Sunshiny Days

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Happy days at the polo barn with Carlins car and dogs.

“I’m sick of this shit!” Tracey screams flinging her arms in the air. Her baseball cap is snug on her head, and in her agitation she reaches up and tugs it down even further. Now it presses the top of her ears outwards, and she resembled an elf, or maybe even a pixie. Regardless, her face holds the color of blood. “I’m done!” She fumes with concrete in her tone, “You can go.” She says to me.

“You’re fired!” Tracey shouts throwing a hand out towards me.

“But—“ I begin.

“Get out!” she rails.

Tracey turns on her heel. She shouts out to Dick who is watching with open amusement. ”Take her home. She’s done.”

I stand in her dust. My head hangs and tears gather in my eyes. I just wanted to say goodbye to the horses, to the dogs— to the life I had a minute ago. I didn’t expect this. I was naive in my expectations of how this would play out. I was living in the moment. I had finally worked up the courage to tell her about Dick’s attack on Janine. I didn’t consider the consequences of my big mouth.

Gone in an instant— my job, my transportation, my floor to sleep on, and the food on my plate. With all that gone, the only thing that really mattered was— I would never see the horses again. I would never again lay a hand on Charlie, my honest hardworking steed, Fleet, the spunky colt, Jupiter, a gentle giant, and the list of loss is too long to face. I stuff down the ragged sobs building inside.

I can feel Dick’s eyes on me. I feel his satisfaction as he watches my pain. I refuse to feed him my sadness.

I numbly climb into the passenger’s side of the truck.

I stare ahead ignoring Dick. I focus on holding back my sorrow and watch the road being eaten up as we drive.

“I told you.” Dick said with a smile in his voice, “You shouldn’t push Tracey too hard.”

I said nothing.

Dick continues to prattle, “You can’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s too bad you couldn’t keep your mouth shut.”

I tune out his voice and stare out the side window. I watch the trees and fields whip past. I wipe the tears that escape my control.

At the condo Dick waits in the truck not wanting to make the extra steps into the building. It’s better that way.

I enter the condo and close the door behind me. Tabby and Zack are at school, and the only sound I hear is the gentle hum of the fridge. I lean with my back against the door and let out a sob. I suck in a quick breath, and fight my feelings. I’m not finished yet, no time for tears now. I need to get out of here.

I dial Carlin’s number at her barn. I hope she is somewhere she can hear it. The phone rings.

“Hello, Hillcrest Stables,” answers Carlin.

My friends voice triggers a release on my emotion, “Oh Carlin,” I cry, “ I know your working, sob —but ddo you think you can come and pppick me up?” I clench my fist hoping the idea of holding can bring my sadness under control.

“Crap Deb, what happened?” She exclaims.

I snuffle, “Tttracey fired me after I told her abbbout Janine.”

“Jesus Deb! That sucks,” Carlin sympathizes, and then she hesitates, “Sorry— of course I’ll come get you. It’s just so unexpected.”

“I know, I’m ssorry. I hate to bbug you, but I have no one else to ccall.” I hiccup through my words.

“It’s ok Deb, I don’t mind. I’m just trying to gather my thoughts, I’m scattered all over the place as usual,” Carlin responds. “Umm, I’ll just clear it with my boss. I’ll call you right back.”

The phone clicks and I swallow hard. I gather up my stuff, shoving my memories into my suitcase and zip it up. The phone rings.

“Hello?” I said.

Carlin rushes her words, “I’ll be there right away, give me ten minutes.“

I steel myself to leave the building and endure Dick’s presence.

I sit at the bottom of the steps to the condo in the shade of a palm tree. The cement is cool. A tiny lizard scurries under my leg, a cute little green guy. I wonder if he is going home? I think about my home in Canada, my parents knew my job with the Fatterods was strained. In the last letter mom sent, she reminded me that I could always go home and work for dad on the farm until I found something else. He’ll pay you, she wrote. I didn’t want to go home. It would be like going backwards. I heave a sigh and get to my feet.

Dick is sitting in the truck. He motions me over. No horn honking for a change.

I reluctantly make my way over to him.

He hands me a cheque. “Here’s your pay up to date,” He clears his throat and gives me a shit eating grin, “I added two weeks severance pay.”

