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.”
“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?”
“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.
“That’s impressive; I bet that looks good on a resume.”
He laughed, “I don’t include it.”
“People will think I am overqualified.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
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.