Jupiter, the sleek black stallion relaxes in the cross-ties in the alleyway. I brush him with wide sweeping motions down along his neck and shoulder. I follow the curves of his body and he gleams.
I feel my boss’s eyes on me. I see him in my peripheral vision. He is watching through the picture window of his office in the barn. He is perched in his chair. His gaze follows every brush stroke I make. If I were a cartoonist, I would portray him as an oversized gorilla with a lolling tongue, drooling saliva, while his eyes protrude from his skull. I squirm at his lustful intent. I work with added speed. The sooner I can switch to the other side of the horse away from his greedy gaze, all the better.
I’m only three days into my job working for Dick and Tracey. I have yet to figure out a schedule where I can avoid the ever-watchful eyes of Dick.
In the beginning I was confident that Tracey had no idea what sort of man she had married. How naive I was. She knew exactly what sort of man she married. Eventually, I found out, to her, it didn’t matter a bit. She sold her soul for the benefit of well-bred horses and competitive horse shows.
I take the coal black Ferrari-like horse off the cross-ties to an outside pen for some roaming time. The stress in my body falls away as soon as I am free from Dick’s sight.
Tracey is working a two-year-old in the round pen. She spots me and waves me over.
A ball cap covers her short pixie haircut leaving little strands to poke out from under the edges. She looks like a teenage girl. Tracey then lifts the sunglasses off her face revealing her true age; the lines and creases add the years. She meets my gaze with a confident smile, “Hey Deb,” she said. “Could you run back to the barn office, and let Dick know I’m almost done with Kicks? We’re heading into town for a meeting, and he wants to make sure he has enough time to put the air-conditioning on in the vehicle.” She wrinkles her nose. “He doesn’t like it too hot— maybe he wouldn’t find it too hot, if he didn’t sit in the damn air-conditioned office all day.”
I smile, blocking all the nasty thoughts of Dick that rise to the surface of my mind. Like my mom always said— If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it at all. I won’t say anything aloud about my nasty lecherous sloth of a boss.
“Sure, I can let Dick know you’re almost done.” I said to Tracey with a bob of my head.
She gives me a brief nod, “Thanks Deb.” She pats the chestnut colt on the neck. “And this young fellow has some people coming to check him out in a couple days. With any luck at all he’ll have a new home soon.”
The horse gleams with a light sweat, his eye is soft, and he has lowered his head into a submissive position.
“He’s a willing boy.” I comment, admiring his gentle manner.
“Yeah, most of our horses have a good attitude towards work, it’s bred into them.”
Hmmm, Dick must not have those bloodlines. I bite my tongue. “Is there anything extra you need me to do today?”
Tracey purses her lips and rubs her forehead, “No, it’s still your first week, just do the usual chores.” She hesitates and adds, “Well, maybe if you have extra time— put Jupiter on the treadmill for twenty minutes.”
“Sure, will do.” I agree.
I head back towards the barn my nerves are holding a tap dance in my stomach. Dick is akin to the flu bug.
I rap on the office door with my knuckles, scrunching up my face, and crying like a baby inside. I don’t want to talk to Mr. Creeps.
“Come in,” said Dick.
I suck in a lungful of air, and stride into the room with a no-nonsense manner. “Hello Dick. Tracey asked me to let you know, she’s almost done with Kicks.”
His eyes are lasers, “Good,” he said, wiggling his hand into his pocket and then pulling out his keys. He holds them out to me, “Can you go and start the truck and put the air-conditioning on high.”
I take the keys, making a mental note to disinfect my hands. “ Sure, “ I reply, turning to leave as faster than Trump can tell a lie.
“Debby.” he said in a hammer down tone.
I freeze wondering what I did wrong, feeling like I was four and just broke a lamp. I take a step back and face Dick, “Yes?”
“Did Tracey tell you about supper on Friday night?”
“No, she didn’t say anything. What about it?”
“We are invited to Bill and Julie’s house for supper.”
“Bill and Julie?” I answer in a wondering tone.
“Dick frowns, “You know? Julie?” He rolls his eyes impatiently. “The girl who worked for us before you? And her fiancé Bill?”
“Oh. Them, ok, I’ve just never met them— you’re sure I’m invited?”
“Yeah, Julie said she wanted to meet you.”
I raise my eyebrows, “Well, that was nice of her.” It’s odd though, why would she want to meet me?
Dick leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his belly interlocking his fingers. “Yeah, she insisted. I don’t see the point but it’ll be an evening out for you.”
I blink trying to keep my face expressionless, just in case he could somehow read my mind. I saw the point. It was a sharp point for me. I want to meet her. I want to know more about Dick and Tracey. I want to know how to get on Tabby’s good side. I was still lower than turds tumbling out of a horses butt according to Tabby.
“It’ll be good to meet some other people.” I admit.
Dick shrugs and a jiggle goes through his body. He pointedly looks me in the eye, and drops one hand to his crotch, “Have you changed your mind about messing around?”
“No.” I said firmly, and pushed my way out through the door before he could spit out one more word.
I practically run towards the truck pushed by the heebie jeebies.
Friday arrives. Dick drives the extended cab truck; Tracey sits up front in the passengers seat. Zack, Tabby and I sit in the back on the bench seat. Zack sits in the middle between Tabby and I.
Tracey and Dick are discussing a horse sale.
Zack talks nonstop, and once in a while I actually listen.
He leans forward and pokes his mom, “Remember when Bill rescued me from the gator Mom?”
Dick is ignoring Zack, “Tracey, what’s the road number?”
Tracey scans the driving instructions in her hand, “101 Palm Lane.”
Tracey glances at Zack, “I wasn’t there Zack. I was at the house.”
Zack nudges me in the shoulder, “It was unreal! Bill wrestled that gator right into the mud.” Zack leans forward and studies me with serious eyes. “That gator tried to kill me.” He said in a hushed voice, “But Bill saved me.”
I prod him with my shoulder, “I’m glad he saved you. The world needs more kids like you, enthusiastic and funny.” I give him an honest grin.
He beams, and dips his head bashfully.
Tabby snorts and tosses her head.
I’m still winning I see.
We arrive at Julie and Bills house. It’s a quaint little bungalow. Some fences run along a bush line encompassing a small barn. I hear a horse whinny’s off in the distance.
Julie is a few years older than myself, a little leaner but the same height. Her fiancé Bill is old. There is no other way to put it. He has wrinkles. Julie looks way too young to be getting married to him, but it’s none of my business.
Dick, Bill and Zack wander off. I don’t know where they went, maybe Zack would try to get eaten by another gator so Bill could save him, and Dick could take credit for it?
Julie brought out a wondrous personality change in Tabby. Suddenly the surly teenager laughed, smiled and made jokes. She told Julie stories about school, and then after shooting me a look of pure dislike she whispers something in Julie’s ear.
Julie creases her brow and tightens her lips.
Here we go I thought.
Then Julie steps in front of Tabby and takes her by the arm, “Tabby, that’s not fair to Debby. She came a long way to work for your family. She didn’t steal my job.” Julie shook her head, “I don’t know where you got that idea? But I left on my own accord.”
Tabby dropped her eyes to the ground, “It’s just that you seemed so happy? We had so much fun together.”
Julie bobs her head, “Yeah. We did. But now I want a different life.”
Tabby knits her brows together, “You didn’t even really say goodbye.”
Julie chuckles, “Because I didn’t leave the country, I’ll see you around. I’m seeing you tonight aren’t I?”
Tabby sighs with a reluctant nod.
After supper I help Julie clean up. Everyone else goes out to the barn to admire the new pair of peacocks Bill bought.
I pick up a plate from the rack and dry it off.
Julie has her arms elbow deep in sudsy water. “How’s it going over there?” She asks.
“Not bad.” I said, wondering how much I should say.
She smiles wryly picking up on my thoughts. “Don’t worry. You can trust me. Tabby and Zack are sweet kids, and Tracey isn’t all bad, but Dick?” She pauses with a snort, “Dick is a dirty rotten pig.” She shakes her head as she scrubs a stainless steel pot, “And I get the feeling he could be dangerous.” She stops and stares at me, “I wouldn’t push him.“
I stack the plates on top of one another as I dry, “I’m not much of a pusher,” I confess, my face reddens as I blurt out the one question I really need answered. “Did Dick proposition you?”
She scrunches up her face, “Many times. Like I said, he’s a pig. They stiffed me on my last couple weeks wages too. That’s also why we had them over for supper. Bill was going to pressure Dick for my money.”
“I wondered about that.” I said, “Owen told me something along those lines. I guess I’ll wait and see how it plays out for me. It’s difficult when you don’t know anybody down here.”
Julie adds some hot water to her sink, “That’s another reason I wanted you to come for supper. I have a friend who just moved out here from Minnesota. She works with hunter jumpers for a local lady. I thought maybe you guys could get together since you don’t know anyone else. Carlin’s likes to get out and have some fun. It would be better for you than always being stuck with the Fatterods.”
At the end of the evening Julie gives me a hug, and presses a piece of paper into my palm. “It’s Carlin’s number. Call her,” she suggests, “maybe you guys can hang out on your Mondays off. “ She leans in closer, “I gave you my number too. Just in case you ever need any help.”
It’s the little things which can save your life. That little piece of paper with a phone number, and name, written by a girl I just met. It held everything I needed to be safe. It was my introduction to Carlin, who had my back. She was my way out when everything finally went to hell with Dick and Tracey.