I feel my grudge against him ease. “Gee thanks Dick, that’s very generous of you.”

“Well, it’s the least I can do. It’ll take some time to find another job,” Dick surmised.

I nod.

Now, before you feel your heart softening towards Dick, let me tell you— the cheque bounced. It bounced like a kangaroo on steroids. I never did get paid— but really, after everything else I should have seen that coming, his promises are farts in a windstorm. Nonexistent.

Carlin zooms up beside me in her bright red Camero. I heave my life into her car.

We zip down the road. Her white blonde hair flits around her face and I can’t see her sparkling blue eyes behind her dark sunglasses.

“So what happened?” She asks.

“I told Tracey about Dick assaulting Janine.” I said, “Shit, I really shouldn’t have. It’s none of my business.” I slap my leg with frustration, “But Janine asked me to tell her, and I like Tracey. She should know. I wanted Tracey to open her eyes and see what kind of scuzball she is married to.”

Carlin glances over, “So what happened between Dick and Janine?”

I sink down in my seat, and rub the side of head. I feel a headache coming on. “I guess Tracey, Joe and Dick were on the patio having drinks while Janine went into the condo to change. Dick came into the room where Janine was changing and pushed her down on the bed.”

“Holy shit,” gasps Carlin.

“Yeah, Dick was on top of her when Joe showed up. Lucky for Janine, Joe was coming in to use the bathroom. From what Janine said, all hell broke loose after that. In the meantime Tracey is drinking on the patio oblivious to what’s going on inside.” I shake my head, “Poor Tracey. If only the condo wasn’t so soundproof. She would have heard the commotion and walked right in,” I guessed.

Carlin cocks her head towards me, “You would still have a job,” she declares.

“Yeah,” I said wistfully.

“What then? How did you get in the middle of this bullshit?”

I look to the sky, “I’m a sucker.” I said, “Joe and Janine left the Fatterods immediately and came to the barn. They begged me to tell Tracey. They didn’t want to do it at the condo because Joe thought he’d kill Dick if he spent one more second in the same room with him.”

Carlin shakes her head, “It’s no wonder you got fired. No wife wants to hear that shit. Especially Tracey. She’s all about the horses, and Dick has the horses.”

The horses. It hurt to even think of them. Tears well up in my eyes.

Carlin casts me a look, “You okay?”

I shake my head unable to answer.

She pats me on the arm, “It’s going to be okay, “

I nod, and tears seep out, “I didn’t even get to say goodbye to them.”

“To who?” she asks.

“To the horses.”

She lifts her sunglasses to look at me. Her eyes shine watery blue. “It sucks Deb.”

I stay one night with Carlin. She isn’t set up for a roommate.

Allison invites me to live with them until I find a job. Her husband John, and his partner have moved into a new office. They offer me a temporary position answering phones. It’s trade for room and board. His partner Vince, has connections in the police force, they do a background check on Dick. Apparently he is from a wealthy family in another state. Dick is the classic black sheep of the family. He had several criminal charges against him that quietly disappeared. Eventually his parents had enough of his nonsense and kicked him out. Before he left the state, he and Tracey stole a couple trailer loads of horses from the family stable. The family didn’t press charges because of the bad publicity. Dicks family history certainly explained why Dick is such an arrogant lout. No wonder he felt above the law.

My ties to Dick didn’t end with being fired. Stories began to circulate in the horse community about me, stories I had no idea about. A couple weeks after I was fired, Carlin and I went grocery shopping. I bumped into the two little girls I used to entertain at the barn, Beth and Lauryl.

Beth runs up to me and hugs my leg, she is a koala on a tree branch. I laugh.

Lauryl is on her way to me when their mom Vanessa appears around the corner. Her face collapses in horror when she see’s her girl’s with me.

She hollers, “Beth and Lauryl get your butts over here right now!”

Lauryl looks at me, and then at her mom’s hostile face. She slowly turns and traipses off towards her mom.

Beth reluctantly lets go of my leg and follows her sister down the aisle.

Vanessa shoots me a dirty look and they disappear around the corner.

I feel the size of an ant, a crushed up ant, unrecognizable in nature.

“What was that about?” Carlin asks.

I shrug, “I have no idea. I smell bad?” I suggest without a smile.

The office job is getting old fast. I consider going backwards— going home.

The phone rings in the midst of an ordinary Saturday at Allison’s house.

Allison answers it and passes it to me.

I take the phone assuming it’s my mom. I wonder if somehow she senses my consideration of returning to the nest.

“Hi Debby?” said a women.

“Yes?” I answer trying to place her voice.

“Oh, wonderful,” she gushes. “I tracked you down. It’s Judy, the real-estate agent. I met you a few times at Dick and Tracey’s.”

“Oh yes, I remember.” I said, “How are you?”

Very well my dear girl,” She replies, “Listen, I’ve been thinking about you ever since I heard Dick and Tracey fired you for stealing tack. “

“What?” I exclaim.

“Oh no! Don’t be concerned. I didn’t believe it for a minute. I saw the way you work, and I consider myself to be a very good judge of character. As a matter of fact, I am calling to let you know I gave your name to a polo player who is coming down from Kentucky for the season. His name is Hilary Boone and he needs a groom. I gave him your information. I gave you a superb recommendation… don’t be afraid to ask for the big bucks.”

“Really? That’s so generous of you,” I marvel, “You have no idea how much I appreciate this.”

“You are so very welcome. I’m glad to right one of Dick Fatterod’s wrongs.

Hilary Boone called me the same day and offered me a job at Gulf Stream Polo Club tending to his ten horse stable. I didn’t dicker on my wage.

Out of the office and into the barnyard, exactly where I wanted to be— I began to pay rent for my space in Allison’s house.

The job is ten miles away. I have no car, but I do have a bike, which Allison so graciously lends me.

I leave the house at six am on my trip to the stable. The moon still hangs high in the sky. There is very little traffic. Within the first six blocks the quiet is broken by the sound of heavy bass playing from an oncoming car. It slows as it meets me and pulls a U-turn after I pass. The blue sports car shoots by me and jams on the brakes blocking my path. I stop dead in my tracks. Two guys get out of the backseat of the car.

Oh shit! I think, and swing my bike around to sprint away.

Headlights from a couple cars appear behind me.

The guys jump back in the car and peel out.

Several times that day men yell out their windows, or wolf whistle while I’m on my way. The next day, and everyday after that I put my hair up inside a ball-cap, and wear baggy clothes to disguise the fact I’m a girl.

My new boss Hilary had a kind face, a gentle manner, and a soft southern accent. He isn’t much for small talk. Just the facts’ Madam, tell me nothing else, just the facts. I soon find out the most important fact of all, Hilary lives by the principles of respect and honesty. He is nothing like Dick at all.

I care for ten horses, I feed, water, exercise, clean stalls and groom for the games. An important part of my job is preparing Hillary’s horses for the polo competition on the field. The job has learning curves— sometimes I am off the rails and other times I swing around them like I’m doing the jive.

After a month of working for Hilary I erase Dick from my mind. I know I will never get paid. It’s better for the soul, to just let it all go.

At our third polo match we are parked with the horse trailer at the edge of the polo field. I prepare the horses for the game. I wrap legs, braid tails and begin to tack horses up for the competition.

I kneel on the ground rolling a polo wrap on a horse’s leg. I’m in a rush to get it done. There is so much left to do.

I notice a movement from the corner of my eye. I glance up and see Vanessa’s husband Ralph, whom I had met at the Fatterod stable. He is hovering close to me.

“Hi Debby,” he said, “Do you remember me?” He asks.

“Yes,” I answer flatly. I remember Vanessa, his wife chasing Beth and Lauryl, away from me in the store.

He kicks at the sand by his feet, “First of all —I’d like to apologise for our behaviour. We shouldn’t have believed that you are a thief.”

“Well, thanks. Better late than never,” I reply dryly, curious as to why he is here.

“Debby, we need your help. Vanessa and I are in trouble. We lent Dick quite a bit of money and now we can’t get it back,” Ralph confesses.

I keep my eyes focused on wrapping. “I’m not sure how I can help,” I said.

“We were hoping you had some dirt on him since you worked for him?”

“Not really,” I answer.

“Please,” he begs, “We lent him the money we had put aside for Beth and Lauryl’s schooling—We really need it back.”

I stop what I’m doing and look up into his face, “You gave Dick your girls tuition money?” I said in disbelief.

He runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head, “Stupid. I know.”

“Jesus.” I said as I huff out a breath of air. “All I know, is that Dick stole the horses he has from his family. But they didn’t press charges so you can’t even do anything with that information.” I shrug. “I’m sorry that’s all I have.”

He nods slowly, “You were our last hope.”

My heart is heavy, “I’m very sorry Ralph. Dick is a — a Dick. My last cheque from him bounced too.”

Ralph rubs the side of his face and groans, “Thanks anyway.”

He walks away, a beaten man.

My heart sits heavy in my chest thinking of the bright bubbly girls, and Dicks devious ways. I sit back on my heels and sag.

“He sounds like a piece of work,” Hilary comments from around the corner.

I didn’t even know my boss was listening. “He was,” I agree.

A few weeks later the barn next to mine is looking for a polo groom. My friend Carlin happens to be looking for a new job. Carlin has an interview with the Polo Player. The barn has a stable-hand residence with two beds and a bathroom on the end of the barn. Carlin gets the job. Hilary pays the other polo player a little extra money every month. Shazam— Carlin and I become roomies. I retire the bike.

It’s funny how life works, sometimes we lose something we love, we get back something better. At least for a little while. When the Gulf Stream Polo season is over Carlin and I go our separate ways. We are forever bonded by the time we spent in hellacious South Florida.

Hilary takes me to his stable in Kentucky. His family owns Wimbledon Farms in Lexington, an elite thoroughbred farm. The polo season is still a few months away, and although I will be grooming for him during the Lexington polo season, I will be out of work for a few months in the meantime.

I decide to go home for a few months to visit my family, work a higher paying job and pay off my car. I need a car in Kentucky to get around. There are no residences for the stable hands at Wimbledon Farms.

I never went back. I paid off my car, fell in love, got married, and had kids. There was no more Kentucky for me.

As for the people in my Great Big Florida Adventure— Carlin got married to a man in Florida, and had three kids.

Tracey and Dick were officially divorced about two years after I was fired for confessing Dicks indiscretions.

Tracey and her daughter now run a stable.

Zack is a home loans bank officer.

Dick has mysteriously vanished. I can’t find him on the Internet anywhere. So he is appropriately obsolete. Or swimming with the alligators— wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

On a sad note, I discovered Hilary Johnson Boone the Third died in a car crash at the age of forty. He left behind a wife and three kids. He was without a doubt the best boss I ever worked for in the horse industry. He was a good man. He is proof money doesn’t necessarily make you an arrogant Dick.

The best compliment Hillary ever gave me was a quote from Yogi Bear, “I would say you’re smarter than the average bear.”

High praise, high praise indeed, coming from a man of few words. Blessings to you and yours Hilary.

The Onslaught

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I am but a turtle, I have a home within myself.

His expression is cold. The only look comparable is the emotionless dark eyes of a great white shark before he takes a bite. Dick’s calm demeanour is far scarier than the ranting voice of Tracey from my earlier phone call.

The knife stood straight, the tip is buried in the wooden cutting board. I gaze at the knife and hear unwanted thoughts bubble up in my mind. Really Dick? What are you really going to do with that knife? You chopping carrots? My buttocks. You’ve got a cake in that pearly white fridge over there don’t you? You’re going to have your cake and eat it too? I truly wish I could say those things out loud, and he would laugh, and I would laugh, and we would pull the cake out of the fridge, and have a big slice. But the look in his eye, along with his deliberate manner warns me to tread lightly.

I stand on the other side of the kitchen table feeling a tremble in my knees. I’m unwilling to sit down and have his massive frame tower over me. I’m not guilty.

He gestures to the chair in front of me, ”Take a seat,” he orders with a detached gaze and a slight nostril flare.

I comply. I’m not guilty. Besides, what am I going to do? Run? Where would I go?

His dark stare is unrelenting as he sits down opposite of me.

I feel as though we’re two dualists facing off for the final event. I am there under duress. I sink into my seat sitting lightly on my butt, just in case I need to leap up and sprint for the door. Dick is in no shape to catch me. And despite the large knife which sits between us like a menacing threat. I am much quicker.

He shifts the cutting board to the side of the table directing the knife nearer to his hand.

I pretend it doesn’t bother me— the gleaming blade with the shattered bits of orange stuck to it.

Dick leans forward resting heavily on the table, his arms fold on top of one another. He clears his throat and it sounds like a growl. “You have no idea how close you are to the edge. Do you realize how serious this is?”

I answer him with an aggressive nod.

“There are some thing from my past I don’t talk about,” he said with burden laying on each syllable. “Things my family has no idea about,” he continues on flinging one arm high and wide, as though there is a whole mountain of secrets to reveal. He sighs heftily, and picks up the knife. He brushes the carrot flakes from the blade with more deliberation than necessary.

I shift in my chair.

He lifts his head with the grace of a snake poised to strike and stares me in the eye. “I’ve done some wicked things in my life,” he confesses lowering his gaze again to the knife, he licks his lips and runs a finger along the blade. A thin red line emerges and he grins. “Knives are useful items,“ he said flicking me a look. “You just have to know how hard to press to get the best results.”

I flatten myself against the back of my chair wishing I could vaporize.

Dick straightens his shoulders and wipes his sliced hand on his pants, then he points the knife in my direction. “I get a sense of disrespect from you— and I don’t like it. The kids like you. Tracey likes you— but it’s me you should worry about. I can make you disappear. And you should know—I’ve done some regrettable things in my life,” he said with a cold glitter in his eye. “I’ve been on both sides of the law. I’ve worked on the right side of the law and I’ve worked on the wrong side of the law.” He stares at me and shakes his head, “Don’t play me for the fool —I’ve killed people.”

He narrows his eyes and slides forward closing the space between us.

My heart is racing. He’s killed people? I’d like to say I could see the lie in him. But I couldn’t. I knew in my heart, that this man had no concern for others, as long as he gets what he wants. A life would mean nothing to him if push came to shove. My face flushes and I nod again. My voice is stuck in my throat.

“I want the truth out of you,” he demands. “I can’t have anyone working for me that I don’t trust.” He leans back in his chair and feels the tip of the knife with his finger. “You must know? People go missing— There’s plenty of wild spaces in this state to get rid of a body.” He inclines his head towards me.

I am transfixed by the fear circulating through my body. I want to laugh. I’m on the verge of hysteria. My knees shake but I can barely contain my mirth. Impossible situations cause me to laugh inappropriately. I hate feeling this way. Because it is exactly the way he wants me to feel. Terrified.

He hulks over the table, “Did you help your friend Allison steal Razor?” He demands.

I shake my head meeting his solid gaze, “No.”

He leans even closer to me and slaps his hand on the table.

I jump.

He nearly grins, “Why didn’t you see her loading him in the trailer?” He challenges.

I grit my teeth and inhale deeply, pushing my fear aside. “I was at the little barn cleaning stalls,” I explain, “It’s a quarter of a mile away facing the other direction. I can’t see through walls,” I said snidely allowing some of my own anger out.

He considers my answer tapping the table with his fingers.

“Did you know she was going to take him?” He finally asks.

“No,” I hesitate. “Not really.”

“What do you mean by that?” He questions in a hard voice.

I look at the ceiling wishing to fly away, but all I do is sit deeper in my chair. “When Allison came to ride the other day she came to talk to me. She told me they were having financial problems, and with the expensive boarding fees, and the horse payments they were finding the cost of Razor to be too much. She said they found a cheaper place to board Razor, and with that lower cost, she could still make his payments. That’s when she asked me to help her move him. I told her I couldn’t help her.“

“You knew she was planning to take him then?”

“In a way— But— She led me to believe she wasn’t going to do it. Or maybe—“ I said with a sigh, “I just assumed that would be the end of it.” I pause sighing again. “Whatever it is. I can honestly say that I didn’t help her. I called as soon as I saw the horse trailer leave.”

Dick flicks the knife blade with his thumb considering my words.

I lean back in my chair, and grasp the seat ready to bolt.

“You should have told us.” He said in an iron tone.

I meet his eye with a regretful look. “You’re right I should have told you.” I admit, “If I had known she was really going to take Razor, I would have forewarned you. If anything like this ever happens again I’ll be sure to let you know.”

He abruptly rises up out of his chair.

I slide backwards on the heels of my seat shocked by his sudden motion.

He chuckles at my alarm and drops the knife with a clank on the table. “I’ll take you back to the stable,” he said.

I flush and I bristle inside, at the fact he made me jump. I’ve shown weakness. Dick gets off on making people uncomfortable. Where did he come from? Who the raised this man destined for the grasping pit of hell? Little did I know, I would soon find out.

The ride back to the barn with Dick is awkward.

I ache to be back in my comfort zone. My zone with no physical parameters. I don’t have a vehicle, an apartment, or even a room. What I do have, is two barns of horses with a sandy path between them, and Mondays to spend with Carlin. The barns contains the animals which hold the simple truths of life, feed, water, clean, exercise and love. Carlin is my friend, someone to trust in, bitch with, laugh with, learn with, and go on adventures with. My comfort zone is not a physical place, it is a state of being.

Back at the barn Tracey gives me the silent treatment. It bothers me. I hate it when people who matter to me are disappointed with my performance. The silent treatment from Dick would have been fabulous.

On the bright side I see my first wild turtle on the backside of the barn. It’s a reminder to me, that no matter what happens in life, my home is within myself. Which is all that really matters.

It’s Thursday, and I can hardly wait for my Monday off. The rest of the week will go by quickly. Dick and Tracey are getting company, Joe, Dick’s best friend and Janine, Joe’s wife and Dick’s desire, will be arriving Friday night. My weekend will be quiet at the stable. The Fatterods will be busy entertaining.

How wrong I was— Joe and Janine’s visit marked the end of my time working for the Fatterods.

 

The Storm

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The phone of miserable happenings.

The tension between Dick and I increases on a daily basis. I hide around corners and duck down in stalls when I see him coming. Not that he makes an effort to get out of his truck very often. It’s normally the blaring of his blasted horn that draws me out.

I trot out to the truck soon after the horn sounds, much like Pavlov’s dog trained to the bell without the reward.

Dick sees me coming, and the honking stops.

He sits above me in his one tonne truck. His sunglasses fit tightly on his face, and his arm dangles out the window. He taps his fingers on the side of the door like he’s counting down.

“Good morning Dick.” I said energetically.

He tips his head, “Morning.” He drawls, “How’s everything going today?”

A fly buzzes around my head. I swat at it with an open hand.

“Everything is going well,” I reply, “I’ve started turning out the horses for the day.”

The fly lands on my arm and I shake it off. I continue to talk. “I find it challenging to keep an eye on all the horses though. The other barn is so far away from this one.“

Dick shrugs his shoulders, “Eh, It looks like you’re making it work— I called you over to give you a heads up that Ralph and Vanessa are meeting Tracey and I this morning.”

The fly lands on Dick arm, and he twitches his hand. The insect doesn’t move. Dick ignores the pest. “The adults have some business to discuss. So, I’d like you to keep their girls busy while the grown-ups talk. We don’t need any distractions.”

“Sure,” I nod. “I’ll get the girls to help me brush Charlie, or put some shavings in the stall.” The horses whinny loudly in the barn. They are getting restless. I glance towards the sound.

Dick slams the dash with his hand. He lifts up his fingers. A fly twitches underneath; green goo oozes out of its body. Dick wipes his hand on the side of his shirt. “Fucking bugs,” he said.

I scratch my arm. “They’re everywhere,” I said scrunching up my face, “This morning when I opened the door to the feed room— I saw hundreds of cockroaches scurrying across the floor to hide. All I could hear was the scuttle of their feet sharp on the floor.” I shook my head. “They were fricken huge!” I exclaim, “And so many!”

Another horse whinny’s insistently. I gesture to the barn, “Well, if that’s all you need— I better go, duty calls.”

He holds up a hand, “Actually there’s one more thing— Judy Macmillan, the real-estate agent will be coming by to drop off some brochures on horse properties in the area. You remember her don’t you?”

“You mean the tiny women with the presence of a giant?” I said remembering her bird like figure, and pointed nose. I never expected such a tiny lady to have such a forceful and opinionated personality. I felt like I’d been steam rolled, the first time I met her. She asked me a thousand questions about my life and then had an opinion on every answer. But she knew her horses, and she was honest. I sure appreciated that since I was working for Mr. Shifty over here.

“Yeah,” he chuckles. “Yeah, that’s he for sure. Just tell her to throw the brochures in the Jeep. She said she wouldn’t be staying long.”

He juts his chin out towards me. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you —How’s Allison’s making out with Razor?”

“Good,” I reply shuffling impatiently as I hear the horses call again. “They’re still figuring each other out, but it’s coming along. I’ve been helping her.”

He lifts his sunglasses and eyes me up, “Yeah, Tabby told me you’ve become friends with that family. She said you’re dating Antonio.”

I clench my fists. It’s none of his business.

“Yeah,” I answer nonchalantly, “We’ve been out a few times.”

The horses call out again. Perfect timing. I turn away, “Gotta go,” I shout.

“It’s about time someone pops your cherry,” he hollers behind me.

Asshole I respond silently.

I finish cleaning stalls and fill the water buckets in advance for the evening feed. It’s a soothing routine. There is a rhythmic comfort in daily tasks and in the wordlessness of my own noise.

I push a squeaky wheeled cart to the hay shed.

The hay is dark green. It smells sweet and fresh. It’s invigorating and inviting. I resist the urge to roll in it like a cat and purr.

I climb up onto the shorter side of the stack using the twines as handholds. I reach the top and lift a bale to toss down. I freeze. A brightly banded red, yellow, and black coral snake lifts his head in surprise. It makes a popping sound warning me to vacate his area. I slowly back away and set the bale down. Then I scramble. I accidently hook a twine with my foot and tumble down the stack. I scrape my arms on the way down. I spring to my feet. And sprint to the barn without sparing a glance back.

In the safety of the barn I press my back against the wall. My heart bumps loudly in my chest.

“Holy crap!” I said, sinking down to my heels and leaning my head against the wall. What are the odds I’d meet another venomous snake in Florida?

I take a deep breathe in and roll to my feet deciding the hay can wait. The little girls Beth and Lauryl will be here soon. I’ll grab a halter for Charlie instead.

A silhouette appears at the far end of the barn. From the shape of it, I would guess it’s Judy.

The petite women closes the gap between us in short order.

She holds out her arms, “Debby, so nice to see you,” she said, embracing me in a tight hug with no worries about my sweaty, stable smelling body.

“Nice to see you too, “I said, my words are slightly muffled by her hair.

She releases me dramatically and I almost fall on my butt.

“Tell me,” she said, “How are things going with the Fatterods?” She peers at me with sharp eyes— an owl on the hunt.

“It’s going?” I say unconvinced of my own answer.

She nods energetically. “Listen, I know things are a little rocky right now,” she said flipping a hand in the air. “But whatever happens, I want you to know,” she leans in, “you’ve got a friend in me.”

What the hell does that mean? What kind of information does she have?

She places a hand on my arm and slides her head close to mine, and whispers, “Listen, I can see your doing a great job here for Dick and Tracey. I know horses. I’ve been around them all my life. No matter what you’ll always have a job.”

I pull away and stare at her with confusion.

She laughs a tinkling laugh accompanied by a flittering wave of her hand. “Now I’ve gone and scared you,” she said, “I didn’t intend that. I just wanted you to know— I have your back.”

I bob my head slowly, swallowing hard. I give her a gawky smile, “Thanks, that’s wonderful.” I manage to reply in a stilted tone. My mind is going a hundred miles an hour with her odd confessional type conversation.

She flips a look at the glittering watch on her wrist, “Oh. I must run,” she gushes, “The pamphlets? Where should I leave them?”

I point in the direction she had come, “In the Jeep parked out front. It’s not locked.”

“Ok Hon, I must run.” She said as strides away.

I follow in her wake, moving the speed of a turtle towards the tack room. What is it that she knows and I don’t? That was the weirdest talk ever.

I hear giggles in the distance. No time to ponder the mystery now. I have two little girls to entertain. They run down the aisle way and greet me with flying hugs.

The older one Lauryl backs away after a short time. She holds her nose. “Oooh What’s that smell? She asks.

I stand up carrying Beth in my arms, “That my dear Lauryl is the odour of horse poop. If you clean horses stalls, you’re going to get stinking.”

I give her a gentle hip check, “When you get a horse of your own, you’re going to find out”

Lauryl lets go of her nose. “Maybe we should get you some perfume for Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Beth agrees, “but Christmas is a long way off. Maybe I’ll just give you mine.” She pushes my hair away from my face, and stares me in the eye. It doesn’t really matter. I like you anyway.”

Lauryl grabs onto my one dangling hand, “Me too.” She said, “I still like you too.” She grins up into my smiling face.

Kids are the best. If you give them a little time, they give you their heart.

Needless to say, the rest of the morning disappeared in a blur.

It’s mid-afternoon; the clouds cover the sun giving a reprieve to the relentless heat. I’m lunging the stallion Jupiter in the exercise ring at the back barn. I catch sight of Allison’s car rolling up.

She steps out of the car. She’s wearing her riding breeches and a light tank top. She waves one arm high and wide. “Hi,” she hollers. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure,” I shout.

I bring Jupiter down to a walk and then to a halt. He drops his head as I step up to him. I give his forehead a scratch. “Good boy.” I said.

I lead Jupiter to the gate where Allison waits.

She studies Jupiter with glowing eyes, “He’s sure a beauty.”

I smile at the glistening horse with affection, “He is, and a sweetheart to boot.” I said. I turn my attention to Allison, “So what’s up?” I ask, as I walk towards the barn with Jupiter by my side.

She hurries along beside us, her wavy dark hair bouncing on her shoulders. “I was wondering if you could come for supper on Friday night? Antonio said he would pick you up.”

“That would be wonderful,” I said feeling a lightness tickle my ribs. “An extra night away from the Fatterod family would be a real treat. Thank you.”

We enter the barn together.

“I have a favour to ask.” Allison confesses hanging back while I tie Jupiter in the wash rack.

“What is it?” I question, giving her a glance. Her face is serious. I turn to face her giving her my full attention.

She wrings her hands, “John got laid off work last Friday— he’s already got a business plan in mind. A friend of his has a patent on a medical machine and John will be working for him in sales. But until the product takes off money will be tight.”

I nod sympathetically, “That’s rough. I’m not sure how I can help though. I don’t have any extra money kicking around.”

She shakes her head. “It’s not that Deb. It’s Razor. I already have a lot of money soaked into him, and they charge me an outrageous amount for board here.” She studies my face gauging my reaction. “ I found another stable at a third of the cost. I was wondering if you would help us move him.”

I nod, “Of course, maybe I can borrow the truck and trailer to—“

“No,” she interrupts, “I signed a contract with Dick and Tracey. I’m still making payments on the horse. Between that, and the board I can’t make ends meet. I have to take him without them knowing.”

My heart rate speeds up. “There must be another way,” I protest with wide eyes. I shake my head slowly, “No. I’m sorry Deb, you guys are my friends but I can’t help you. My job is to care for the horses, and be loyal to my employers —As much as I dislike Dick. I can’t help you steal Razor.”

Allison’s face becomes hard, “It’s not stealing!” she denies. “Technically, I’ve already paid for part of him. And I’m going to pay for the rest. I just don’t want to be gouged with expensive board,” Allison insists.

I can’t find one word to utter. My guts ache. I roll my eyes to the sky. I see her point— but she signed a contract.

I cover my face with my hands and let out a loud sigh. I drop my arms to my sides and think, I’ll take the coral snake again please.

She clasps her hands together, and brings them to her chin in a thoughtful pose, “Ok,” she yields dropping her hands to her hips. “ I understand. Just forget we ever had this conversation.”

I gently bob my head in agreement, “Alright.” I answer. I see the disappointment in her face. “I guess supper is out. Huh?” I comment.

She waves a hand at me, “No— Supper is still on, I’ll see you then.” She consents with a distant look.

Allison turns and strolls away.

I watch her sagging form.

She stops suddenly, as though she has forgotten something, and swings around. “What time do you clean stalls in this barn?” She asks.

I shrug my shoulders, “I don’t know? