Back in the Groove
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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 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.”
“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.
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.