise as his body nearly fell on top of mine. He held himself up as our legs got tangled. I was uncomfortable as my back was against the stairs but I couldn’t move.

Jesse laughed silently as he whispered, “Good thing I didn’t leave you to climb the stairs alone.”

Jesse’s face was inches from mine and his green eyes searched mine. I let out my breath as he inched closer to my face. I felt his breath on mine and watched as he was lowering his lips towards mine but something stopped him. He stopped before his lips met mine and slowly backed up taking a deep breath. He slowly got up and helped me up. I turned my back to his as I started to climb the stairs again, this time I felt Jesse’s hands on my waist the whole time.

I wondered whether or not I imagined it all, was he going to kiss me? Then I began to wonder why he didn’t. When we reached my bedroom and I opened the door Jesse stood at the door. I rushed to my bed as I threw myself on top of it before crawling to the edge.

I grabbed my nightwear and headed for my bathroom. I came out seconds later with my p.j bottoms but I couldn’t take the tube top off, I couldn’t bring it over my head so I went to stand in front of Jesse. I raised my hands; he knew what I was asking.

Slowly he reached for my top, his eyes glued to mine. I could feel his hands gliding over my stomach; he slowly pulled the shirt over my head, never taking his eyes off mine. I was wearing a strapless bra so it was no big deal but the fact that he respected me that way made me want to reach out to him, but I didn’t. We were friends and I was drunk.

Jesse handed me my shirt then pushed a strand of hair behind my ear leaving his hand against my cheek a little longer than he should have, but not long enough at the same time.

I slowly brought my hand to gently lay on Jesse’s shoulder as I stared into his eyes. I slowly closed my eyes wondering what Jesse was thinking, hoping that he would make a move, but he didn’t.

I took a step closer to him so the side of my face was against his but when he didn’t close the gap, I took a step back.

I turned around and put a baggy shirt on as I sat on the bed, “Thank you.”

He nodded, “I don’t want to take advantage but can I ask you another question?”

I sighed, “No.”

He watched as I got under my covers, he walked over and sat next to me on the bed, “What was the big deal in me saying you were cute?”

I closed my eyes, “Maybe I don’t want you to see me as cute. Maybe I want to be beautiful.”

Jesse swallowed, “But you are beautiful.”

I opened my eyes to meet his, “Are you into Sara?”

He squinted his eyes, “What?”

“Are you into Sara?”

“She’s your best friend.”

“That wasn’t my question.”

“No, I am not into her, why would you think that?”

“You guys were laughing a lot and it seemed like you guys were having a good time.”

“She has a boyfriend,” Jesse pointed out.

“What if she didn’t?” I asked.

“It wouldn’t matter. I mean I like her but we’re friends.”

“The way we are friends?” I asked.

“Yes, well no.”

“Which is it?”

“No,” he said.

“So what am I?” I asked.

He was thinking about something to say, “I guess a best friend.”

“Okay.”

“Are you mad?”

I shook my head, “Why would I be mad?”

“I don’t know. Are you feeling anything towards me right now? I mean any negative feelings?”

“Maybe a little disappointment, maybe a little regret but I’m not sure.”

“Disappointment? Regret?” he asked, “That is not good.”

“No, but it’s okay.”

“Okay I better go,” he said getting off the bed, “Otherwise I will certainly take advantage of asking you more questions.”

I closed my eyes as I heard him say good night.

Moods (10)

Thursday Morning I woke up around 11:00am. I slowly opened my eyes as I began to see three mirrors instead of one, two chests instead of one and four glasses of water next to my bed instead of one.

I moaned as I shut my eyes again and slowly sat up in bed. It wasn’t that I had a headache; I felt like I needed more sleep, I felt a little dizzy. I ran to the bathroom before throwing up on the floor, and I made it to the toilette. I turned on the shower, turned the knob towards cold and jumped in the shower with my clothes.

I needed to look half decent if I was going to go check up on my dad. The cold water made me twitch but it slowly made me feel awake. I quickly changed, put some moose in my hair and brushed my teeth twice wondering if my dad would be able to smell the alcohol on my breath.

I put on a pair of shorts and a tank top as I could already feel the heat burning through my window, the last two days have been the hottest of the season and the weather network reported that the rest of the week would be just as hot. My bruise was completely healed so I didn’t have to worry about my father finding out what happened last month.

As I climbed down the stairs I stopped midway as I had a flash back from the prior night, falling down the stairs with Jesse. Everything from the night before came rushing back, all the questions he had asked, all the answers I had given him. I remembered him on top of me laughing leaning over me, maybe heading for a kiss but I couldn’t make that assumption especially because of how I was feeling. It could have been a spur of the moment thing. It’s not like the kiss happened anyways, I reminded myself.

As I turned the corner I saw my father staring out the window, “Good morning dad.”

He smiled, “Hey sweetheart. How are you today?”

“Good, I slept in,” I pointed out hoping he wouldn’t ask any questions.

He nodded, “That’s okay, I got up a little while ago. Everyone is already hard at work.”

“I better go out and make an appearance,” I grinned.

“I’d like to come out too and see the horses.”

I nodded, “Do you need help?”

He shook his head, “No, you go, I will take it slow. I have all day.”

“Okay well if you need something I will be in the barns.”

I put on my boots and headed towards the gate to greet Mary.

Mary waved as she brought Woody to the side of the gate, “He misses you.”

“Who does?” I said.

“Woody,” she replied, “Are you sure you don’t want to continue training him?”

I nodded, “I am sure. Susan is coming today, I forgot to tell you. I figured it would be good to start getting her working with Woody so they can form a bond. I know he isn’t jumping tall heights but it will be good as he progresses that they progress together.”

Mary nodded, “That’s why you don’t belong in the barn.”

I smiled as I began to walk towards Luca who was loading Blackjack into a trailer.

I went to go shake the hands of the owner, “Blackjack is amazing, he’s going to get really far.”

“Thanks to you,” he said.

I shook my head, “No, Mary and Luca worked with him.”

“That’s not what I heard,” he winked, “Anyways, I better go but thanks again. I’ll be back here if I ever need another horse to be trained.”

“Glad to hear it,” I said.

As I waved them off Luca came next to me, “Cookler arrived this morning.”

I nodded, “Jumping?”

“Yeah, do you want to…”

I cut him off, “Nope, you go ahead and start with him. I’ll be in the barn.”

“Jen, who are you trying to kid?”

I sighed, “Luca, I appreciate what you are doing, I appreciate what everyone is trying to do but I can’t.”

“I’m not going to push you; I just think it would be foolish for you not to use your talent.”

“You’ve always been like a second father to me,” I sighed, “If only my biological father would see thing like you do.”

With that I walked into the equipment room and grabbed a grooming kit. I entered into Snowflakes stall and began with the curry comb.

“It’s okay right? This just gives me more time to spend with you,” I told Snowflake, “I know you get jealous when I don’t spend as much time with you.”
“Like you don’t spoil him already,” Jesse popped his head out causing me to drop the brush on the ground.

I turned around too quickly and began to see two of him, “Really? You really think it is smart to creep up on me like that?”

He laughed, “How you feeling?”

“After a cold shower, I almost feel normal,” I said picking up the brush.

He smirked, “No hangover?”

“Define hangover?”

“Headache, puking, spinning…”

“Two of the three,” I said leaning into Snowflake, “No headache.”

“Good, that’s the worst of the three.”

I picked up the grooming kit and exited the stall, “So, I guess I should either thank you or apologize for last night, not really sure which one.”

He laughed, “I don’t think either is necessary.”

I sighed, “I was a mess.”

He shook his head, “No,” he corrected, “Maybe a little out of the ordinary for you but you weren’t a mess”

“It’s sweet that you think I wasn’t but if I remember correctly I was dancing with random strangers,” I tried not to laugh.

“Okay so you were entertaining to watch,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”

I headed into the equipment room to put the grooming kit back, “Well thank you for getting me home safely.”

“Did your dad ask any questions?”

I shook my head, “No, but I should probably get my car before he does.”

He nodded, “I can drive you to town if you want?”

I nodded, “Okay, shall we go now?”

“Sure,” he said, “You are my boss.”

“Yeah, yeah!”

As I got into the car I remembered more of the night before, “If I remember correctly, you should probably apologize to me.”

“What?” he asked, “What did I do now?”

“Hmm, let’s see. I recall you asking me a million questions when Sara specifically told you not to.”

He laughed, “I know, the thing is, I didn’t promise you I wouldn’t.”

“So you thought it was okay?”

“I didn’t see any harm in it.”

“Sorry for freaking out on you,” I said blushing, “When you said I was cute. I overreact when I have alcohol in my system but it’s like I can’t control what I say.”

He glanced at me from his peripheral vision, “So I can say you are cute now that you are sober?”

I sighed, “I guess.”

“I get the impression that I can’t,” he said.

I turned serious trying to hide my embarrassment, “Thank you.”

“Now what are you thanking me for?”

“For being here now. I just remembered…um.”

“What?”

“That I pretty much took my shirt off in front of you.”

The smile on Jesse’s face disappeared, “Actually I think it was me who took it off.”

I faced the mat on the ground, “Sorry.”

“I didn’t see anything,” he pointed out.

I looked up at him, “I know, but I am still sorry I made you do that, you could have just left me you know?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “It’s not a big deal.”

“I’m still sorry I put you in an awkward position.”

He changed the subject, “Was there anything you said that wasn’t true?”

“I can’t remember everything I said,” I lied.

“Shall I remind you?” he asked.

“I guess it depends on if it is important for you to know,” I said wishing he wouldn’t.

As he parked in the driveway of the bar he removed the keys from the ignition, “You said you wanted to make me jealous.”

“I did?” I said pretending I couldn’t remember.

“I know you know what I am referring to.”

I looked out the front window, “Look, I was drunk and I really didn’t know what I was doing so yes I wanted to make you jealous but I honestly don’t know why. I don’t know why I said it or why I lied, it just came out.”

He nodded, “I believe you.”

“So no more questions?” I asked.

He was very pensive, “I might have asked you another question if you were still drunk but since you are not, I think we’re good.”

“Just ask me,” I encouraged.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said.

“Fine,” I said getting out of the car, “See you back home.”

As I closed the door I remembered I didn’t have my keys. As I turned around to open the truck Jesse was already holding out my keys with a grin on his face. I grabbed them as I tried not to stifle a laugh.

Jesse waited until I was in the car before he drove out of the parking lot. He drove behind me the whole time until we arrived back on the ranch.

The next day around noon I grabbed a saddle and went to find Jesse.

He was walking out of a stall as I placed the saddle into his hands, “Come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“Nowhere, I’m giving you another lesson.”

He nodded as he began to walk into Gerry’s stall, “What are you doing?” I asked.

He popped his head from the corner, “Saddling the horse?”

“Does that look like Gerry’s saddle?”

He analyzed it, “No, but I thought since I rode him for our first lesson.”

“You thought wrong,” I said, “Gerry is to slow for you. We’re going to learn how to canter today.”

He walked out of the stall and analyzed the saddle, “Snowflake?”

I nodded, “He’s getting old but don’t let that fool you.”

“I know, I’ve seen you ride him,” he replied, “Are you sure you want me to ride him?”

I nodded, “Yes.”

He slowly walked into Snowflakes stall and began saddling him up, “Who are you going to ride?”

“No one,” I said, “I am going to teach you from the ground today.”

“Jen,” he began.

“Don’t start,” I said raising my hand and heading out of the barn, “I’ll wait in the middle ring. The other two are occupied already.”

A few minutes later Jesse brought the horse into the ring. I sat on the gate as I watched him mount on him. Snowflake snorted as he wacked some flies with his tail.

“I think he likes you,” I told him, “Okay, start by just bringing him around a couple times walking, then when you are ready bring him to a trot and then I will give you further instructions.”

He nodded and did as I said. I couldn’t help but look over to the other rings as I watched Mary calling out instructions to Susan and Woody. Luca was in the other ring doing basics with Cookler. I sighed as I turned my attention to Jesse who was now trotting.

“Are you ready to give it a try?” I asked.

He nodded, “Yeah.”

“Okay so make a kissing sound and tighten your legs some more,” I called out for him to hear.

He did just that and immediately Snowflake picked up his speed. I let Jesse ride Snowflake because he was the perfect horse; he wouldn’t throw a tantrum or randomly get spooked. He was perfect!

I watched Jesse with a smile as he went around the ring, he wasn’t the least bit struggling, “Looking good.”

“How do I bring him back to a walk?”

“Speak to him,” I said.

I heard him tell Snowflake to stop cantering and burst out laughing, “In a language he knows,” I said.

He began to smirk as he pulled lightly on the reins and called out, “Woah!”

Snowflake immediately slowed down and began to walk, “There you go.”

“That was awesome,” he brought Snowflake close to the gate, “Now I know why you love it so much. It’s like he’s unstoppable.”

I nodded, “It’s incredible right?”

“Snowflake rides smoothly too,” he commented as he patted Snowflake’s neck, “Do you let all beginners ride him?”

“He’s not a beginner’s horse,” I said, “You have too much potential to be riding a beginner’s horse and no I don’t let everyone ride him.”

Jesse met my eyes like he did many times and smiled, “I feel special.”

“Good,” I said looking at my watch; time was going by quickly, “Now get off my horse and get back to work.”

He laughed as he dismounted. I began to walk to the other ring and watched Mary work with Susan.

“Looks like she is having problems.”

She nodded, “She’s not working with the horse, she’s trying to do everything on her own.”

“Tell her to loosen up her reins; Woody doesn’t like being told what to do.”

“Susan,” Mary called out, “Loosen up your reins a bit.”

I watched as she did was she was told, “Her whole position is wrong.”

“I know, I keep telling her, she will fix herself into a good position but then a few minutes later she goes back to that.”

I watched as Susan attempted a jump, on the lowest level. Her whole stride was off; she was squeezing Woody too much and leaning all her weight on his back. Her calves were weak.

“She needs to work out,” I told Mary, “Put her on a different workout routine. She needs to work her legs some more. She’s all over the place. What is her work out now?”

“Two hours a day, weights for one hour and walking for another.”

“Okay, she’s eighteen?”

Mary nodded.

“What about her diet?”

Mary went on to describing her meals, it was important for a jumper to be fit but also important that they eat healthy and enough. To work out every day, they needed to eat just as much, it wasn’t about losing weight, it was about getting muscle and Susan was lacking it.

“Okay change her work out to three hours, she can break it up, I want her running in the mornings and weights in the afternoon.”

Mary nodded, “Okay, what about meals?”

“She needs to eat more,” I winked as I left them alone.

Luca waved as I passed his ring before turning his attention back on Cookler.

Jesse was in the Snowflake’s stall giving him a rubdown, “She’s pretty amazing isn’t she?”

I stopped in my tracks to hear what he was saying, “Yeah, I know we’re just friends right?”

I walked up to the stall and poked my head over the stall, “Are you trying to pick up my horse?”

He laughed, “Are you eavesdropping?”

“Maybe.”

“Haven’t you heard it’s not polite?” he joked, “So I saw you out there with Mary.”

I nodded and explained to him what I discussed with Mary, “Susan looks lazy; she’ll never be one with Woody if she isn’t serious about it.”

“How do you know she needs to work out more?”

“It’s what I needed when I was her age.”

He nodded, “You’re pretty remarkable at what you do you know?”

I faced the ground, “So is everyone else in the business.”

“I don’t think so. You don’t realize it but I could see how happy you were just helping Mary out. I mean Mary didn’t even know what to do.”

“She did, she just needed a little help. She would have figured it out eventually.”

“But you knew right away,” he pointed out, “Come on Jen, you know you can’t give up training. Stop being stubborn and talk to your dad.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Then I will,” he said.

I looked at him, “Excuse me?”

“You heard me; I will tell him that you have been training.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Yeah I would because I believe he will understand.”

“You do that and you won’t have a job here,” I said with attitude.

“I don’t believe that,” he said drawing near to me.

“Want to bet?” I asked backing away from him.

“Yeah actually, I do,” he said backing me up until I reached the back of the stall, “I will call your bluff any day.”

“What makes you think I am bluffing?”

“You like me too much to let me go,” he said putting one of his hands on my waist.

I shook my head, “I think you like me too much to ruin our friendship.”

“It wouldn’t be ruining out friendship if I make your dad understand this is your life.”

“Yes it would, because it would prove that I can’t trust you.”

“So you trust me not to look at you when taking your shirt off but you don’t trust that I can convince your dad?”

I hated him for mentioning that night again, especially that intimate moment in the context that he used it in.

I pushed him away as I walked away, “You’re an ass.”

Jesse knew he was pushing my buttons, “No I am not. I just care about you.”

“That’s why did you had to bring last night up again? You think if I was sober I would have really done that?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know.”

I laughed, “Trust me; I wouldn’t, especially not with you.”

Jesse backed off, “Fine, you win. I won’t say anything.”

“Thank you,” I said leaving him alone.

Surprises (11)

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.

“Trust who?”

“Eric,” he said, “Why didn’t you tell him the truth?”

“What 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?”

“No!”

“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.

“Yes.”

“Well, can I talk to you?”

“Do you need a day off?” I asked.

“No.”

“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.

Amends (12)

The next morning Susan came to go running again, we were at forty minutes without stopping. I could do an hour but I had to slowly get Susan into it. Over the past week she went from twenty to forty and it showed in the strength of her legs.

“Do you like my brother?” she asked me.

I smiled, “Your brother and I are friends.”

“Are you sure you are only friends?” she said as we walked into the barn.

I nodded, “At least that is what I think we are.”

“Well just so you know, I think it would be pretty cool if you guys were more than friends.”

I smiled, “Thank you. Your brother loves you. He talks about you sometimes.”

I could see her eyes brighten, “He is a really sweet guy.”

“I know he is,” I admitted, “and I like him.”

“That’s good because I think he is going to ask you out.”

I shook my head, “Alright get out of here. Take a break, be back in an hour.”

“An hour?” she asked, “Mary usually is training a different horse still at that time.”

“I know,” I said, “But you have a new trainer.”

Her eyes brightened, “You?”

I nodded, “If that is okay with you?”

“Yes, that is better than okay.”

“Alright, then be back here in an hour.”

I couldn’t keep the smile off my face, I was excited, I was thrilled, I had so much energy in my system and I couldn’t help but jump for joy.

“Someone is in a good mood,” Jesse scared me.

I swallowed as I questioned whether he was in the stall the whole time, hearing the conversation I had with Susan.

I nodded walking towards the stall, “Yeah, I’m pretty happy.”

“That’s good,” he said walking out of the stall, “I better get back to work.”

I sighed not knowing what to say. Things were weird between us and I didn’t know how to fix it. It was my fault, Jesse tried to apologize but I pushed him away.

When I turned around Jesse was behind me, “Oh geeze, are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

I hoped that would break the spell we were under but it didn’t.

“Can I take my half day today?” he asked.

I frowned and nodded, “Yeah, of course.”

He nodded, “Thanks.”

I locked myself in the office until Susan was back trying to think of a way to tell Jesse I was sorry.

As I walked out with Susan I called to Jesse, “Do you have an hour?”

He thought about it and walked over, “For what?”

“I need your help,” I said.

“Doing what?”

“Shifting the jumps in the ring, I would do it but I want to show Susan…”

He cut me off, “Don’t need to explain, I will do it.”

He walked into the ring as I rolled my eyes thinking it was going to be harder to make things normal between us than I thought.

I grabbed Snowflake and rode him into the ring, “Okay, look at my posture.”

Susan analyzed me for a couple moments then tried to place herself the way I was.

I called out to her, “I want your toes to be facing the sky and I want you to lean forward without bending your back.”

Susan did as I said, “Okay now lift your weight off the horse and put your weight into your legs. The less weight you have on Woody, the higher he is going to jump.”

Susan did as I said, “It hurts.”

“Good, it is supposed to hurt,” I said as I caught Jesse’s eyes.

“I want you to follow Snowflake okay?”

I gave him a small squeeze which was all he needed to break out into a nice trot. I brought him over the first jump which was the lowest level. I turned around to see Susan clear the jump. I brought Snowflake to the second jump which was an inch taller and Susan cleared that one to but then her position began to get sloppy again, “Keep your position. I don’t care if it hurts, it will hurt less the more you do it.”

Susan picked up her position and continued to follow me over the last jump, which she also cleared.

I dismounted from my horse and told Susan to get off too, “You are not working with Woody. You guys need to be one, you need to move together. You need to trust your horse, he knows when to jump, he will go, you don’t need to pull on his reins or squeeze him tighter, we trained him already, and you just have to ride him.”

Susan frowned, she needed to be pushed.

“Okay, get back on and let me see you do it again.”

I brought Snowflake to the side and stood next to Jesse not saying a word. I watched Susan clear the jumps but again she was pulling on the reins.

I sighed and whispered to Jesse, “She’s pulling on his reins again.”

Jesse didn’t say a word.

I shook my head, “Do it again,” as she began I could see her tensing up, “Loosen up your reins.”

As she brought the horse to me she looked frustrated, “I don’t know what the problem is. We are doing the jumps.”

“Yeah you are,” I said, “because it’s practically the lowest level. Once you lift the jumps up, you are not going to clear them.”

“I think we will; can we just try it?”

I looked at Jesse, “Put them up.”

He brought all the jumps up two inches and came back to stand next to me.

“Do you think she can do it?” he asked.

“No,” I said with attitude, “She’s trying too hard.”

“Not everyone can be like you,” Jesse pointed out.
As we watched, Susan didn’t clear any of the three jumps, “Okay so maybe we didn’t clear them but maybe it’s Woody.”

“Woody is fine, Mary jumped him last week, a lot higher than that.”

I thought about it, “Look you have to want this Susan, more than anything.”

“I do!” she protested.

“Do you trust him?” I asked.

She nodded, “Yes.”

“Okay, then Jesse can you bring one of the jumps back down, maybe the first one?”

Once he left I faced Susan, “Give me your reins.”

“What?” she asked.

“Give me your reins,” I repeated.

Susan dropped them to her side as Jesse returned by my side.

I removed the reins so she was left with nothing to hold, “I want you to jump the first jump.”

“I don’t have any reins to steer him.”

“Exactly, do it with your legs. Your problem is you don’t trust Woody, when you get to a jump you pull on his reins and in doing so you are pushing all your weight down on him.”

Susan tried to steer with her legs, “I don’t know what I am doing.”

“If you want him to go right then put your weight in your right foot. Same thing if you want to go left. When you are about to jump, let him lead you.”

I watched as Susan struggled, “This horse doesn’t know which way to go,” she dismounted, “Maybe this was a mistake. Mary was getting so much further with me.”

I bit my lip, “Mary is the one who told me your problem, so if you want to win ribbons you will just listen to me.”

Jesse cleared his throat, “Why don’t you show her how to do it?”

I huffed and faced Susan, “Do you want to try it following me?”

She nodded, “Fine.”

I took the reins off of Snowflake and gave them to Jesse, “Okay, watch first.”

I brought Snowflake in a tight circle before moving him towards the jump. I should have practiced this before but I didn’t know I would need to do this. This was the way my mother taught me to trust a horses instincts. As we headed for the jump I brought my hands to my side and lifted my weight off of Snowflake as he took off for the jump.

“Your turn,” I said.

Susan continued to struggle but after a couple minutes she mirrored exactly what I did. On the other side of the jump she lost balance for a moment which was normal. I smiled as I knew she could do it.

“Did you feel that?” I asked.

She smiled back at me, “Wow.”

“I know,” I said knowing the feeling, “Now do it again.”

I got her to do it ten more times until she made the jump perfect without reins. Then I hooked the reins back onto the halter and gave them to her, “I want to see the same thing now. You have the reins in your hand but that shouldn’t change the way you ride. Pretend you have nothing in your hands.”

She nodded as I went on, “Wait,” I faced Jesse, “Put them all the way up.”

He squinted, “Are you sure?”

I nodded, “Oh yeah!”

At first Susan looked doubtful but after clearing the first one, the others were a breeze. I began to clap when she came back. She jumped down and gave me a hug.

“That is what I am talking about,” I said grinning, “Now, if you do that when you are in a competition, you are not only going to be as good as I am, you are going to be better.”

“I doubt that. Thank you so much,” she said hugging me again.

“That was incredible,” Eric called from behind.

“You saw?” Susan asked.

He walked into the ring, “I was here the whole time, I just showed myself when you were done, I didn’t want to distract anybody.”

This is exactly what I missed about training, I missed having a break through because the feeling I get when it happens is unexplainable.

Eric spontaneously grabbed me in a hug catching me off guard but I was too excited not to wrap my arms around him.

“I can’t believe you got her to do that, I thought she was going to tell you off at any moment.”

I laughed and widened my eyes, “I thought she was too. Sometimes that’s all someone needs though, a little push.”

“Well, I am glad,” he said, “Hey listen, I was wondering, do you maybe want to go out tonight?”

I glanced at Jesse whose eyes were on me, then glanced at Susan who winked making me smiled and nod, “Yeah, sounds good.”

He smiled, “Pick you up at seven?”

“Perfect,” I replied as I watched the two of them leave.

Once they were gone I turned to smile at Jesse who was already on his way to the barn. I frowned not knowing why Eric always had the worst possible timing.

Jesse punched out at twelve without saying goodbye. I only knew because he walked right past my office.

I ran to catch up to him, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second.”

He nodded standing still, “What?”

I took a deep breath, “Thank you.”

He acted as if he didn’t know what to say, “I didn’t do anything. I was only doing my job.”

“I’m not talking about that,” I said, “My dad told me.”

Jesse’s eyes dropped to the ground, “I wish he didn’t.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Am I fired?”

I shook my head, “Would I be thanking you if you were?”

“Good point.”

I took a couple steps closer to him, “I am sorry.”

Now he looked up, “For what?”

“Not listening to you when you were trying to apologize.”

He nodded, “I really am sorry.”

“I know,” I said, “I just, I was angry. You once told me you wanted to know everything and I guess I wanted to know everything too but you are right, it was none of my business.”

He sighed, “Look, you have nothing to be sorry for. I just, I don’t like talking about some things.”

“Why?” I asked, “Oh, sorry. Forget I asked that.”

“It’s okay, remember you once told me that some things just hurt you too much to talk about?” when I nodded he went on, “It’s sort of like that.”

“I guess I just wanted to be there for you the way you were there for me but you didn’t let me so I got angry with you.”

“So maybe we are both at fault a little bit.”

I smiled, “So are we okay?”

He nodded, “Can we go back to normal?”

“I would like that.”

“So then, you still like my eyes right?” he winked.

I jokingly frowned and punched him lightly on the shoulder, “You are never going to let me live that down are you?”

He shook his head, “Nope. It is not every day a girl tells me I have nice eyes. To make you feel better though, I think what you did out there with Susan was pretty great.”

“Pretty great?” I asked.

“It was inconceivable.”

“That’s better! So where are you going?”

“Just have a few errands to run,” he said not realizing how abrupt the reply was.

I realized I had to accept the fact that he wasn’t the type of guy who openly gave you his life story, “Okay well I guess I will see you tomorrow.”

“Have fun tonight.”

“Tonight?” I asked.

“Your date,” he confirmed.

“Oh,” I bit my lip, “I already forgot.”

He laughed, “Figures.”

“Are you jealous?” I asked curiously.

He laughed, “Why would I be jealous? He has to listen to you all night.”

My mouth dropped, deep down my feelings were hurt but I knew he was only joking, “You really are a piece of work. I don’t know why I put up with you.”

“Neither do I,” he winked.

As I watched him get into his car I walked up to it and tapped on the window.

When he rolled it down I smiled, “It didn’t work.”

“What didn’t?”

“I tried not to care, but I couldn’t. I hated not talking to you and feeling like you were mad at me.”

“I wasn’t mad at you; I don’t think I could ever be mad at you. I just didn’t know what to do,” I admitted, “but I didn’t stop thinking about you.”

“Me neither.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow!”

The rest of the afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder what Jesse was thinking. I wanted so desperately to know how he felt. I liked him, I really did but I also liked Eric and with Eric I felt like he was an open book. However Jesse was more mysterious. Eric I knew liked me; Jesse kept giving me mixed signals. Eric asked me out. Jesse said he couldn’t stop thinking about me but wasn’t doing anything about it.

So as I went out with Eric, I didn’t think of Jesse. I wanted to see what it was like to go out on a date with Eric without having any thoughts of Jesse. I wanted to see what it would be like to have a guy tell me I was beautiful and hold my hand, which Eric did.

Eric had to be one of the best dates I’ve ever been on; the only problem was I couldn’t stop thinking about Jesse. I couldn’t stop wishing it was Jesse who I was on this date with. I had to keep telling myself not to think of Jesse.

At the same time, I was having a good time, so maybe I didn’t know what I wanted after all. What I did know was, Eric was doing something about his feelings and Jesse wasn’t.

When Eric brought me home, he opened the car door for me, walked me to the door and when he tried to give me a good night kiss, I didn’t pull away.

Can You Read Me? (13)

The next morning I couldn’t stop thinking about Eric. I couldn’t stop thinking about the way he rubbed his thumb on my hand as he held it or the way he smiled every time I spoke.

I was tired from the late night but I forced myself to get up at eight.

In the barn Jesse was mucking out the stalls, “How was your date?”

“It was good,” I said.

“That’s it? It was good.”

“Well we took a stroll in town, held hands and when he took me home he kissed me good night,” I said giving him a glimpse of my night.

“A kiss on the first date?” he asked.

“I usually don’t but he deserved it.”

I could see the skepticism on his face. The thrill was that I wasn’t lying about it.

“What did he do to deserve it?”

“He had the guts to ask me out,” I said smugly as I went to get a rake.

“So is there a second date?”

“I don’t know,” I glanced at him, “Why?”

“Just wondering.”

“Are you sure you are not jealous?”

He shook his head, “Me? Jealous? I don’t get jealous, especially over you.”

“Ouch!”

“Are you working with Woody today?”

“Yeah, they should be here soon.”

Around nine Eric and Susan showed up in the barn. Eric placed his hand on my waist as he kissed me on the cheek.

As I watched Susan and Woody bond and get better, Eric and I continued to get to know each other. Jesse and I continued to joke around, but it wasn’t the way it was earlier this summer. We chatted everyday but always about irrelevant and repetitive things until Friday night rolled around.

“What are you doing tonight?” Jesse asked, “Are you going out with your boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend… yet,” I pointed out, “and no we are not.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“I told him I was tired, which I am. What about you?”

“I’m feeling sort of tired too so I will probably just go home.”

I didn’t want him to leave, “Can you teach me?”

“Teach you what?”

“How to read people?”

He smiled, “You want me to teach you to read people?”

“Yes,” I clarified, “The way you can.”

“Why?”

“Maybe I want to read you,” I said, “and Eric, and my father. It could come in pretty handy I think.”

“Okay, but I can’t do it here,” he said.

“Why not?”

“You can only learn how to read people when you are out in public.”

“Okay so let’s go somewhere.”

“I thought you were tired.”

“The truth is I’m not that tired. I just didn’t want to go out with him tonight, not on a date. I don’t feel like dressing up and making sure I say all the right things.”

Jesse tried not to smile, “You are crazy but alright, let’s go out.”

I told my father I was going out and met Jesse at his car as he opened the door for me. We drove most of the way in silence but once we got to town and entered a café he began to talk.

“Okay, so see that couple over there?” he said as I nodded, “He is so not into her. He’s only there because he wants to screw her.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “That is harsh.”

“I know but it’s the truth.”

“Okay so how do you know that?”

“He’s not even looking at her when she’s talking. He’s playing with his hands instead of holding hers and his eyes keep lingering, not on her eyes.”

As I watched him I noticed everything he said was right, “Okay what about that couple?”

“They are in love,” he said.

“They are not holding hands,” I questioned.

“I know but their whole body position is saying otherwise. Look at how he is sitting, leaning towards her, in a couple seconds he will reach for her hand.”

He was right, “Wow,” I faced him, “How did you learn this?”

“I met a lot of people when I was travelling, a lot of scam artists so I just kept my eyes out for people just like them.”

“Alright so what about Eric?”

“What about him?” he asked.

“Is he really into me?”

“I wouldn’t know; I haven’t spent much time with him.”

“I am sure you have seen us together,” I pointed out, “What does his body language say?”

He sighed, “He likes you and clearly you like him.”

“I like everyone,” I said.

“This is how I see it, you have been on what, four official dates? One more and he is going to ask you to be his girlfriend. So why didn’t you want to go out with him tonight?”

“Do I have to have a reason?”

“Yes!”

“Okay well I am not sure if I want to be his girlfriend.”

“Why not? You guys are already kissing, holding hands and whatever else you are doing. You might as well just be a couple.”

“Maybe we should.”

“Okay so it’s your turn. Why don’t you try reading that girls mind over there?”

I looked at her, “She looks lonely.”

“What else?”

I watched as she glanced across the room to the guy sitting on his own, “and she is so into that guy.”

“It’s all about what you see, I can’t actually read minds. Anyone who takes time to see what is in front of them will see the truth.”

I smiled as I leaned closer to him, “So what am I thinking right now?”

He watched me for a couple minutes, “I’m not getting anything right now.”

“I’m thinking I want to go home.”

He nodded as we headed towards the car. Again he opened the door for me.

“Thank you,” I said before getting in.

I wondered what he was thinking as he drove me home so I asked him, “What are you thinking?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“I think you are thinking about getting home so you can get to bed.”

He laughed, “Yeah, that has crossed my mind.”

As we got home he walked me to the door. He played with his keys as they jingled by his side.

“Now you are either nervous or bored.”

He stopped playing with his keys, “Maybe it wasn’t such a smart idea to share my talent with you.”

“So which is it?” I asked.

“I’ll never tell,” he said drawing near.

I shook my head.

“So what are you going to tell Eric?”

“About what?”

“When he asks you to be his girlfriend?”

“See, I’m getting the impression that you are jealous,” I nudged him.

He grabbed me by the waist and pulled me into him, “and I say you are wrong.”

“I say you’re bluffing.”

“I say you might be right.”

I didn’t expect his response. He brought his cheek to mine and his hand slid up my arm. I closed my eyes as I felt his hot breath against my ear. He put his hand behind my neck and tilted my head to look into his eyes.

He glared into my eyes before pulling away; he dropped his hands by his side and took a step back.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he simply said before taking off.

I was left standing on the porch for a while confused. I didn’t understand what happened, I didn’t know if I missed something, or if I did something wrong. Finally I went inside still feeling the touch of his cheek against mine and his arm around me. I frowned as I couldn’t stop seeing the image of him pull away. What sort of mixed signal was that?

He was about to kiss me, I know he was. Maybe he felt wrong knowing I was dating Eric, which in a way was a good thing.

Eric and I were not meant to be, if we were, I wouldn’t have been hoping that Jesse would have kissed me.

So now the only thing left to do was to tell Eric how I felt. I dialed his number and we began to talk…

Once we got off the phone, I felt relieved. He wasn’t angry; he said we could still be friend which I was looking forward to.

I didn’t tell Eric it was because I was in love with someone else; I didn’t want to hurt him that way. He was a really good guy and the last thing I wanted was to ruin a perfectly good friendship.

Anniversary (14)

The next day I woke up early and brought a mug of coffee out to Jesse. He smiled as he accepted it.

“So, I told Eric that I wouldn’t be his girlfriend.”

“Why would you do that?” he asked surprised.

“You were wrong last night,” I pointed out, “I like him but not the way he likes me.”

“You told him that?”

“Basically,” I nodded.

“I guess if you are not into the guy then you made a good decision.”

I sighed as I noticed that he was pretending what happened the night before didn’t happen. I also noted that he had no intention of asking me out.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he lied.

“Fine,” I said, “You’re acting weird again, just so you know, so before we get into an argument, I will just leave.”

“Nothing personal,” he called after me.

“I don’t care!”

I bit my lip as I closed the door to my office. Why was he acting like nothing happened? Why was he acting like he didn’t care that I was officially single? Why was he acting like he didn’t care about me? He was driving me crazy.

The day went by slowly with Jesse avoiding me. Around five, Jesse punched out and came over to watch as I was helping Luca train another horse.

“Jen,” he called over the gate.

“I’m fine here,” Luca said, “Go see what he wants.”

I met him by the gate, “Leaving?”

“Yeah, just wanted to say good bye.”

“Alright, I will see you later.”

“Later?”

I rolled my eyes, “It’s just a saying.”

As Monday rolled around I woke up with tears in my eyes. I had four missed calls from Sara already, as I always had on this day. I rolled around in bed as I looked at the picture on my nightstand of my mother and I. Today was the anniversary of her death.

My father brought my breakfast, “Are you going to get up today?”

“I don’t think so,” I admitted.

Every year on this day I spent the day in bed, I would watch all her favourite movies and eat her favourite chocolates; it became tradition. It was the one day I let myself miss her with an intensity that I held in every other day of the year.

“Okay,” my father knew the routine, “I will bring you something to eat a little later.”

“Thank you dad.”

I got up and put my mom’s favourite movie into the DVD player for the television in my room. During the movie I went to go look outside, I spotted Jesse saddling Woody up so that Susan could ride him. It was hot so I took off my pants and got back into bed. I wore one of my mother’s favourite t-shirts as I clutched my teddy bear tightly.

Around noon my father came to bring me lunch, “Jesse asked about you.”

“What did you tell him?”

“The truth.”

“What did he say?” I asked.

“He didn’t reply.”

I continued to eat chocolate and watch movies until supper time. It wasn’t my dad who brought my dinner, it was Jesse.

I quickly got under the covers as I was sitting on top and my legs were very visible. He watched as I slid under the covers, trying not to look.

“Hi,” he said placing a plate on the bed stand.

“Hi,” I repeated wanting to be left alone.

“I missed you today,” he said.

“I’m not feeling too hot.”

“You don’t need to make up an excuse, I understand.”

I looked to the sky as I felt a lump in my throat, “Thank you for bringing me food but I just want to be left alone.”

“I know,” he said coming to take a seat on my bed, “But like I said, I missed you all day today.”

He put his arm around me and pulled me into him letting me cry on his shoulder, “Just let it out.”

“I’m sorry,” I said after a few minutes, “It’s been like that all day. One minute I am fine and the next I break down. I know I shouldn’t after all these years. Every year I tell myself I am not going to cry but it never ends up going according to plan.”

“I know how you feel.”

“You do?”

“Remember I told you about my friend Jessica? She died, she had a tumor in her brain and they didn’t catch it soon enough.”

“I’m sorry,” I looked up at him as he wiped my tear away.

“I miss her too sometimes, she was my best friend.”

“I’m just afraid to do anything on this day, I feel like if I get out then it’s like I am forgetting her and I never want her to think that.”

“She will never think that, she loved you. She only wants you to be happy.”

“Sorry I didn’t help you out today.”

“No worries,” he said, “But it wasn’t the same.”

“It wasn’t the same for me either,” I admitted, “But I suddenly feel a little bit better now that you are here.”

“Good, because I want to be here with you.”

“You must think I am crazy, crying like this after all these years.”

“I think you’re stronger than anyone I know.”

“You’re only saying that because you don’t know many people,” I tried to laugh.

I lay my head on his shoulder as I closed my eyes. Every once and in a while I felt Jesse run his hand through my hair which gave me goose bumps.

“How long ago did Jessica die?” I asked.

“Five years ago.”

“Well, she was really lucky to have you as a friend.”

“I was really lucky to have her as a friend.”

“Tell me about her,” I asked.

“She could make me laugh when I was down, she would always get me in trouble, she was the first one I went to when I had a secret and she was the last one I spoke to before I went to bed.”

“She sounds amazing.”

“I wish you could have met her,” he said, “You would have loved her.”

“I think I would have.”

“Then again, I feel lucky to know you right now.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

“You sort of remind me of her you know?”

“How?”

“Just the way we joke around sometimes, I feel comfortable around you, the way I did with her.”

“Not really,” I pointed out, “You haven’t told me your secrets yet.”

He frowned, “I knew her my whole life and it pretty much took me my whole life to tell her my secrets, but I don’t have many.”

I sighed, “Do you think you will ever trust me the way you trusted her?”

“It’s not about trust,” he said cupping my face to look into his eyes, “It’s about judgment.”

“What does that even mean?”

“I don’t want you to judge me; I don’t want to ruin whatever it is that you feel for me.”

“I wouldn’t judge you,” I countered.

He huffed as he kept one hand on my cheek, “There really are no interesting secrets.”

“They don’t have to be interesting,” I said trying to get him to open up.

He leaned against the wall of the bed, “One day,” he stared, “I’ll share everything with you.”

I smiled, “I have secrets too you know?”

“Oh really?” he winked.

“But I already told them to you,” I grinned.

Jesse kissed the top of my forehead, “Okay, I will tell you one, but then you can’t bug me about my secrets anymore alright?”

I nodded, “But it has to be a good one.”

He laughed and brought his lips to my ear, “I had to repeat grade twelve because I failed three courses.”

I looked at him seriously, “Really?”

He nodded, “I am not proud of it but I was quite the rebel in my teen years and I didn’t really care much about my future, until I failed that is.”

I smiled, “Your secret is safe with me.”

“I know,” he smiled, “That is why I told you.”

Crossed signals (15)

“What are you doing tonight?” Jesse asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

“It’s a Saturday night,” he pointed out.

“I guess you missed the part where I told you that I am not dating Eric anymore.”

It had almost been a week since Jesse lifted my spirits on the anniversary of my mother’s death, the days after we did everything together. We mucked out one stall after another, he would stay with me as I trained and I gave him a few more horseback riding lessons.

“Well, I was wondering if you would like to go out tonight, maybe for dinner or to watch a movie.”

“Like a date?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No, you can invite Sara if you want.”

“She’s already busy.”

“Okay well are you still free?”

“Am I really your last choice?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “You are my first.”

I smiled, “I’m in. Should I dress in any particular way?”

He shook his head, “Wear whatever you like.”

“Are you okay?” I asked, “You seemed a little down today. Did I do something?”

“You didn’t do anything but put a smile on my face, I’ll tell you tonight.”

I waved him off as I went to go work with Luca some more. I went in a little while later to shower and change. I decided to curl my hair and wear a sundress with hooped earrings.

When Jesse came to pick me up he knocked on the front door, instead of saying hello, he grinned, “Wow. You look great when you are not covered in hay.”

I laughed because I knew he was joking, “Where are you taking me?”

“It’s a surprise,” he said as he opened the car door for me.

Once he got in the car I asked, “So what’s going on?”

“It’s my birthday.”

“Why didn’t you say something earlier? I would have let you take the day off,” I asked.

“Because it is not a big deal, I just didn’t want to be alone tonight.”

“Well, I am glad you asked me out then.”

He took me to a restaurant I’ve never ate at before and we got a table on the patio, “I chose to sit out here so you can see the stars.”

I smiled, “It’s perfect.”

After we took our orders Jesse grabbed my hand from across the table and I accepted his touch, “You deserve to know a little bit about me.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want me to know.”

“I want you to know me,” he said, “So about the time when I freaked out on you about my family, there is more to the story. I haven’t seen them in two years because I don’t want to go back home. There are a lot of bad memories there that I have, especially of Jessica’s death and some other things that are not important, they are just a part of my past that I left behind. I’ve been trying to get my parents to come see me, to move with me but they won’t. They won’t even come visit, so I get frustrated sometimes.”

“You want them to move around with you every time you travel?” I asked.

“No, I want them to move here,” he said, “I like it here, at least for now. I don’t know if I will stay here forever but for now this is the place I would like to call home.”

“Why don’t they want to come visit?” I asked.

“They say they will, but they always end up cancelling. I don’t know what to tell you because I don’t know what there excuses are.”

“It’s your birthday, have they phoned you?”

“My brother did, he wished me a happy birthday and said my parents wish me one too but they didn’t personally say it. My family and I aren’t that close so I don’t usually like talking about them, no matter how much I may miss them sometimes.”

“Alright,” I said, “So let’s not talk about them tonight. It’s your birthday and I think we should only talk about things that make you smile.”

“Then tell me something about you because right now I am mesmerized by how beautiful you are,” he said catching me off guard.

I bit my lip, “I love watching Hockey, I know that may surprise you but I do.”

“Really?” he said, “I didn’t take you to be the sports type of girl.”

“What do you think horseback riding is?” I asked.

“I just never placed horseback riding under sports, I don’t know why.”

I laughed, “Oh and I love eating apples with peanut butter.”

“That sounds gross,” he wrinkled his nose.

Our dishes came shortly after and we both took our time eating.

“I love shoes,” I giggled, “I could spend all day in a shoe store.”

“Don’t all girls like shoes?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Maybe, if it was up to me I would wear sandals every day.”

“That wouldn’t go well working with horses,” he commented.

“No, but I would be fashionable,” I grinned.

“Can’t argue with you there.”

“Hmm, what else can I tell you?” I thought about it as I watched him take a bite out of his pizza, “Gum. I can chew gum all day.”

He laughed, “What happens when the flavor runs out?”

“Well, it doesn’t. I discovered something. When your gum tastes like nothing, you drink water and the coldness hardens the gum right? So when you start chewing it again, somehow, don’t ask me how, but it gets the flavor back.”

“Are you pulling my leg?”

“I’m actually serious. You should try it one day.”

He laughed, “I am so glad that you were not busy tonight.”

“Me too. So am I doing a good job?”

He nodded, “Yes, you are definitely keeping this smile on my face.”

“Good, because I like your smile,” I blushed.

He winked, “First my eyes, then my smile, what else do you like about me?”

I widened my eyes, “That’s pretty much it actually.”

He pretended to be hurt, “You see this hole in my heart?”

“I put it there right?” I asked.

He nodded, “Yup.”

“Well maybe, just maybe, if you are nice to me, I might just heal it.”

I faced my plate as I felt Jesse’s eyes on me. I brought my eyes to his and for the longest moment neither one of us spoke.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked.

“How am I looking at you?”

“Like you are studying me.”

“I’m just thinking.”

“About?”

“You.”

“Nothing bad I hope.”

“Can anyone possibly have anything bad to say about you?”

“You’d be surprised,” I commented.

“I promise I am not thinking anything bad.”

“Care to share what you are thinking then?”

“I am just thinking about how things work. I mean, when you least expect something to happen it does. I never once thought I would meet someone like you when I came here.”

“Someone like me?” I asked.

“Yeah, someone like you.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said honestly, “That is what I am thinking about, I am trying to figure it out. This was never in my plans. I’m a traveler; I don’t like to stay in one place.”

“Sometimes plans need to be broken, or maybe changed,” I said.

“Do you think that’s a good thing?”

“I like to think it is,” I said, “Otherwise I would always be depressed.”

He nodded, “Would you give something up to follow your dreams?”

I thought about it, “I think it depends on what I would have to give up.”

“What wouldn’t you give up for let’s say training since I know that is your pride and joy?”

“That’s a hard question Jesse. Training is what I do, it’s what I am good at, it’s who I am but it’s not my life. At the same time if I gave it up, I might be unhappy.”

“Hypothetically speaking though,” he said, “Would you give up watching television?”

“Without a doubt,” I said, “Okay, hypothetically speaking, I would give everything up for training except for three things.”

“What’s that?”

“Faith, family,” I looked up, “and love.”

He smiled, “Love?”

“Well, once I find it,” I played with my fork.

“What is your greatest fear?” he asked.

“I have two but my first is getting sick,” I said.

“Everyone gets sick.”

“I mean getting cancer like my mother,” I looked up at him and saw sadness in his eyes, “I think about it a lot actually. It’s bound to happen at some point, it’s genetic. I just hope I’ve had enough time to live my life.”

“Just because it’s genetic doesn’t mean you are going to get it.”

“I know but I’d rather get it than have my children get it someday.”

“Your children?” he asked, “You’re twenty one and you are already thinking about children?”

“I’m a girl, we think about having kids when we are teenagers,” I sighed, “You’re twenty seven as of, today, shouldn’t you be thinking about it too?”

“I didn’t say I haven’t.”

“No, you didn’t,” I agreed.

He reached over and put his hand on top of mine, “Selfishly speaking, I would rather it be you to not get cancer.”

I smiled, “I get scared sometimes when I think of it. My mom died when she was thirty eight but she had cancer for five years before that. Technically you could get it at any time but I don’t know.”

He squeezed my hand, “Okay, don’t think about that. You are healthy and young and beautiful so you should not worry about what may never happen.”

I smirked as he said I was beautiful, “What is your worst fear?”

He thought about it, “Losing the people that I love.”

I nodded, “Your family?”

“Them included,” he said without elaborating.

“Well, as a friend speaking because I can’t speak for your family, you won’t lose me, unless you royally do something that causes me not to trust you,” I grinned, “But I think we have a pretty good understanding of each other already.”

“So what is your second?”

I sighed, “Falling in love.”

“Why is that a fear?”

“Being in love with someone gives them the power to hurt you.”

“I guess you have a point,” he agreed, “But anyone can hurt you.”

“I know. It would just hurt more coming from someone you really love.”

“But you have fallen in love before…”

“That’s why I’m fearful of giving love another shot, I don’t want a repeat of my last relationship.”

“Well any guy would be crazy not to treat you well.”

“Sometimes it’s not a matter of treating one well, it’s about whether or not they share the same mentality, share the same beliefs and want the same things.”

“Like I said, anyone would be crazy to do anything that would break your heart, especially because it’s so pure.”

I tried not to laugh, “I’m no saint.”

“I never said you were,” he pointed out, “I just think you deserve someone who will make you happy, someone who will take care of you.”

I looked into his green eyes, “I think everyone deserves that.”

He nodded as he looked at his watch, “Are you ready to go?”

I pulled out my wallet but he stopped me as he paid the bill.

As we walked out hand in hand I kissed him on the cheek, “Thank you.”

“It’s the least I could do.”

I shook my head, “What are you talking about? You’ve done so much for me without even knowing it.”

“Do you want ice cream?”

“It’s your birthday, do you?”

He nodded, “I can never say no to ice cream.”

“Okay but let it be my treat please? It’s your birthday and I want to at least get you that.”

He nodded, “Okay, I think I can let you do that.”

We walked to the little ice cream parlor and got the ice cream to go. We sat on the bench outside the shop as we continued to talk and ask random questions.

“Favourite colour?” he asked.

“Purple!”

“Orange for me,” he commented.

As we walked back to the truck, which was one of the two cars in the parking lot he grabbed me by the waist and pulled me into his arms.

“Dance with me?”

“There’s no music,” I said.

He turned his truck on and turned the radio on low, “Now there’s music.”

I wrapped my arms around his neck as we began to go around in small slow circles, “At least I am sober this time.”

He let out a laugh, “At least Eric is not here to dance with you first.”

“I did ask you to dance with me first you know?”

“I know and I’ve regretted saying no ever since.”

I didn’t reply but put my head on his shoulder. I barely noticed when the tempo of the music changed; I barely noticed that we were no longer dancing but standing still. I let out a sigh as I took a step back. Jesse caressed my cheek never removing his eyes off of mine.

“I’m falling in love with you Jesse,” I whispered.

Jesse didn’t say anything, he simply smiled. He then opened the car door for me and drove me home. In the car, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. There were two possible reasons as to why Jesse didn’t say anything. Either he didn’t feel the same or he did and didn’t feel it was necessary to say those words or any words at all. I thought he was going to kiss me for a second time, but he didn’t.

Jesse intertwined his fingers through mine as we headed towards the door.

“I had a nice night,” Jesse said.

“Nice?”

I couldn’t quite read the expression on his face, “It was marvelous, extraordinary, terrific, all of the above.”

He made me laugh, “Good to know, the last half hour I wasn’t so sure about it.”

He inhaled sharply as he grabbed me into his arms and dipped me bringing me up slowly with his head buried in my neck, and then he whispered, “It’s the best night I’ve spent with anyone since I got here.”

He moved his lips to be near my ear as he went on, “It was the best night I’ve had in a long time.”

“Alright,” I said putting my hands on both sides of his face, “Next time tell me that.”

He nodded, “Okay I will.”

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?”

“Yes,” he said, “Thank you for not letting me spend my birthday alone.”

“You’re welcome,” I said putting my hand on his shoulder, “Anything else?”

He shook his head, “Nope.”

I frowned, “Are you sure?”

He winked, “Is there something in particular you want me to say?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Maybe.”

“Okay, let me think for a second. I said thank you, I told you what a great night I had, oh,” he pointed, “Did I tell you how beautiful you are?”

I blushed as he placed his hand behind my neck, “Yes you actually did.”

Just as I thought he was going to kiss me he removed his hand, “Oh I did? Okay then, oh I got it, I didn’t tell you how glad I am to be working for you.”

I sighed, “No, you didn’t but…”

“But?”

“I am glad you like it here but,” I thought about how I should say it, “What about us?”

“What about us?” he looked completely clueless.

I faced the floor trying to think, was it I who was a complete fool to think he was actually interested in me or was he seeing how far he could push my buttons? At this point I didn’t know.

“Nothing,” I shook my head, “I guess, I just thought,” I struggled for words, “Never mind.”

“Are you mad at me?”

I shook my head, “No, maybe I’m mad at myself.”

“Why?” he said grabbing my hand and bringing me to sit on the steps of the porch.

“Maybe I see things in people that aren’t really there.”

“That’s because you try to see the best in people.”

“Sometimes I just end up looking like a fool,” I knew he understood what I was referring to.

“I don’t think so,” he affirmed.

How could he keep holding my hand? Pulling me close? Making it appear as if he was going to kiss me yet didn’t? I was being unfair, it was his birthday and I was making it about me. I quickly put a smile on my face.

“Are you ever lonely?” I asked.

He nodded, “Sometimes, but not now.”

I smiled as I put my hand on his arm, “Sometimes I feel like I’m talking but people don’t really hear me. Then I met you and I feel like you hear me before I even speak, at least most of the times.”

“That’s because I do hear you.”

I lay my head on his shoulder as we watched the stars.

“Jen,” Jesse started.

I looked up at him, our faces inches away from each other. He ran his hand up my arm, all the way to my neck and inched closer. He stopped when we were threads away from each other. I opened my eyes to see his closed so I removed the rest of the distance by placing my lips on his. I took a chance! I brought my hand to be behind his head. It was a romantic kiss, yet it was filled with passion. I could feel Jesse’s lips move in rhythm with mine. It was disrupted however when Jesse pushed me away and stood up, confused as I was, I stood up too.

He stared into my eyes; I could see uncertainty, anticipation, yet a tint of regret. I didn’t know what to say, it suddenly felt like we were strangers. Slowly I turned away and began to walk up the steps. I let out my breath as I couldn’t comprehend why he pulled away after kissing me back. I thought he wanted to kiss me, I thought he was waiting for me, I thought he liked me. He led me on; he made me think I was special, that I was different. That’s what it came down to; he made me believe he liked me!

I kept my back to him as I pulled out my keys, I glimpsed at my watch, 12:30am.

“Jen,” he called out, “Wait.”

Slowly I turned around waiting for him to say something. He walked up to the steps and stopped a couple steps away.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

I shook my head, “No, I am!”

I put the keys in the door as Jesse went on, “Look, you’re beautiful and you’re smart and funny and everything a guy could ever want in a girl. I just…I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I questioned.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

“Isn’t that a little cliché?”

“No, yes, maybe,” he was all over the place, “I just.”

“Look, you don’t have to say anything. I know a look of regret when I see one. You don’t need to explain anything.”

I opened the front door and whispered, “I guess I read the signals wrong.”

With that I closed the door. I locked it and I lay my head against the door for the longest time.

I headed to bed shortly after, I wouldn’t cry! I had nothing to cry about, it was my fault. I made a mistake. I should have never have kissed him even if he led me on.

Unanticipated Visitor (16)

The last thing I wanted to do the next day was see Jesse, so I made sure I did some of the work in the barn in the morning before he arrived. Then I hibernated the rest of the day. I called Sara to come over but she was volunteering and promised to come by the next day.

My father and I were about to have dinner when someone knocked at the door.

I peeked out the peeping whole and ran to the kitchen, “I don’t want to talk to him so tell him I am not here or sick or whatever.”

“What happened?” he asked as he went to get the door.

“I made a fool of myself,” I sighed as went to hide behind the stairs.

“Hey Jesse,” my father said.

“Hey Joe, can I talk to Jennifer?”

“She’s not feeling too good,” my father lied for me, “I could give her message.”

“Can I see her anyways; maybe I could bring her dinner up to her?”

“You know what, I think she would love that but I think I hear the shower running.”

“So she’s avoiding me and she is getting you to cover for her,” Jesse finally said after a few moments, “Fine, just tell her I’ll see her tomorrow.”

“Wait,” my dad said, “Remember what I told you? I don’t want you to hurt my daughter.”

“I didn’t mean to,” he said, “I don’t even know if I did because evidently she doesn’t want to talk to me or even see me for that matter.”

“My daughter is stubborn,” I shook my head as I heard my dad speak, “But so are you from what I’ve been hearing from everyone.”

“I kissed her,” Jesse blurted out.

I covered my eyes with my hand as I couldn’t believe Jesse was talking to my father about this.

“Actually, she kissed me to be more exact,” Jesse said.

It took a while for my father to reply, “So what seems to be the problem?”

“Well, I kind of pulled away and I just, I need to talk to her Joe, I’m sorry if I hurt her but it was sudden and I didn’t know if kissing her was a smart thing to do.”

“Okay, I could stay here and chat with you all night about this but I get the feeling the person you really want to talk to is my daughter.”

“Can you maybe give me her cell number?” he asked, “I know, it sounds weird that I don’t have it but I’ve never had to call her before.”

I heard my dad recite the number, “Have a good night.”

“Thank you,” Jesse said, “and tell her I’m sorry.”

“I will.”

I climbed out from hiding, “You really had to give him my number?”

He nodded, “What happened?”

“I kissed him and he pushed me away as you already heard, then he couldn’t even explain himself and I felt like a complete idiot but I should have known because I told him I was falling in love with him and he didn’t even say anything. I’m so stupid to think a guy like him could ever fall for a girl like me.”

“I don’t think you should be ignoring him.”

“I’m not; I just had things to do inside.”

“Okay well, you know what you are doing, you also know how you feel.”

We had dinner in silence as my mind was wandering.

When I got to my room, I checked my cell phone; I already had five missed calls and one message from Jesse telling me to call him.

Sara came over the next day before noon and while Jesse was helping Mary with jumps, I saddled up Snowflake and Gerry soon after we headed out for a trail ride.

“So what’s going on?”

I told Sara what happened, “I knew you had a thing for him.”

“This isn’t exactly the time for I told you so’s.”

“Just talk to him, so what if he doesn’t want you the way you want him. It hurts but don’t show him you’re a runner, you’re not, you’re tough and you need to show him that he can’t get to you.”

I smiled, “This is why I called you.”

“It’s why you always do,” Sara pointed out.

“I know this sound weird but I sort of look up to you, you’re the one who gives me the push I need when I am down. My mom can’t but I know you will always have my back, I know I could count on you.”

“That means a lot to me,” Sara smiled, “and I will always be here for you.”

When we got back, Mary told me that Jesse took his half day.

The next morning I went out to the barn, Jesse wasn’t there yet and I went into my office to do some of the paper work.

“So is this how it is going to be?” Jesse showed himself into my office closing the door behind him, “You are going to avoid me?”

“I am not avoiding you.”

“So then where have you been the last two days?”

“Nowhere, I’ve been doing my work and I have been training.”

“I haven’t seen you train.”

“I’ve been doing it in the evening.”

“Why?”

“Because I have been busy during the days.”

“I’ve been calling you.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“So busy you couldn’t call me back?”

“Was there something you needed to talk to me about?” I asked.

“Yes!”

“Okay, well what is it?”

When he didn’t answer I walked out of the office and into the barn, “We can’t even act normal anymore?”

“This is actually pretty normal for us if you think about it.”

“I’m serious,” he grabbed my arm to stop me from walking.

“No,” I yelled, “We can’t be normal because if we do then I will continue to fall in love with you, which isn’t really a secret anymore. You know how embarrassing it is to throw yourself at a guy and have him reject you?” I asked.

“You didn’t throw yourself at me,” he said.

“Maybe not, but that was the first and the last time I am ever doing that. I kissed you,” I raised my voice, “Because I thought you were about to kiss me. What were you trying to do? Did you think that was the opportune moment to close your eyes and maybe dream or take a snooze? Did you think that was the perfect moment to...”

“Would you shut up already,” he said.

“Don’t talk to me like that,” I said getting offended, “I am your boss or have you forgotten that.”

He grabbed the hose that was on the ground and splashed me with water before dropping the hose to the ground, “You need to take a breather and relax. You can’t keep using that line on me every time you run out of things to say”

I was too angry with him to justify anything so I walked out of the barn. I could hear his footsteps behind me so I stopped walking and faced him. He had a smile on his face.

“You are so cute when you are angry,” he said coming over gliding his hand around my waist.

“Stop,” I pulled away, “What are you doing?”

“I have wanted to tell you something for the past two days.”

“What?”

Without hesitation, without searching to see who was looking, he kissed me. This time it was me who pushed him away.

“What do you think you are doing? Just because you’re not getting your way and things can’t go back to normal doesn’t mean I want you to fake things now to make things better. I will get over this don’t you worry.”

“I don’t want you to get over it because I am not faking. Look, I know how things might have seemed to you the other night but I don’t want to lose you and I haven’t had a friend like you in a really long time, so I just didn’t want to ruin our friendship. I was a complete fool to think pushing you away at that moment was for the best because I regretted it the moment you went inside. Then I started to think about leaving, I mean, what happens when winter rolls around and I can’t take the cold anymore? I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to do anything that would ruin us but the truth is I am in love with you and I should have told you a long time ago.”

At that I wasn’t sure what to respond.

“And for your information, no, you didn’t read the signals wrong. You read them perfectly correct.”

“You’re in love with me?” I asked.

He nodded, “Why is that so hard to believe?”

“Because you’ve got this bright future ahead of you with all the experience and education you have; this is what I do. I train horses.”

“You think there is something wrong with that? What about me? Why would a girl like you settle for a jerk like me who can’t even tell the girl he’s in love with how beautiful she is until he gets jealous because another guy is taking her out.”

“Good point,” I grinned, “Maybe you don’t have to leave.”

“No promises,” he said.

I nodded, “No regrets?”

“Definitely not. Well, I only regret not kissing you before Eric did.”

I grinned, “That was your fault. You wouldn’t dance with me from the start that night. If you did, I wouldn’t have even met him.”

“I’ve pretty much liked you since the moment I met you, I was attracted to the fact that you weren’t afraid to put me in my place.”

“Oh honey, I will always put you in your place.”

“Honey? I like that.”

I tried not to laugh, “Don’t worry about this friend’s thing Jesse. I don’t want to lose you as a friend either. Whatever happens, friends first?”

He nodded, “Deal. Now can I make the last couple of days up to you?”

“How?”

“Dinner? My place? Tonight?”

I thought about it, “You’re cooking?”

He nodded, “But of course.”

“Will it be edible?”

He put his arm around my shoulder as we walked back into the barn, “I guess we’ll see.”

“Okay but hey,” I said facing him making it seem like I was going to kiss him, “You better get back to work before the boss catches you not working.”

He grinned, “No kiss?”

“Not making that mistake again,” I winked.

That night as I drove to Jesse’s place I felt nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know where things stood between us. However when I saw Jesse standing in front of the door, my nerves went away and I felt like the same girl who talked to him every day in the barn.

“It smells good,” I said walking into the basement.

I took a look around, a few picture frames with pictures, a desk, a lamp, a door to a room which I assumed was his bed room. He had a small table in the small kitchen and a desk in the living room with a computer on it.

“I like it,” I said looking around, “It’s cozy.”

“Yeah, I like it too; it looks a lot better now that you are here.”

I laughed at his cheesy compliment, “Do you need any help?”

He shook his head, “It’s all ready. Are you hungry?”

“I am famished.”

“Alright then, let’s eat.”

As we took a seat at the table across from each other Jesse took the covers off the food revealing pasta and veal cutlets and some peppers with salad.

As I took some of everything I suddenly felt self-conscious. I could see Jesse looking at me from the corner of his eye and I began to wonder if I was eating too much or too little. Things that usually didn’t matter seemed to matter.

“Just be yourself,” Jesse said catching me off guard, “You don’t need to be on your best behaviour or try to impress me, you have already impressed me.”

I sighed, “Am I really that transparent?”

“No,” he said, “but I could see your mind running a million miles per hour and what other explanation could there be?”

I smiled as I began to eat, “So no television?” I couldn’t help but notice when I walked in the door.

“It’s in the bedroom,” he said, “I didn’t ever really plan on having company.”

I nodded, “What type of shows or movies do you like?”

“I’ll watch everything,” he said, “I go with the flow, or with whatever is on.”

“Okay but what is one show that you cannot miss?”

He thought about it, “Heroes”

I nodded, “Good show.”

“What about you?” he asked.

“I like action, drama, romance, a little bit of everything but I don’t watch TV that often, when I actually have time I would much rather do something better with my time.”

“Like what?”

“Maybe go out for a ride on Snowflake, or hang out with Sara,” I said.

“Am I going to be added to the list?”

“I thought that was a given,” I said.

“I never like to make assumptions.”

“I always make assumptions; maybe that is why I always get into trouble,” I sighed.

“Then you would be good in accounting,” he laughed, “It is all about assumptions.”

“I think I will pass,” I said as I brought my dish to the sink.

“Don’t worry about that, I will do it later.”

“Or we can do it now together, so you don’t have to do it later.”

He came over to the sink, “Okay, I will wash you can rinse.”

I moved over as he turned on the water, “So I see you have a piano.”

“It came with the place; they said they don’t use it so they asked if I could get use out of it. They really are great people.”

I nodded, “I know. So do you play?”

He nodded, “A little bit. I took lessons when I was younger but stopped after a couple years, I was never the type to go and have lessons, and I’m more of a watch and learn type of guy so I used the internet a lot as I continued to learn.”

“Will you play something for me?” I asked as we dried our hands.

He looked into my eyes, “How could I say no?”

“I guess you can’t,” I said as he grabbed my hand and led me to the piano.

I took a seat beside him as he began to play a song, it was soft and the melody was like a lullaby. I closed my eyes as listened until the song ended.

“That was beautiful.”

“You are beautiful.”

I smiled, “You don’t need to tell me that every day you know?”

“I want to tell you that and so much more, every day,” he paused, “Come here, we’ll play some cards.”

“Oh good, I love cards,” I grinned, “Be prepared to lose.”

“That is never going to happen.”

We began playing a game called speed, Jesse had to teach it to me but it was pretty straight forward. We played for a good hour before going to sit on the sofa.

“How many kids do you want?” he randomly asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said, “I just know I want children.”

“I want two,” he said, “Not like I will be disappointed if I get one or three but ideally I would like one girl and one boy.”

“I want the boy to be older so my daughter could have an older brother to look out for her.”

He nodded, “Yeah but it wouldn’t be so bad if the girl came first. She could teach him a lot of stuff too.”

“Where do you want to live when you settle down?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said honestly, “I guess it depends on who I settle down with.”

“Okay so you once asked me what I would give up or not give up for training horses so now I am asking you what would you give up for travelling?”

“Well, I think when I find myself somewhere and with someone that makes me happy, I will just want to stay.”

“I will be honest with you, being in love with a traveler is a little frightening because I really don’t want to get hurt and I know there is going to be a possibility of that no matter what but,” I paused, “I guess what I am trying to say is we can try to take things slow.”

“Okay, we will take things slow,” he said, “But just so you know, right now, I don’t want to go anywhere.”

“Right now you don’t but you might one day and I won’t stop you,” I admitted, “Not if you want to leave.”

Jesse pulled me into his arms as we lay on the sofa next to each other in silence.

“Tell me,” Jesse began, “Tell me what your first impression of me was.”

I laughed, “You are never going to stop asking me that until I tell you are you?”

“That is correct; it is only fair since I told you.”

“Okay, honestly speaking, I thought there was something odd about you but that was before I got to know you.”

He stifled a laugh, “Why?”

“I don’t know, it was just a feeling I got, there was just something different about you. The way you spoke, it was like you had prepared what you were going to say in advance. I felt like you didn’t really want this job since you were acting like you were better than me.”

“Sorry if I acted that way, I am not better than you.”

“Like I said, that was before I got to know you. I’m sure you were only acting that way because like you said at the beginning of the summer, you didn’t want to get attached.”

“Too late for that.”

“That feels nice,” I said as he passed his hand through my hair.

“Jen,” he began but didn’t continue because he was interrupted by a knock at the basement door.

“Are you expecting company?” I asked.

He shook his head as we sat up, “No, I have no idea who it is.”

“Well you better get it,” I pointed out as he wasn’t moving from the sofa.

“I doubt it’s important, maybe I can just pretend to not be home,” he smiled as he rubbed my arm with his hand, “This is our night.”

“It’s okay,” I said standing up, “I will get it.”

He sighed, “If you must,” he said grabbing my waist and pulling me to sit on his lap.

“Jesse,” I said giggling, “The door, remember?”

I quickly got up and went to open the door. There stood a guy, early twenties would be my guess, with a luggage by his side.

I smiled, “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said confused, “I think I got the wrong house.”

“Well who are you looking for?” I asked, “I know this neighbourhood pretty well maybe I can direct you in the right direction.”

“I’m looking for Liam.”

“I haven’t heard that name around here, sorry.”

“Jen who is it?” Jesse called as he came towards the door.

“Ben?” Jesse said as he reached the door.

“Liam,” the guy said grabbing him in a hug, “It is so good to see you.”

“Jesse,” he said, “Remember?”

He grinned, “Oh right.”

“I’m sorry,” I spoke to Ben, “I didn’t know who Liam was but apparently…”

“Liam is my middle name,” Jesse said, “and he grew up calling me Liam even though I hate it.”

“Jesse Liam Bucks… has a charm to it.”

He shook his head as Ben cleared his throat, “Oh sorry, Ben, this is Jennifer. Jennifer this is Ben, my brother.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I shook his hand, “Well come in.”

Jesse frowned, “Umm.”

I shook my head and whispered in his ear, “He is your brother you cannot kick him out.”

He sighed, “I know, but I didn’t even know he was coming.”

“So brother,” Ben took a seat on the sofa, “You’ve got a nice crib here.”

“I like it,” he replied, “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I decided to take your offer and come to see you. I wanted to see what you saw in this place but I guess I am looking at her.”

I tried not to blush as Jesse rolled his eyes, “You could have called you know?”

“Well this isn’t the response I thought I would get for surprising my older brother.”

“Sorry, I’m happy you are here.”

“So what were you guys up to?”

I bit my lip wishing I could lie back down in Jesse’s arms, “We were just playing some cards.”

“So what is the story here?” he asked.

“No story, just the simple boy meets girl type thing.”

He nodded, “Very typical of my brother.”

I looked at Jesse who shook his head, “Not true, you will discover very quickly that my brother likes to make me look like a jerk.”

His brother nodded, “That’s true. He hasn’t been with a girl since, God, I don’t even remember.”

“Well, I am sure you guys would like to catch up so I am just going to go.”

“No,” Jesse protested, “You don’t have to do that. I don’t want you to do that.”

“Don’t leave on my account,” Ben said.

I didn’t want to leave but I knew they had things to talk about.

“No really, it’s fine. I’m feeling a little tired anyways.”

He stood up and held my hand as he walked me to the door, “Are you sure you have to leave?”

“I don’t want to but I should. I mean with what you told me about your family not wanting to come visit you, you have to be wondering why he is here. So you should talk to him, he’s your brother.”

He nodded, “I know, you are right, but this was supposed to be our night.”

I placed my hand on his cheek, “We will have other nights, I promise.”

He nodded, “Alright.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said as I headed to my car.

“Where do you think you are going?” Jesse asked as he slowly walked over to where I was standing.

“Home.”

“Where do you think you are going?” he repeated.

“Huh?”

He laughed as he put one hand on my waist and another behind my neck before pressing his lips to mine.

He kissed me passionately, “Where did you think you were going before I got the chance to kiss you?”

I tried to reply but Jesse covered my lips with his again, bringing both of his hands to be behind my back. He kissed my lips, then my forehead, then my lips again which led to my neck.

I stuttered as he kissed my neck, “I thought we were going to take things slow.”

Automatically he pulled away, “You’re right, sorry.”

My eyes gleamed, “I was joking, but thank you for respecting me.”

“I will always respect you,” he said.

“In that case, I think you could kiss me a little more.”

And he did just that until someone opened the door, “I was wondering if you got lost but I can see everything is fine,” Ben grinned as Jesse and I pulled away.

“I’ll be right in,” Jesse rolled his eyes at me so Ben couldn’t see.

“Take your time,” he laughed.

“He just got here and is already annoying.”

I laughed, “Alright you better go. If you need to take tomorrow off to spend with your brother, just call me.”

He shook his head, “I don’t plan on missing work tomorrow. Maybe I could bring him though? If he wants to come?”

I nodded, “Yeah sure.”

“Okay, have a good night,” he lightly kissed me.

“You too,” I kissed him back.

“Drive safe,” he kissed me.

“Don’t let your brother annoy you,” I kissed him back.

“Text me when you get home so I know you got home safely,” he kissed me but didn’t pull away until we both started laughing.

“Okay I should really go.”

“Okay,” we looked at each other.

I shook my head, “Okay I am going to go.”

“Okay,” Jesse said not letting go of my hand.

“You are going to have to let go for me to go.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” he sighed letting me get into the car.

He waved as I left the driveway and I saw him head back inside.

When I got home I texted him telling him I was at home safely and about to go to bed. Moments later he called me.

“Were you sleeping yet?”

“No,” I smiled at myself.

“Well I just wanted to say good night and I’m sorry our night got cut short.”

“Is everything okay? Did your brother tell you why he is here?”

“He said he missed me. He’s planning to stay for a month or so.”

“That sounds nice; will he be staying with you?”

“Yeah, I have the room.”

“Yeah of course, it will be nice for you to have company at night.”

“Alright well get some rest. I will see you tomorrow.”

“Good night Jesse. Oh and dinner was delicious, thanks again.”

“We’ll have to do it again soon, without the interruption.”

“Next time, it’s my place. I will cook for you.”

“Are you sure about that? Considering you know? Considering what people say about your meals?”

“If I put my mind to it I am sure I can cook something up. Plus I am going to have to learn sometime, since I want a family and all.”

“That is very true.”

“See you tomorrow Jesse!”

Third Degree (17)

The next morning I woke up around seven. My father was downstairs trying to reach a bowl from a higher shelf.

“I’ll get it dad, you know you are not supposed to strain yourself.”

“I was getting a bowl.”

“You can’t reach it.”

“Honey, at some point you are going to have to let me get things done on my own.”

I sighed, “I know.”

“So, I heard you get in yesterday. How was dinner?” my father asked.

“It was nice,” I smiled.

My father knew I went out with Jesse but he didn’t know where things stood between us.

“Well it is my duty to say a few things,” he began.

“Dad, come on, I am not a little girl anymore.”

“I know but you are twenty one and he is a little bit older than you, so I feel like I should.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“Well for starters, I am happy to see that he makes you smile. Second, I think you need to be careful because of his age, you guys may not always see eye to eye on things but it is important that you guys listen to each other. If you really like this guy, you should ask him where he sees himself in five years, it is better to know now than be heartbroken down the line.”

I knew he was right, “He told me he wanted to stay here for now, isn’t that a good sign?”

“Yes, but ‘for now’ is what worries me.”

“Dad, we’re just dating right now, so let’s see where things go from here, if he actually decides he wants to stay, then I will talk to him.”

“You’re not a little girl anymore.”

I smiled, “No, I am not but I will always be your little girl.”

“Okay, now go. I think he’s here and I am sure he is dying to see you,” he winked.

I giggled as I headed out. The sun was already shining bright; one of my favourite things with living on a ranch was waking up in the mornings and smelling the fresh air.

“Good morning,” Jesse popped his head out from one of the stalls.

I leaned over it to give him a kiss on the cheek, “Yes it is. Did your brother come with you today?”

He shook his head, “Not today, he wanted to take it easy, he’s a bit jet lagged.”

I nodded, “Makes sense. Do you want to take a ride later? Maybe on lunch?”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Okay, I’ll be in the ring if you need me.”

Mary arrived just as I was heading to the ring, “The dresses arrived.”

“Two more months, how are you holding up?”

“I am so anxious but nervous at the same time.”

“I wouldn’t know but I can tell you one thing, you will make a beautiful bride and Sam is a very lucky guy.”

“Thanks Jen, you’re too sweet. Well it looks like your clients are here so I will leave you to it.”

I smiled as I saw Susan and Eric walking up the drive. I wondered why Eric was here so early in the morning but it didn’t matter.

“Hey guys, how are you today?”

“Tired,” Susan huffed.

“She needed a ride this morning,” Eric said, “So how have you been?”

“Pretty good, you?”

“Good, I’ve got the day off today so it’s nice.”

“And you didn’t even sleep in?”

He shook his head, “My parents had to go to work early so I was her only drive.”

I smiled glad that we could still be friends, “Are you going to stay and watch?”

He thought about it, “How long do you think you guys will need today? I’m meeting a friend around noon.”

“Oh we’ll be done before then,” I thought about going for a ride with Jesse, “Woody is just about ready to go.”

“Really?” Susan called out as she got on her horse.”

“Yes, really. You guys have been amazing this past week, I can see a real bond and he’s jumping perfectly. As long as you keep at it, you can take Woody back to your place I would say as soon as you want.”

“Well we can get the trailer over here maybe tomorrow evening if that is okay?” Eric said.

“Yeah, I will be here so it’s not a problem.”

I worked with Susan and Woody for a couple hours, giving her some pointers, telling her some secrets and tips on how to go around the jumps quicker to reduce time and I praised her when she did something extraordinary.

I knew jumping wasn’t an easy sport, it was hard work and it took practice and patience but Susan had all of that and more. She just needed the right encouragement and push to get her going but now that she was, there was no stopping her.

In a way she reminded me of myself when I was her age, no one could stop me from going to jumping competitions.

Around noon as I walked into the barn, two horses were already saddled.

“Eager are we?” I laughed.

He shrugged his shoulders, “I thought it would give us some more time out there.”

“Don’t worry about time; we’ve got all the time in the world.”

“So which trail are we going to go on?” he asked as we left the property.

“We’re not going to go on a trail today.”

“Are you kidnapping me?” he sounded shocked.

“You’ll see.”

We rode in silence for about twenty minutes before we arrived at my favourite spot of all, the land we own. There stood the two trees that I loved to lay against. I dismounted and Jesse did the same.

“You took me to your spot?” he clarified.

I nodded, “Yeah.”

We took a seat on the grass as we lay our backs against the tree. Jesse wrapped his arm around my shoulder.

“I thought no one was allowed here except for you and Sara?” he questioned.

“Yeah, but you’re pretty special to me too so I wanted to share it with you too.”

He smiled, “I am honoured.”

“Good,” I joked.

“So when you left last night, my brother asked me who you were.”

I was confused, “What do you mean?”

“He asked me who exactly you were to me and I didn’t know what to say.”

I finally clued in, “Well what did you want to say?”

“I wanted to say you were my girlfriend.”

I smiled, “Then maybe when you see him, you should tell him that.”

“I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”

I faced him and kissed him lightly on the lips, “I’m pretty sure we are.”

“There is something else I want to tell you,” he said.

“What is it?”

“My brother brought me a message from my parents last night.”

“What was the message?”

“My parents want me to go home.”

I swallowed, “Where is it that they call home?”

“Chicago.”

I faced my hands and began to fidget, he grabbed my hand, “You don’t have to worry.”

“Jesse, I would never ask you to stay here if you wanted to go home. I would understand, they are your family and if I was in your shoes and I missed them, I would probably go.”

“Maybe last month I might have but I don’t want to leave now. I’m in love with you and I want to see where this goes.”

I thought about what my father said, “My father gave me a talk this morning about you.”

“Oh no.”

“He said I should ask you where you see yourself in five years so I know where things stand.”

“He’s a good father.”

I nodded, “He has his days but I can’t really complain.”

“Well, I can’t tell you where I see myself in five years unless I know where you want to be in five years.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I want to be wherever you are.”

“In other words?”

“In other words, I am not going anywhere.”

I never thought it would be possible to smile as big as I was, “Are you sure because I do not want to stop you from doing anything you want to do?”

“I am positive.”

“My dad will be happy to hear that,” I shamefully said.

“What about you?”

I closed my eyes and kissed him, “What do you think?”

He kissed me back and for a few moments we didn’t move. When he pulled back I lay my head on his shoulder and breathed him in.

“How did your brother take the news?” I asked.

“He was fine about it,” he laughed, “He said I would be crazy to leave such a babe.”

“A babe?”

“Don’t worry, I told him not to call you that,” he chuckled, “I told him if anyone was going to call you that, it would be me.”

I giggled, “How do you think your parents are going to take it?”

“I’m not sure. My brother said he might want to move here too, stay with me.”

“Yeah?”

He ran his hand through my hair, “Yeah, he said he could do with a fresh start.”

“Sounds like he likes to travel a lot too. I mean, the way he would just pick up and move here, don’t you think that’s a little weird? Maybe there is a reason for it.”

“I doubt it, my brother doesn’t have any priorities, and he does what he wants.”

“How old is he anyways?”

“Twenty one, your age.”

“Well, if he stays I’m sure we could always use another hand on the ranch if he wants to work.”

“No, you don’t have to do that. I know you guys can’t hire another stable hand. He will be fine if he decides to stay, I am sure he can get something elsewhere, plus ranch work isn’t really his thing.”

“I don’t think it was your thing either when you first got here.”

“I know but I have more of an open mind.”

I smiled, “Well I am glad you do.”

“I could spend every day like this with you.”

I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this happy, “Maybe we can.”

“I know that we said we would take this slow and we’ve technically only been together for two days but…”

“Technically yes,” I cut in, “But I think we were both beating around the bush the whole summer.”

“You’re right, I just feel like I could see myself having a future with you.”

I bit my lip, “I know what you mean.”

“We should probably get back,” he said standing up pulling my hands to stand, “They might think we eloped.”

“Maybe one day we will,” I winked as I got on Snowflake.

He laughed as he followed behind all the way back to the ranch.

As we got to the ranch we let the horses graze in the field as they cooled down. Jesse grabbed my hand as we walked into the barn. When we got into the barn he began kissing me but it was cut short when we heard whistling.

Luca walked into the barn and must have caught Jesse’s arm around me as he had a look of amusement, “So it is true then, the two of you?”

I grinned, “Who told you?”

“I’m pretty sure your dad sent out a memo,” he joked.

Jesse started to laugh as he placed his arms around me again from behind, “Then I guess we don’t have to hide it from anyone.”

“I just have one question Jen; I mean you pretty much run everything around you. You make our pay checks and make the schedules and all of that’s stuff…”

“And…”

“Well, I just am a little worried about being treated unfairly,” he winked, “We all love you so I just think you shouldn’t have a favourite employee.”

I laughed pulling away from Jesse, “You are absolutely right Luca. Jesse, we are just going to need to start sneaking around.”

Both the guys started to laugh as Luca walked away slowly, “Yeah, yeah. I’m happy for you guys. Jesse, treat her good because if you don’t, you not only have to worry about Joe but myself included.”

“And me,” Mary popped her head into the barn.

“Well I am not planning on doing anything anyone disapproves of.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “Everyone is very over protective of me.”

“Damn right,” Mary said, “We’re a family here and Jen here may be the one who calls the shots but she’s the baby in this family.”

Jesse put his arm around me, “You hear that? You’re the baby in the family.”

Just then my father came into the barn, “What’s going on in here? Are we having a meeting without me?”

“No dad, everyone is just giving Jesse the third degree.”

“Oh, in that case I have a few questions myself,” he began.

“Oh come on,” I finally said, “I think we have tortured him enough.”

“I would hardly call this torture my love,” he looked amused, “My life is an open book, anything you want to know, feel free to ask but I will say that my intentions with your daughter and your boss and friend are good.”

“I think that pretty much answers everyone’s questions right?”

They all looked around at each other and nodded, “I guess.”

“Good, so we will just be on our way.”

The next week couldn’t have been any better, Jesse and I spent every night together, and some nights his brother joined us, others he didn’t. I got to know Ben a litter better, he seemed like a decent guy, I got the impression that Jesse was a little worried every time Ben and I were in our own conversation, it was like he was worried that I may fall for his brother since he is closer to my age but it wouldn’t happen.

We went horse back riding every other day on our lunch; we brought a picnic once and went to eat in my favourite spot. He took me out to dinner another night and the next we went to the movies. It was all so surreal, I felt like I was the character in some romance novel.

August was at its end, September was approaching quickly. I anticipated what the next season would bring for Jesse and I. Sometimes I wish I was psychic.

Then I had Mary’s wedding to look forward to.

On Wednesday night after work Jesse and I went on a double date with Mary and her Fiancé, Sam. Since Sam didn’t have a big family he asked if Jesse wanted to be in the bridal party, my partner specifically.

“Are you sure?” he asked considering they just met.

“Yeah, I know we just met but I’ve known Jen for a while now and since you two are together we would like you to be in it as well.”

He smiled, “Well yeah, I would love to.”

“I’m sure we will be seeing more of each other,” Sam said.

Mary winked at me, “Oh yes you will.”

I laughed; Mary always got me to giggle at her facial expressions.

“What is the date again?” Jesse asked.

“October 6th.”

“Hopefully it won’t be cold then.”

“It shouldn’t be,” I explained, “It usually doesn’t start getting cold until mid November.”

“I guess things will settle down at the ranch by then?”

Mary laughed, “If you think the summers are busy, be prepared to be amazed.”

“How busy could it get in the winter?”

“That’s the same question I asked her way back when,” Sam said.

“Guys,” Mary sighed, “They are all the same.”

“Well, the fall and winter is when most people want horses trained so they are ready by the spring or summer.”

“Can you actually train outside?”

I shook my head, “We have an indoor ring. You know the tall looking shed you saw when we went on the trail ride the other day?”

He nodded, “Yeah, it was huge.”

“That’s our indoor barn.”

“I thought it was like a storage place.”

I shook my head, “No, there are two rings in there so we could train two horses at a time.”

“So what season is not busy?” he asked.

Sam answered that one, “Christmas time.”

I nodded, “Everyone gets two weeks off in December.”

“Except for Jen,” Mary pointed out.

“So I guess I will be getting two weeks off too then in December?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “If you’re good.”

“Oh I will be good, but I’m not so sure I want the time off.”

“What?” Sam asked, “No time off?”

He shook his head as he sat back and put his arm around me, “What am I going to do for two whole weeks without this one?”

He still made me blush, “I’m sure you would survive.”

Mary smiled at us, “You guys remind me of Sam and I when we first started dating.”

“How long have you guys been together? Jesse asked.

“A long time; five years.”

“Then it is time to get married,” he joked.

“I thought it was time.”

“So where are you going for the honeymoon?”

“We’re thinking Miami.”

“I hear it’s nice there,” Jesse said, “How long are you going to stay?”

“A week,” Mary looked at Sam.

“That’s still under negotiation.”

“One week?” I questioned, “Come on, you have to go for at least two.”

“What about the ranch?”

“Mary,” I was shocked, “We will be fine. We will manage perfectly fine; I will just get Jesse to do some extra work since he’s been slacking anyways.”

I could feel Jesse’s glare on me, “Slacking?”

“We’re not talking about you right now sweetie,” I grinned, “As I was saying, you need to go for two weeks minimum, even three weeks. I won’t have you back at the ranch until at least two weeks after the wedding so it would be a shame if you came back and had to spend a week here, instead of somewhere tropical.”

Mary smiled, “Alright, alright,” she looked at Sam, “We’ll go for two weeks.”

“Thank you,” Sam looked at me.

“Next time, don’t feel like you can’t talk to me,” I told Mary, “You work so hard I would never say no to you.”

“I know; I just felt bad.”

“It’s your wedding,” I raised my voice.

“She’s such a good boss, isn’t she?” Jesse added.

“Yeah, when people pull there weight around the ranch,” I pointed out.

Sam laughed, “I’d watch it man. You better start doing your job.”

“I would, it’s just hard when you have this one pulling you into her office every five seconds.”

I nudged him with my elbow, “That was supposed to be our secret.”

“Oops!”

“And it is not every five seconds,” I protested.

“Alright, we better get going,” Mary and Sam stood up, “It’s getting late.”

“Yeah, us too. See you tomorrow.”

“It was good to meet you Sam,” Jesse shook his hand, “I’ll see you around.”

A couple nights later we went out with Sara and her boyfriend, Frank. It was also my first time meeting him but I got a good impression right away and gave her my approval.

As we left the guys and headed to the ladies room Sara couldn’t keep the smirk off her face.

“Say it? I know you are dying to.”

“I told you so,” Sara couldn’t keep it in any longer.

“Yeah, you did.”

“I still can’t believe it, I mean you were so against it in the beginning and you actually convinced me that nothing would ever happen between you two.”

“That’s because I was afraid things could go south but we’re on the same page. No one wants to get hurt.”

“What about when he decides he wants to go on a trip?”

“Well, I won’t stop him but he said he wants to stay here so I think that’s a good sign and who knows maybe one day I will go away with him on a trip.”

“Excuse me?”

“On a trip,” I repeated, “I would obviously come back.”

“You better, I would die without you.”

“Have I ever told you, you should have gone into acting?”

“Just about every other day.”

“That’s because you are such a drama queen.”

“Me? What about you?”

I laughed as we headed back to the table where we found the guys in their own conversation. It was nice having these outings with friends, where Jesse and I weren’t always alone. I wanted him to get to know my friends and I hoped that one day he would call them friends too not because of me but because he felt a connection with them too.

“So you’re telling me you actually like the Red Socks?” Jesse asked Frank.

“I can’t believe you don’t.”

“Oh man, you need to get out more and watch some real teams.”

He laughed, “Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Hey now,” I cut in, “I’m afraid he’s already taken.”

“You heard her,” Jesse said as I kissed his cheek.

Sara grinned, “We need to get together more often like this.”

I nodded, “I agree.”

We continued to converse as the evening progressed. Around ten we all left and headed home. Jesse drove me home and walked me to the door, kissed me slowly on the lips sending sparks down my spine before he left.

All in all, Jesse was the ideal boyfriend who treated me with respect and always made me feel adored.

He made me feel special; he kept his eyes on me when we were out together, even when waitresses were flirting with him. He was quite the catch!

Star Light, Star Bright (18)

“You might want to put on another sweater,” my dad commented a couple nights later.

“He said we’re just going for a walk.”

“It might get chilly as it gets later.”

“We’re going for a walk dad; we’re not going to be out all night.”

“I just don’t want you to get sick.”

“I’ll be fine. If I’m cold, I will just cuddle up to Jesse,” I winked at him.

“I’m sure you will.”

“Are you sure you will okay on your own?”

“Honey, I have been on my own before and this won’t be the last time, especially now that you have a boyfriend.”

“I know, I just feel bad, I’ve been going out a lot lately. Maybe I should stay home tonight.”

“Go and have fun,” he said, “It’s all exciting now because you guys are still getting to know each other.”

I smiled, “Tell me the story of how you and mom met again.”

“You never get tired of hearing that one,” he commented.

After my mother passed away, I had difficulties sleeping for a long time so my father would curl up on the sofa with me and tell me the story of how they met.

“Well, I was out in town putting in an order to buy some hay for the horses and well your mother just so happened to be the new sales clerk. So she took my order and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her, her smile was beautiful. That’s where you get yours from,” he paused, “Anyways, I knew if I just left without asking for her name I would regret it so before leaving I asked her for her name. She looked like she was considering whether or not to tell me but she replied and I asked if she had a break coming up. So I waited around for two hours and then I took her out for coffee. We got to know each other and seven months later, we got married. One year later she found out she was pregnant with you and we were so thrilled.”

I smiled through the mirror as I applied some lip gloss, “I’m really glad you are my dad.”

“I thank God every day that I have you Jen,” he gave me a kiss on the forehead, “Have a good night.”

It was as if he knew Jesse was at the door because seconds later the doorbell rang. I answered the door and invited him in for a moment to say hi to my father.

My father gave Jesse the keys to his truck which confused me, “What are you doing?”

Jesse smiled, “You’ll see.”

I followed Jesse out, “Why do you have my dad’s keys?”

“In case I need them.”

“For what?”

“You really don’t like surprises do you?”

“I like surprises, if they are good ones,” I countered.

“Then don’t ask me any more questions and just anticipate the plan.”

We walked in silence to my dad’s truck; the hood was off and inside lay blankets, pillows, a music player and a thermos.

I looked at Jesse, “What’s going on?”

“Well, you said you once stayed out to watch the stars and you enjoyed it, so I figured we could do that tonight.”

“How romantic.”

“I’m not finished,” he said.

“There’s more?”

He nodded as he helped me up into the back of the truck, “It wouldn’t be original if that’s all we did.”

“Go on…” I encouraged.

“If you are up to it, we’ll stay out all night so we can not only watch the stars together but we could watch the sun rise,” he finished.

I stared at Jesse trying to wonder if it was all my imagination or if the man standing in front of me actually did exist.

“You okay?”

I nodded giving him a hug, “I am better than okay.”

“For a second I wasn’t so sure.”

“I just can’t believe you would do this for me.”

“I hope you realize by now, that I would do anything for you.”

I briefly kissed him before we took a seat and rolled up the blankets, “No wonder my dad told me I should dress warmly.”

“I thought of it, so I brought lots of blankets.”

“My dad knew all about it then?”

He nodded, “I had to see if I could use his truck.”

“I’m surprised he is going to allow me to stay out all night with you.”

“I get the impression that he trusts me.”

“I got the same feeling, though I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” I joked, “We’ve only been dating a couple weeks, he barely knows you.”

“Don’t kid yourself, your dad and I have been getting to know each other very well.”

I gave him a bewildered look.

“When you’re out training, your dad and I have some pretty heated conversations.”

“About what?” I asked surprised by the information that my father never told me about.

“A lot of stuff, life lessons, he told me a few stories from his childhood, we talk about you and how you are a handful,” he joked.

“Oh really?”

He laughed, “I like your dad and I hope he likes me as much as I think he does.”

“He never told me you guys have been getting to know each other.”

“Well, I thought it would be good, I want your dad to like me and the sooner he does that the sooner he will trust that I’m in love with you.”

“I’m sure he believes that by now, after you did this…”

“Look,” he pointed, “Shooting star; make a wish.”

“I don’t need to,” I leaned into him, “I’ve got everything I need.”

“Do you want some hot chocolate?”

“Maybe later,” I said, “So you said you thought about everything right?”

“Oh no!”

“What about the wolves? What if they decide to come visit us during the night?”

“I’ll protect you.”

“How do I know you won’t be sleeping?”

“How will you know that if you are sleeping?”

“I won’t but my father will when he wakes up and his daughter has been eaten by wolves.”

I could see the smirk creep up on Jesse’s face, “You’re probably right. Maybe it’s too dangerous; we better go inside in a while.”

“No, that’s okay.”

“But you said it was too dangerous, I don’t want to risk our lives.”

“I think I will take my chances,” I winked.

“That’s what I thought.”

“I’m not scared of wolves.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine, they won’t even know we’re here. I think it’s too close to the house.”

We stayed up past midnight talking. Some time after that I fell asleep with Jesse’s arm around me and didn’t wake up until someone was shaking me.

I saw Jesse’s face above mine, “Wake up, the suns about to rise.”

I slowly sat up and leaned against the truck as we watched the sunrise. I pulled the blanket closer and cuddled close to Jesse.

Once the sun was up I kissed Jesse on the cheek, “Thank you. That was beautiful and even more so because I saw it with you.”

“You should probably get inside and get a few hours of sleep before starting to work.”

I shook my head, “No I will be okay. I’ll just go to bed early tonight. Plus I’m working with Cookster today.”

“My brother said he’s going to come check this place out today. I hope that’s alright.”

I nodded, “It’s about time. What was he up to last night?”

“I don’t know; I’m sure he enjoyed having the place to himself. Hopefully he didn’t throw a party and destroy my place. Actually, never mind, he doesn’t need to have a party to destroy it.”

“You guys seem so different; it’s hard to believe you are brothers.”

“I know, but we are alike in a lot of ways too.”

“Yeah?”

He nodded, “He acts like a tough guy when it comes to girls but he’s a softy when it comes to romance. He’ll go out of his way to do things for a girl.”

“So why is he single?”

“He was in a relationship but it just didn’t work, they were together for a while but eventually they wanted different things.”

“What did he want?”

“She was ready for marriage; he didn’t want marriage at twenty two.”

“That’s understandable.”

“He wanted to eventually marry but she was ready, she was a little weird if you ask me,” he admitted.

“Kind of like you?” I asked.

“Ha, Ha.”

“It was funny,” I said.

“A little,” he said as he climbed down from the truck.

“You can head home if you want, take a half day or something.”

“I brought a change of clothes,” he explained.

“You really did think of everything.”

“Of course.”

“Alright then, come with me. You can change and wash up in the bathroom.”

He followed me back into the house. My father was already up in the kitchen.

“Did you two have a nice night?”

I went to give him a kiss, “Yes and thank you.”

“You’re welcome but I didn’t do anything.”

Jesse gave him his keys back, “Yes you did!”

“I must say, you are pretty creative.”

“Thank you,” Jesse appreciated the compliment.

“Do you think you could give me a hand later Jesse?” my father asked, “I want to touch up a couple gates and could use an extra set of hands.”

“Yeah, of course, whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay good and maybe you would like to stay for dinner tonight?”

He thought about it, “You know I would love to but I should probably stay with my brother tonight.”

“Well he could come too.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I would like to meet him,” my father said.

“Well that would actually be perfect since he’s coming here anyways right?” I faced Jesse.

He nodded, “In that case we would love to.”

“Alright then, it’s settled. We’ll go work on the gates after lunch. I’ll let you go freshen up, help yourself to anything you need. I want you to feel at home.”

When Jesse left I looked at my father, “You really like him don’t you?”

He nodded, “He’s nice.”

“Nice is one thing but I have never seen you act this friendly to anyone before.”

“I can see the way he looks at you,” he sat down at the table, “and anyone who looks at my daughter that way is worthy of my approval and respect.”

“I’m happy daddy, really, really happy.”

“I know, now go change and brush your teeth,” he laughed.

I did as I was commanded, taking the steps two at a time reliving each moment of last night. It was so romantic the way Jesse held me and the way he kept covering me. It was a bonus that no wolves decided to pay us a visit!

By the time I went downstairs Jesse was already out working, Luca and Mary arrived and the sun was fully shining. Another day’s work was waiting to be done!

Getting Acquainted (19)

Ben showed up just after noon, Jesse was out helping my dad so I went to meet him on the porch as he was knocking on the door.

“Hey,” I called out from behind.

He turned and headed to meet me, “Hey.”

“Jesse told me you were coming; he’s just doing some work for my dad. Can I show you around?” I asked wondering if he was interested.

He followed, “It seems like you have a lot of horses.”

“Has Jesse told you anything about the ranch?”

He nodded, “Just a little.”

“Well, we have about sixteen horses right now, ten are ours that we use for lessons or trail rides or for us and the others are here to be trained.”

“I think my brother mentioned Blackjack,” he added.

“Yeah, he left a couple weeks ago. So this is one of the barns, there’s another one behind here. We have an indoor barn which is about an acre away; if you want to go for a ride with your brother later he can show you. Have you ever ridden before?”

He nodded, “Yeah, a few times.”

“Back home?”

He shook his head, “No, usually when I was on vacation.”

“So you like to travel a lot too then?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said not going into detail.

I pushed him for more, “Why not?”

“It’s not really my thing. I just want to settle down, start a family one day,” he finished.

“I would have never guessed you to be that type, you seem more of a go lucky kind of guy who parties at night, sleeps during the day and feeds off of his older brother.”

He laughed, “I can see why you would think that.”

“Don’t take it the wrong way,” I grinned.

“Don’t worry,” he smiled, “I know what you meant.”

“So your brother told me you were thinking of staying,” I said as we went back to sit on the porch.

“He told you that?” he said surprised.

“Yeah, was he not supposed to?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a secret. This seems like a nice place and it may not seem like my kind of place to settle down but maybe that is why I like it. Plus my brother is here so it’s not like I’m on my own.”

“I think by staying your brother will be very happy. I know he’s been lonely.”

“Not since he’s met you,” Ben added.

“I guess your parents didn’t want to come see him?” I asked fishing for information.

“Nope,” Ben said without going further, “So does your dad need an extra pair of hands? I don’t mind.”

“They shouldn’t be too long but you can help me if you’d like. I’m going to start training another horse, just pleasure riding but it’s young so I have to teach it to pick up its hooves, lie down, things like that but if you want you can watch.”

“Yeah sure, that sounds interesting,” he said following me into the barn.

As I worked, I could see interest in Ben’s eyes. I also noticed some resemblance between brothers, they had the same nose and the shapes of their eyes were the same which must have come from one of their parents.

“Can you hold the line for me?” I gave him the rope.

I bent over and grabbed the front hoof but it was a stubborn horse and took ten minutes before he finally lifted it up.

“You’ve got patience,” Ben commented, “I would have given up nine minutes ago.”

I laughed as I spotted Jesse and my dad, “Looks like they are back. You can go see him if you like; I don’t think he saw you.”

He nodded, “Are you sure you don’t need my help anymore?”

“I’ll be good,” I said, “I’ll see you later.”

“Thank you for having us for dinner,” Ben said as he took a seat at the table, “You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you, we like it,” my dad replied as he put the meat on the table, “and you are welcome here any time. We’re practically family.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Did you guys finish repairing the gate?”

“Yeah, it was easy,” Jesse said, “How was training today?”

“Sometimes I love training horses the basics, it’s a nice break.”

“Whatever,” Jesse shook his head, “You love the energy of jumping and racing.”

I blinked my eye lashes, “You know me too well.”

“So Ben,” my father said, “I hear your looking for a place to work.”

“I’ve been looking in town, it doesn’t seem like a lot of places are hiring except for the bar.”

I looked at Jesse and smiled, it was the same bar that I got a little tipsy at.

“We’ll see how it goes,” my father said, “But if you haven’t found anything, I’m sure we could hire you part time, especially in the winter.”

“I appreciate that,” he said, “Even if it’s a couple days. At least I can help out with rent.”

Jesse smiled, “I like the sound of that.”

“I know you do,” he said.

Once everyone was finished eating, I cleared the table and then let the guys get acquainted in the living room. Jesse came into the kitchen and put his arms behind me as I washed the dishes. He kissed my neck and made me drop the dish into the soapy water.

“Way to go,” I grinned.

“Need any help?”

“I’m practically done, but if you keep doing that it is going to take me a lot longer.”

“That’s okay; I’ve got all the time in the world.”

“Nice to know,” I said rinsing the last dish.

I grabbed a dishcloth to dry my hands before wrapping them around Jesse’s neck, “I like your brother. He seems really nice. I got to know him a little bit today when you were with my dad.”

“Oh yeah? What did he tell you?” he asked curiously.

“Just a bit about himself I guess, that he wants to settle down, that he’s been horse back riding before.”

“Is that the first thing you ask everybody?” he asked.

I thought about it, “Maybe not the first but usually the second.”

He laughed, “What’s the first?”

“Probably their name,” I smiled.

“You’re amazing you know that?”

I shook my head, “No,” I corrected, “I’m just a girl who is madly in love with you.”

He bent over and kissed me on the lips, “The feeling is mutual.”

“You think we should join them?”

He nodded pulling me by the hand. Once we got into the living room, I found my father showing Ben pictures of the ranch and all of the horses that have come to be trained.

Jesse went to go look at the stack of books and picture albums and when he pulled one out I jumped and grabbed it from him, “You don’t want to see that.”

He shifted his weight to lean against the sofa and put out his hand, “Yes, I want to see it so give it to me.”

I shook my head not wanting him to see my yearbook pictures, “They are really bad. I didn’t always look like this you know?”

“I am sure they are not that bad.”

My father coughed, “I wouldn’t have said that.”

“Dad!” I protested trying not to laugh, “See even my dad laughs at them so can we not?”

“Come on,” he said, “It’s not a big deal, just show me.”

I brought it on the sofa and sat on it. It didn’t take much energy for Jesse to pull it out. I didn’t bother trying to prevent him as he began to flip the pages.

I turned to Ben, “Is he always this annoying?”

“You have no idea,” he rolled his eyes, “Just wait, the more years that pass the worse it gets.”

I laughed as Jesse finally came to the page, “Wow, you look nothing like that.”

I frowned, “I know, I told you it was bad.”

“It’s not bad, you just changed a lot.”

“I was ugly,” I sighed.

“Oh stop it,” my father said, “It really isn’t that bad I just like to tease you about it because I know you hate it.”

Jesse ran his finger over the picture, “So you had braces?”

“You think anyone has teeth this straight without being put into this shape?” I asked sarcastically, “Yes I had braces, for three years.”

“I had braces too, when I was fifteen but only for fifteen months.”

“Lucky you.”

“It’s okay, I mean look at you now, it was worth it right?”

I nodded, “Yes, okay now that you saw can we put it away?”

He shook his head, “Ben didn’t see,” he said handing it over to Ben.

I pouted, “Oh you are mean.”

He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, “Take that back.”

“Never.”

“Last chance.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

He began to tickle me, he knew my weakness, “Take it back,” he shouted over my giggles.

“Okay, okay, I take it back,” I said.

“Good!”

“I lied,” I said and when he was about to tickle me again I said, “I’m joking, I’m joking, I would never lie about such a thing. Actually I would never lie period.”

He smiled, “I am glad to hear it because I won’t lie to you either.”

“Good because a relationship based on lies will never work.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” he said forgetting that we had a live audience.

“Well I am glad to hear that,” my father said, “Because believe me, when lies are involved it never ends well.”

“Sounds like you are speaking from experience,” Jesse said putting an arm around my shoulder.

“Yes, I am. My daughter knows the story too. My wife and I almost called off our wedding,” he started.

“What happened?” Ben said sitting on the edge of his chair.

“I basically hid something from her, when she asked me about it I lied because I thought it would be better if she didn’t know. I didn’t do anything wrong but the fact that I lied to her almost destroyed the love we had. I felt guilty and I couldn’t marry her with that feeling so the night before the wedding I confessed.”

“What did she do?” Jesse asked.

“She threw me out of her house, she told me she needed time to think. She was disappointed in me, she felt like she couldn’t trust me. I mean if I easily kept something from her then she began to wonder if I kept anything else from her or if I would get into that habit when we were married. She called the next morning and said she wanted to see me. We talked for the next three hours, she forgave me and we got married, half an hour late.”

“She forgave you just like that?” Jesse asked.

“She did a lot of screaming but I let her. I was disappointed in myself. In the end she said she still loved me and couldn’t picture her life without me. She also warned me that if I ever did it again she would leave me. I loved her and I knew I would lose her if I did so I never did. Except when she was pregnant, she wanted veal but we didn’t have any and I really was tired after working on the ranch all day. All we had was beef so I told her it was veal.”

Everyone laughed, “Did she find out?” Ben asked.

“She did,” he said, “I told her after we had Jennifer but she didn’t care at that point, plus it was something so irrelevant. Bottom line, if you ever want to make a relationship last, do not lie because eventually it will come out.”

“We could learn a lot from you,” Ben said.

“Wisdom comes with age.”

“Well it’s getting late,” Jesse said standing up, “We should go.”

I walked the guys to the door and gave Ben a hug, “Thanks for helping me today.”

“No worries, I didn’t do much.”

“It’s okay, you still helped,” I said turning to Jesse.

I could feel Ben’s eyes watching us but Jesse didn’t seem to care because he still pressed his lips on mine.

“Thanks for tonight,” he whispered in my ear.

“Thank you for last night,” I winked as I pulled away.

“We’ll do it again.”

“Just not in the winter,” I joked.

“Why not?”

“We might wake up stuck to the truck with ice.”

“We’ll just have to cuddle,” he said, “We’ll create our own heat.”

“Okay, I have heard enough,” Ben said walking down the porch, “I will wait in the truck.”

I laughed, “Alright, you better go. Good night handsome.”

“Farwell my lady,” he said taking a bow before heading to the truck.

I waited until he was in the truck before heading inside. As I closed the door I walked back into the living room.

“Ben seems like a nice kid,” my father commented.

“Yeah, I got the same impression.”

“Well, don’t worry; I am sure we can afford to hire him for two days a week if he doesn’t find something within the next couple weeks. We’ve got three horses coming next week so we will be busier and he could take over your work in the barns which will free you up some more to train.”

“I guess that is true.”

“Then when he finds a job, he won’t be here so it will just be temporary. I think it would be good for him too, to be here with his brother. It’s a new place for him so it will take some time for him to get used to the country life so having people he knows around him will help.”

I smiled, “You’re such a good dad you know?”

“I try,” he kissed my forehead, “I will see you tomorrow morning,” he said heading up to bed.

I sat on the couch and watched a little television before heading up to bed.

Truth Be Told (20)

Jesse and I went to my favourite spot on horseback for the fifth time. This time I brought a towel to tan on since the sun was shining bright and it was over thirty degrees out.

Jesse started laughing, “Are you serious?”

“I might as well get the best out of this trip; the sun does not always shine.”

He lay next to me blocking my sun, “Our sun could always shine.”

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

“Toronto.”

I grinned, “I know that, I mean, you say things that guys just don’t say. You make me smile like no other can and when I am with you I feel like nothing could go wrong.”

He kissed me, “That’s why our sun will always shine.”

“You scare me,” I said.

He frowned, “Is that a bad thing?”

“I don’t know, you tell me?”

“Why do I scare you?”

“I’m afraid of everything you make me feel.”

“Go on,” he said.

“Do I risk it?”

“Risk what?”

“Everything.”

“I think you lost me,” he said.

“I’m terrified to love again.”

“Why?”

“Because that gives you power over me.”

“No it doesn’t,” he shook his head, “If it makes you feel any better, you have me wrapped around your finger.”

I laughed as I leaned on my elbow and put my arm around his neck, “I was lost before you came along.”

“I think you were just fine before me.”

I shook my head, “You showed me everything that was missing in my life. If it wasn’t for you I still wouldn’t be training. I owe you.”

“How about this? You can kiss me right now and we can call it even.”

I pressed my lips on his and pushed him to lie on his back, “Even?”

“Not yet,” he pulled me close to kiss me again, “Okay, I think that does it.”

“I found my way because of you,” I said smiling.

He caressed my cheek, “I’m not the only one who says things that people don’t say.”

“I feel safe when I am with you.”

“You should.”

“Am I tanned yet?” I winked changing the subject.

He shook his head, “There is a fire in us that will never be burned out.”

“I love you,” I said looking deep into Jesse’s eyes.

It was difficult to understand the emotions that ran across his face. I didn’t want him to reply if he didn’t mean it though I was a little disappointed that he didn’t. He brought his lips to mine and kissed them gently. I smiled as he pulled away and lay on my back.

I guess it was too soon for him, I probably shouldn’t have said anything but I couldn’t stop myself, he knew all the right things to say.

When we got up to head back I turned to him, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For telling you…”

“So you don’t?” he asked.

“I do,” I said, “I just feel like maybe it was too soon to say it even if I was feeling it. I told you I’m terrified to love anyone but I do and maybe I shouldn’t so quickly. I mean, I kept asking myself whether or not I should tell you because I don’t want to fall Jesse. I don’t want to get hurt but I can’t deny it anymore or hide it anymore because it’s how I feel. I just don’t want things to be weird now…”

He brought his finger to my lips, “First of all, you are way too strong to fall and secondly, things are not weird.”

That wasn’t the reply that I was looking for but I would have to respect him. As we headed back we didn’t speak, my mind just continued to wander. I felt vulnerable!

When we got back Jesse grabbed my hand as we walked back to the barn. I smiled at him as I left him to go train a horse. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think straight and I got nowhere.

I barely recognized Mary standing in front of me, “Earth to Jennifer.”

I shook my head, “Hey, sorry, I was just thinking.”

“I could see that, looked intense. Is everything okay?”

I thought about it and tried to push the thought away, “Yeah, everything is fine. How’s it going with you?”

“Good, I think the little bugger is ready to go,” she said referring to a horse.

I smiled, “Okay, well I will call their owner tomorrow then. Good job.”

“Are you sure everything is okay? I couldn’t help watch you for a bit and it seems like you are off your game today.”

I faced the barn and saw Jesse leading a horse to the pen, “I told Jesse I loved him.”

“Wow,” Mary’s eyes opened.

“I know right? Why, I keep asking myself why I did and I can’t come up with anything.”

“I’m guessing he didn’t say it back.”

I shook my head, “I know it’s only been like what? A month that we have been together but I keep thinking that maybe he just doesn’t feel the same.”

“Wow, slow down Jen. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself okay? So what he didn’t say it? Trust me, I know it hurts even if you try to hide it but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the same way. Maybe he is just not ready to take that step yet. Who knows why he didn’t say it but when he does say it, at least you know he will mean it and it will be worth it honey.”

“I know, I keep telling myself that but I just feel like curling up in bed. I won’t do that but I hate that I feel that way.”

“I told Sam I loved him before he told me,” she said, “He didn’t tell me until the next month. He said he loved me but he was upset that I said it first so he wanted to punish me for it. I was so angry with him but I didn’t care, after all he finally told me he loved me.”

“Why didn’t he tell you then?”

“He said he wasn’t sure if I was ready to hear it.”

I thought about it, “Maybe you are right. I just need to give it time. I just, I don’t want this to be a bad omen.”

“Oh honey, you of all people should not believe that.”

I sighed, “Alright, enough about me. How is everything coming along for the wedding?”

“Amazing. Sam has been great through this whole thing. He’s been helping me with everything and actually wants to be involved,” her eyes twinkled.

“A guy who wants to be involved in planning a wedding?” I questioned as we walked out of the ring, “You lucked out.”

“I know,” she laughed, “Everything is pretty much set. My parents have been great too with all the help they have been giving me. Basically, the day just needs to arrive. I appreciate it that you are letting us have our wedding here. This place just feels like home to me.”

“I’m glad because seeing you here everyday makes it feel like home for me too.”

I tried not to pay too much attention to the fact that Jesse didn’t tell me he loved me but it was difficult considering I felt that he was avoiding me. We still saw each other every day but he wouldn’t come visit me in my office or come see how I was doing when I was training. He didn’t saddle our horses up to go for a ride at noon and at night instead of sticking around he left right away, popping his head in my office to tell me he was leaving, without giving me a kiss.

Finally on Saturday I regretted telling him I loved him, it was like I didn’t even recognize him anymore. He turned into a completely different person.

After dinner, I told my dad I wanted to go to Jesse’s place for a little while. He gave me the keys to his truck as I hopped I could steal him away from his brother so we could watch the stars together again, maybe helping us to get back on track.

As I approached the door I could hear him arguing with his brother. I wasn’t sure if I should interrupt or not so I gave it sometime but they didn’t settle down. I got the feeling if no one disrupted them they might punch each other out.

I knocked on the door and could see the surprise in Jesse’s eyes as he answered it, “Hey, Jen!”

“Hey,” I smiled, “Is this a bad time?”

He looked uncomfortable, “No, come in.”

I walked in and smiled at Ben, “Hi.”

“Speak of the devil,” he winked.

I frowned, “You were talking about me?”

Jesse sighed, “No, my brother was just being an ass.”

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Jesse said grabbing my hand and leading me to the couch, “So is everything okay?”

I thought about it, “Well, I don’t know. Is it?”

He looked at Ben before responding, “Yes, why wouldn’t it be?”

I looked at Ben wishing he weren’t there, “Well, I feel like we’ve sort of been off this past week ever since you know…”

“Just because I haven’t spent every waking minute with you doesn’t mean there is something wrong,” he said with attitude.

I was taken back and stood up, “Okay, you know what? I’ll talk to you Monday.”

He huffed, “No wait, come back, sit down. I’m sorry. It’s just been a tough week.”

I sat down with a worried expression, “Is everything okay?”

He shook his head closing his eyes, “Not really.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.

“Not tonight, if you don’t mind.”

I tried not to feel disappointed again, “Okay.”

“Do you want to watch a movie?”

I nodded, “Okay,” I looked around, “I see you brought the television in here.”

He nodded, “Yeah, I figured it would be better here now that I get visitors,” he winked.

I smiled feeling as if things might be on the verge of normal. As he put on a movie I went to look at the books on the shelves and found his year book.

“It’s payback,” I said making him turn around.

He immediately grabbed the book from my hand, “You don’t want to see that.”

“Yes I do,” I said trying to get it back but he was to strong.

“No, really.”

“Come on, you saw mine,” I argued.

“No!”

I looked at Ben, “A little help here.”

“You’re on your own.”

“You are no help,” I said.

“You’ll thank me one day.”

Jesse scowled, “Wouldn’t you much rather watch the movie?”

I nodded but as he lowered his arm I grabbed the book, “Just one peak?”

He nodded, “Fine.”

I began to flip through the pages until I found him. He was cute; I would have been attracted to him back in high school.

“Why didn’t you want me to see this?” I asked, “Your picture is a thousand times better than mine.”

He kissed my cheek, “You are too sweet.”

I analyzed the picture some more and noticed his name, “Why does it say Liam?”

“I told you that is my middle name, everyone used to call me that in high school.”

“Do you like it better than Jesse?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No, that’s why no one calls me that anymore.”

“Except your brother” I pointed out.

“That was a one-time thing,” Ben jumped in, “Habits die hard.”

I smiled and got up, “I’m just going to use the washroom.”

“I’ll keep your spot warm,” Jesse smiled.

I nodded making my way to the bathroom. As I washed my hands I saw a prescription bottle on the counter. It was addressed to Liam, not Jesse. I frowned as I picked the bottle up. I wasn’t sure what the pills were for but they were purchased a year ago. I found it a little odd.

As I made my way back into the living room I heard Ben say, “You’re the biggest idiot I know.”

I frowned, “Jesse?”

He turned to face me, “Yeah?” when I didn’t answer he stood up, “Is everything okay?”

I shook my head, “I don’t know, you tell me?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

I didn’t care that Ben was there, “I came here because all week I have had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something has been off and I couldn’t figure it out so I came here hoping we could work whatever it was out.”

“I thought we did that.”

“Yeah but then I found these,” I lifted the prescription bottle, “It’s for Liam.”

He swallowed, “I think you keep forgetting that is my nickname.”

“Just tell her,” Ben whispered but I still caught it.

“Tell me what?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Jesse said, “Can you stay out of this?” he referred to his brother.

“Why do you keep using your nick name if you don’t like it? And why would you use your middle name for prescriptions?”

“Those are old,” he pointed to the bottle.

“Only one year old,” I said feeling as if he was lying to me, “Just talk to me. What is going on?”

He bit his lip and faced Ben, “Can you leave us alone for a bit?”

He nodded, “Yes.”

Jesse walked towards me, “Come here.”

We sat down on the couch, he was playing with his hands. I grabbed them and drew nearer to him. I kissed him on the lips letting him know I wasn’t going anywhere.

“Talk to me.”

He shook his head.

“Why not?” I sighed, “You can tell me anything.”

“I know,” again he didn’t look into my eyes, “But can we just not talk about it?”

I thought about it, “Okay, as long as it doesn’t affect us.”

“Aren’t some things better off unsaid?”

I shook my head, “Not if they are going to create problems in the future.”

“They might not.”

“If you can guarantee me that it won’t, then fine don’t tell me if you feel so strongly about it. But if it does,” I stopped.

“If it does,” he encouraged me to go on.

“I don’t want to get hurt,” I simply said.

He raised his voice, “That is why I don’t want to tell you.”

“So then it does affect us?” I asked.

He walked forward and put one hand on my waist, “There are things about me you don’t know. Things in my past that I don’t like to talk about.”

“Everyone has a past but you need someone to talk to about it.”

“I do, my brother.”

“So you don’t trust me?” I asked feeling hurt.

He closed his eyes, “I do trust you.”

I placed my hand on his chest, “Then tell me. Everything is going to be okay.”

“If I tell you,” he whispered, “I am going to lose you.”

I shook my head and hugged him, “I am right here and I am not going anywhere.”

When I pulled away he sighed, “I am not the person you think I am.”

I laughed as I grabbed his hand, “Yes you are. You are sweet, caring and someone I have strong feelings for so I am pretty sure I know you.”

“My birth name was Liam,” he began, “Liam is not my middle name.”

I let go of his hand, “I’m confused.”

“My family and I went into the witness protection program last year,” he said, “so I had to change my name.”

I thought about what he said. It would take some time getting used to the fact that he had this whole other identity before I met him but I wasn’t about to break up with him because he had a secret that he couldn’t control.

“Okay so you had to change your name, I wish you would have told me and I wish you would have trusted me but I guess the important thing is you are telling me now.”

“I shouldn’t be,” he said, “I am not supposed to tell anyone.”

“I know what being in the witness protection program does and I know the rules you have to follow.”

“Do you? Because I don’t think you do. I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

I put my hand on his shoulder, “You can trust me. I am not going to tell anyone Jesse, I love you and yes I wish I could tell Sara or my father but I won’t because I care about you and don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize your safety.

“So you are not mad at me?”

I smiled, “Maybe a little disappointment but that is where things end, I can’t be mad at you for something like that.”

He loosened up a bit, “You are amazing.”

“Don’t you forget it,” I winked at him as I gave him a kiss, “So what happened? Why did you have to go into witness protection?”

He frowned, “I got mixed up with the wrong people and they wanted me to do things that I couldn’t do but they wouldn’t leave me alone so we had to be protected.”

“So were these people like the mafia?”

“Something like that,” he said staring into space.

“Your family had to leave Toronto too?”

“Well we were actually in Italy at the time,” he admitted, “I never lived in Toronto.”

“You didn’t have to lie about that,” I pointed out.

“I was paranoid,” he admitted.

“Okay so what did they want you to do?” I asked.

“What is with all the questions?” he asked defensively.

“Are you hiding something else?” I asked.

He looked at me, “What they wanted me to do isn’t what I don’t want to tell you.”

I took a deep breath, “Okay now you are scaring me.”

“I thought I would have already lost you after telling you what I did,” he paused, “But I am not so sure about the next part.”

“I am sure you are overreacting. What else could you possibly have to tell me?”

“If I just did what they wanted, my sister would still be alive.”

I blinked my eyes a few times not sure I heard correctly, “Huh?”

“They killed my sister!”

My hand flew to my mouth, “I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything.”

“I am so sorry,” I said.

“It’s my own fault,” he said tears filling his eyes, “But I can’t think like that anymore.”

“They killed her?” I said finally realizing what he said.

He nodded, “Yes.”

I took a step back, “Am I safe?”

He nodded, “I would never do anything to put you in danger.

“Wait, they killed your sister? You didn’t tell me you had a sister.”

“Jessica is my sister.”

“You said she was a friend,” I said.

“I know and I am sorry I just couldn’t tell you the truth, you wouldn’t have understood.”

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t have,” he said, “You never will because you didn’t have to watch your family fall apart as they blamed you for the death of your sibling.”

“I could have tried. Wait, you said she died of a brain tumour.”

“I know,” he repeated, “I wanted you to know that I knew what you were going through.”

“No,” I raised my voice, “You’re lying, you’re joking.”

He shook his head, “I wish I was.”

“You lied to me about that too?”

He faced the ground, “I am sorry.”

I shook my head, “So I guess it wasn’t five years ago, it was last year?”

He nodded, “Yes.”

I sighed, “Is Ben your brother?”

He nodded, “yes.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“What else did you lie to me about?” I asked getting angrier by the second.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I repeated.

“I can’t remember everything I told you.”

“Of course not because everything you said was a lie. Do you even know what the truth is?”

“Just tell me what to do to make this right.”

“I can’t believe this,” I ran my hand through my hair trying to think.

I was angry, I was hurt and I felt like I didn’t know him at all. I didn’t care that he was in the witness protection program, I cared about the fact that he lied to me about every detail in his life. It all made sense.

“Now I understand why you never volunteered information, why you got upset every time I tried to get information out of you about your life or why you didn’t want any attachments.”

Jesse walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder but I flung it away.

“Did you think you could get away with it?” I asked.

“I wanted to tell you.”

“But you didn’t and I bet if it wasn’t for your brother you still wouldn’t have told me.”

“I am not supposed to tell anyone.”

“I am sure you could tell the person you actually saw a future with but I guess that was the problem; you didn’t feel the way I did right? That is why you thought it was okay to keep this from me and to make everything about your life up. I bet you felt guilty when I told you, I loved you right? That’s why you started ignoring me.”

“I couldn’t tell you that I love you with this secret,” he whispered.

I ignored the fact that he practically told me he loved me, right now those three words were not worth much.

“I have to go,” I said heading for the door.

Jesse put his arm in front of me keeping the door closed, “You can’t go anywhere.”

“What?” I said trying to push him, “Let me go.”

“No!” he paused, “You need to listen to me.”

“I don’t have to do anything,” I said looking at the grip he had on my wrist, “and you need to let go.”

He loosened his grip, “I can’t let you tell anyone.”

“You still don’t trust me?”

“I don’t trust anyone,” he admitted, “I want to and a part of me did and still does but I can’t, not after everything I have been through and everything I have seen.”

“I don’t feel safe,” I whispered.

“No one is going to hurt you, ever, I would never let that happen.”

“You can’t control that.”

“You will never get hurt on my account.”

“You already hurt me,” I pointed out.

“I meant physically.”

“I think that might be less painful,” I said opening the door.

I walked out and found Ben sitting on the steps. He looked up and saw me storming out. He faced the ground unable to meet my eyes.

“Jen,” Jesse followed me, “You need to hear the whole story.”

“I don’t want to hear it; I can’t hear it right now.”

“Well you need to!”

“The only thing I need to do is get far away from here and far away from you.”

Jesse closed the door to the truck, “Please. I want to tell you everything.”

“It’s a little late for that.”

“It’s never too late.”

“Be quiet,” I shook my head trying to control my feelings; “I do not want to hear anything right now. I will not tell anyone about your precious secret but right now I need to get out of here.”

“Are you okay to drive?”

“You do not need to worry about me.”

“Stop it,” he said, “Don’t act like you are fine about this. Don’t act like I don’t care because I do.”

That was all I could take, “I was fine before you came along. I could take you being in this program and I am sorry for everything you had to go through. I can never imagine anything like that but I would think that you having gone through that would have compassion on other people. Yet you led me to believe that you cared about me. You let me fall in love with you making me think you were some miracle that I was waiting for. You got everyone to like you, my dad even approved of you but this was all some joke. For what? To see how easily you could fool someone?”

“You have it all wrong,” he said, “None of this was a joke. I never thought a girl like you would fall for someone like me.”

“Yet I did and you did nothing to stop it from happening. Was this a test to see if you could use your charm and get a girl to fall for you? If you really cared and if you didn’t want to tell anyone about who you really are, then you wouldn’t have gotten involved with me.”

“You’re right,” he said, “But when it happened I couldn’t stop myself. Jen, I didn’t know anyone like you in the past, I never knew you existed and then you told me you loved me…”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I loved Jesse, but Jesse doesn’t even exist, the Jesse I knew was a lie.”

“Don’t say that, I am Jesse.”

“No you are not,” I yelled, “I hate myself right now for ever believing anything you said, all the sweet things that made me love you more. I told you everything about me, I told you my secrets my fears, I bet you were laughing at me the whole time that I was pouring out my heart.”

“I never lied to you about my feelings for you.”

“You really think I am going to believe that? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Isn’t that how the saying goes?”

Ben cleared his throat, “If there is anything he didn’t lie about, it is the way he feels for you.”

“Stay out of this Ben,” Jesse’s eyes were on fire.

I took a deep breath, “Just let me go.”

“Please, let me tell you the whole story.”

“Maybe one day,” I whispered, “But not now.”

“Jen,” he grabbed my hand, “Don’t go.”

“I can’t believe this,” I said getting into the truck, “I came here because I knew there was something off between us. I was planning on kidnapping you to spend the night under the stars because I thought it would get us back on track. Instead, I discovered the real you.”

“This isn’t me,” he argued, “This person you’re discovering was me; I am not that person anymore.”

“You are always going to be that person,” I said.

“I got my life together Jen, whether or not you want to believe that and meeting you only helped me to move on.”

“So you used me,” I finally sighed.

“No,” Jesse said wanting to further explain himself but I cut in.

“You were right,” I continued, “You did lose me. Not because of your past but because you didn’t respect me enough to tell me the truth. You made me fall in love with a lie and for that, I will never look at you the same way.”

With that I pulled out of the driveway and left without looking back. On my way home I shed a couple tears, I still didn’t understand what went wrong. I thought Jesse was different but he was no better than Eric, my ex-boyfriend. Our whole relationship was based on lies, the one thing my father told us would destroy a relationship…and he was right!

I didn’t want to cry, I didn’t want to shed tears for someone I never really knew. Everyone had a past but to not trust me when he saw a future together was unforgiveable. I was saddened at the thought that Jesse couldn’t trust me nor did he love me.

I didn’t know what to tell my dad or Sara. I didn’t know what reason to give them for not being with Jesse anymore. I had to think of something before morning, luckily my father was in bed when I got in. I went to my room and closed the door collapsing on the bed.

Finally I decided that I would simply tell everyone that we would rather not ruin what we have by trying to be something more. The only problem with that was I would have to pretend to still be his friend when the last thing I wanted to do was see him.

I wanted to fire him, I didn’t want to see him every day working on the ranch but that would create problems for everyone especially myself because then I really could not make up an excuse which means I would have to tell my father the truth which I couldn’t do. So I didn’t know exactly what to do and I couldn’t seem to fall asleep either.

At five in the morning I still had not slept for more than a few minutes at a time so I got up and headed to the barn. The sun was just about to come up and I started mucking out the stalls. I tried to keep busy so I wouldn’t have to think but around seven, everyone started arriving.

My father came out with a mug of coffee, “You must have been out here early?”

“I couldn’t sleep too well.”

My father looked around, “It looks like everything is done in this barn, what will there be left for Jesse to do?”

I swallowed at the mention of his name, “He could do the other barn but he might not show up today.”

“How come?”

I thought about it, “He said he had some things to do.”

The truth was I didn’t know if he would come or not but I prayed that he wouldn’t. It would give me more time to think of what to tell my father.

“Looks like he changed his mind,” my father said as Jesse walked into the barn, “Jen was just telling me you wanted the day off.”

“Oh,” Jesse said looking at me, “I changed my mind.”

“Well, Jen already got most of the work done so when you are done if she doesn’t need you; you might as well take the rest of the day and go home.”

“We’ll see,” Jesse said not taking his eyes off of me.

I sighed as I continued to brush Snowflake. My father just stood there as if waiting for someone to say something but I didn’t make eyes contact.

Mary and Luca came at the same time as they walked in the barn to greet everyone. I offered them a smile and again turned my attention back to Snowflake.

“We’ll go for a ride later okay boy?”

Slowly everyone left except for Jesse. He came over to the stall as I could feel his eyes on me.

“Can I talk to you?”

I cleared my throat, “No.”

“Please,” he begged.

I shook my head as I walked out of the stall, “No.”

“I want to tell you the whole story from start to finish,” he said.

“I already know how it ends and frankly I don’t care how it started.”

“I can understand that but I still want to tell you, I think you deserve that much.”

“You think I deserve it?” I asked, “Don’t you think I deserved a little better before you lied to me?”

“You deserve the best,” he began, “and I can’t tell you how much I regret what I did to you but I can’t go back and undue it. I can only try to make things right.”

I rolled my eyes as I walked into my office.

“Jennifer,” Jesse followed me in my office and closed the door, “We need to talk about this.”

“No, we don’t,” I denied, “There is nothing to talk about. You lied to me about everything.”

“Not everything,” he pointed out.

“Name something you didn’t lie to me about?”

“The way I feel about you.”

“No,” I shook my head, “Something about you.”

He thought about it and for a while all he did was look into my eyes until he fixed his sight on a stack of paper that lay on my desk.

“Exactly,” I said getting up, “If you told me, none of this would have happened.”

“You’re right,” he got up, “But you wouldn’t have given me a chance either.”

“How dare you say that,” I said, “You don’t know what I would have done.”

“If you are honest with yourself, you wouldn’t have given me a chance, you probably wouldn’t have hired me if you knew all this before. That’s understandable; I probably wouldn’t want someone like me hanging around either.”

“I’ve heard enough okay,” I said making my way to open the door.

Jesse leaned in front of me and closed the door getting in front of it, “So what’s going to happen?”

“Nothing is going to happen,” I said, “You never trusted me so I don’t expect you to start now.”

“At first, no I didn’t but as you started trusting me I slowly started trusting you, which is why I want to tell you everything.”

“I am not ready to hear it.”

“Maybe it would help you,” he said.

“Help me?”

“Yes, maybe you will understand why I didn’t tell you, maybe you will…”

“Will what? Forgive you?” I laughed, “Maybe I will but that is still not going to change anything.”

“I was going to say give me a second chance.”

I shook my head, “Not going to happen.”

He nodded, “So are you firing me?”

“No.”

“Thank you.”

“I am not doing it for you,” I said rudely, “If I fired you people would ask a lot of questions and like you said, I can’t tell anyone.”

“I appreciate it,” he said, “So what are you going to tell people?”

“I haven’t figured it out completely yet.”

“I think you should tell me so we get our story straight.”

“What do you suggest?” I asked.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you.”

I closed my eyes trying not to cry. I did so well last night but all of a sudden standing in front of the man I thought I loved who broke my heart, not crying didn’t seem possible.

I blinked my eyes a couple times trying to prevent the tears from coming out. Jesse saw my eyes get glossy and tried to come closer but I took a step back.

“You make me sick,” I said wishing I didn’t speak my mind, “Just thinking about how many other girls you must have hurt this way.”

“I didn’t do this to anyone,” he faced the floor.

“I’ll tell people we just want to be friends,” I said, “But that doesn’t mean we are. I will do one barn and you will do another barn, I will train without you, if Mary needs your help you can help her and unless you need time off or have an issue you need to discuss which is about work you don’t need to talk to me.”

“Fine,” he frowned, “But one day soon I will tell you the whole story.”

“I don’t know Jesse,” I swallowed, “But can I ask you something? I want an honest answer.”

“Okay.”

“Were you ever going to tell me the truth? If I didn’t get suspicious and if your brother didn’t encourage you, would you have told me one day?”

He thought about it, “I don’t know, and that is my honest answer.”

I nodded, “Oh and I don’t know if this is too much to ask but can you maybe take two weeks off?”

He thought about it, “If you want me to then yes.”

“I need some time to get used to this.”

He nodded, “What about my brother? Your dad told him to start next week part time. Should I tell him to forget about it?”

I shook my head, “No, I don’t care, he could come. I don’t have anything against him, he didn’t do anything wrong, plus we will need the help since you won’t be here.”

I could see the hurt flash across Jesse’s face, “Is that it?”

I thought about it and nodded, “Yeah.”

Jesse slowly opened the door and headed out.

Explanations (21)

Mid-afternoon my father came up to the gate where I was training, “Jesse left?”

I nodded, “Yeah, he won’t be coming in for a couple weeks.”

“Why not?”

“He needs some time off,” I said not making eye contact.

“That’s all he said?”

I nodded finally going to meet my father on the other side of the gate, “There is something else I need to tell you.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Jesse and I talked last night and we decided that it would be better if we were just friends.”

“Just friends?” he squinted his eyes, “I don’t think I understand.”

“There isn’t anything to understand dad, we just are not going to be together anymore.”

“Did something happen? Did he hurt you?” he asked.

I shook my head hoping he couldn’t read through me the way Jesse did, “No, nothing happened but we don’t want anything to ruin our friendship.”

“How do you know it would get ruined?” my father was asking too many questions.

“We don’t but something is bound to happen dad, something always happens in relationships and I like Jesse so I do not want to lose him as a friend.”

“So why don’t you guys just put your friendship first and relationship second? You don’t have to end it just because you don’t want to risk it. Life is about taking risks.”

“Dad, I have a lot of work to do and I really don’t want to continue this conversation.”

“Is that why he took two weeks off?”

I nodded, “We just need to get back to normal, the way things were when he first showed up so we decided it would be best to spend some time away from each other.

“I don’t understand this generation anymore,” he said under his breath, “You guys make things so complicated. When I met your mother I knew right away I wanted her to be mine forever.”

I smiled, “You guys were soul mates.”

“I thought you and Jesse were too, I mean the way you guys looked at each other.”

“Dad,” I huffed.

“Alright, fine, I just hope you thought about this long and hard because you don’t want to let a good guy go out of fear of losing him in the future.”

As I watched my father walk away slowly shaking his head I muttered to myself, “If only you knew who he really was.”

When I got back from my ride with Snowflake, Sara was waiting for me on the front porch.

“What is this I hear about you and Jesse breaking up? After one month? Surely your father is incorrect,” Sara said with her perfect English.

“He is not incorrect,” I said taking a seat next to her, “Jesse and I are better off being friends.”

“What is wrong with you child?” she sounded like the mother I didn’t have.

“Look, I already have to hear this from my dad so can you not lecture me.”

“I just don’t understand, when you guys came out with Frank and I, it was like he was your match made in heaven. He couldn’t have come at a better time if you ask me.”

“That is why we have decided to be friends,” I said again getting tired of hearing my own voice saying the same thing.

“Okay, fine I will let it go but if you ask me, this is a mistake,” she got up, “Without him you may not be training right now, the way I see it, you owe him big time.”

Sara had a point, “We are still friends, this was a mutual decision Sara, owing him has nothing to do with this. Yes, I am grateful for what he did and one day I will pay him back somehow but I don’t see how that has to do with our break up which I might add again, was mutual.”

“So you say.”

“Sara come on, are you seriously mad at me?”

She shook her head, “No, of course not. I just don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to understand everything, I do.”

“I came by to see if you wanted to go on a double date again tonight but I guess I got my answer,” she made her way off the porch, “I have to go, I start my volunteer shift in a bit.”

“Okay well maybe you can come by one of these days when you’re free and we can go for a ride.”

She nodded, “I will.”

I had trouble sleeping again that night; I tossed and turned all night, stealing a glance at the clock every few minutes. It seemed like the time was never going by.

I was angry, I couldn’t remember the last time I was this angry. Actually I could, it was when I was ten years old and I had just found out my mother died. I was angry with her for dying and I was angry with my dad for telling me she was going to be okay, when she wasn’t.

Now I was angry with Jesse for lying to me about who he was and thinking I would just give him a second chance. I was angry that he couldn’t trust me but I was angry at myself for falling for it. I ended things with Eric to be with Jesse and yet all Jesse brought me was drama.

I still had difficulty believing the truth, it felt too dramatic, as if it was an action packed movie, only it wasn’t. It was my life. I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t know whether allowing Jesse to keep his job was smart.

Was two weeks going to be enough for me to get over him? And how would I not fall for him all over again once he returned to work? Could I ignore him all day and pretend nothing ever happened? Not likely!

I turned on the lamp at four in the morning and began to read the Bible, something I often did when I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night. It often had answers that I was looking for, only tonight it didn’t. However it did give me a peace of mind as I knew that whatever was going to happen was in God’s hands; He is in control.

“I wish I could talk to you mom,” I sighed as I put my Bible away, “But I know you are in a good place.”

I shed a couple tears that dried up on my pillow, “I love you mom, help me, I need you mom. I don’t know what to do and I can’t talk to anyone because of this secret that I have to keep now.”

I turned the light out and began to pray for guidance, God knew what was happening, He knew my heart was broken and He would take care of me. I wasn’t alone! I would never be alone!

Keep reading for a preview of Truth Be Told, the next installment of Bailey’s Ranch series….

After the speeches had ended the dance floor was opened. I watched all the kids on the dance floor running around and some of the girls twirling in circles watching their dresses flare. I smiled remembering all the times I used to do that.

I barely noticed when Jesse sat next to me, “What are you thinking?”

I shrugged my shoulders then saw my father watching us from afar, “I’m wondering why anyone would ever want to get married.”

“What?”

“I’m serious. I mean as a girl, you grow up picturing your wedding and the man you’re going to marry who is going to stand by you for better or for worse but then you grow up and realize that there is no happy ending.”

“You don’t believe that do you?”

“Yeah, I do. It’s pretty clear that marriage never works.”

“I think you are very wrong, look at Mary and Sam on the dance floor, they couldn’t be more in love.”

“Yeah, today they are. We’ll see how long it lasts.”

“I can’t believe this is coming from you, she’s a close friend of yours.”

“I never said I want anything to happen, I’m just saying whether they get a divorce, or have a tragedy occur or something else, it won’t last.”

“This is a side of you I haven’t seen before.”

“Welcome to the new me,” I said getting up and walking away.

I met my father in the middle of the dance floor as he held out his hand and began twirling his little girl around the dance floor. I started to laugh as he dipped me.

“There is that laugh that I love so much. It has been a while since I’ve heard it,” he commented leaving me speechless.

“You know you are the best father anyone could ever have right?”

“Of course I am,” he winked, “Who else would put up with your craziness.”

“I keep you young daddy.”

“Maybe it’s a good thing you don’t want to get married,” my father mentioned, “This way I get to keep you a little longer.”

I smiled, “I won’t be leaving you anytime. Don’t forget, the ranch will be mine one day.”

“You are right and it will be in great hands.”

“May I cut in?” I frowned as Jesse interrupted us.

My father always glad to see Jesse smiled handing him my hand, “Of course.”

I unwilling let him pull me closer as we began to dance in a slow circle. It was testing to allow him to have his hand on my lower back, it was challenging to just keep my hand in his and it was torture to be standing on the dance floor with Jesse who I want to hurt.

I slowly pulled my hand away and took a step back, “I can’t do this.”

“We’re just dancing.”

I frowned shaking my head, “I know but, I can’t.”

I slowly made my way of the dance floor.

Sara spotted me and came over to sit next to me, “Is everything okay?”

I forced a smile, “Everything is great.”

“I sense the sarcasm.”

I rolled my eyes, “Honestly, I’m just tired. I think I’m going to get a drink.”

“Are you sure you are okay?”

I nodded making my way to the bar.

“Hey,” Ben said as I asked the bartender for a drink.

“Hi,” I said.

“You look a little upset, are you letting my brother get to you again?”

I huffed wishing he would have ignored me. Ben was the only one who knew everything that went on between Jesse and I.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I can tell you would rather drown your sorrows with a drink. Maybe you should come visit me when I’m working; I’ll buy you a drink for free.”

Ben works part time at the local pub which I went to a couple times a month, “I think I will pass.”

“Your loss; that was only a one time offer. You are going to have to pay full price next time, no discount.”

I giggled wondering what he said that was so funny, “Can I just have my drink in peace?”

He watched me, “It’s not good to keep things in you know? I am the only one you could actually talk to.”

I sighed, “Yes, but you are also the brother of the guy who broke my heart and lied to me so how could I possibly trust you?”

“I am not my brother.”

“That’s a little harsh.”

“Yes, but I’m wondering how a girl who is so deeply wounded would defend the guy who did the wounding.”

“I am not defending anybody; I was just making a comment.”

Ben mumbled, “Well that offer still stands.”

“Which offer was that again?” I asked.

“If you need anyone to talk to I am here, and no, I won’t tell my brother everything.”

“Everything?” I asked.

“Okay, I will not tell him anything,” he corrected.

I glared at him, “Really? Why should I believe you?”

“Because you have no reason not to, you have been working with me for a while now, you know that I was the one who told my brother he should tell you the truth and you also know that I am a sucker when it comes to romance.”

I laughed, “What does romance have anything to do with this?”

“It doesn’t, I was just trying to make you laugh.”

I smiled, “Well it worked.”

“So as you can see, you can trust me.”

“Maybe if you told me something about yourself first that would convince me some more.”

“There really isn’t much to tell you.”

“Nothing? I don’t believe that.”

“Okay,” he thought about it, “I’ll tell you a secret but this is very personal and I have never told anyone this.”

“What is it?” I got closer to him.

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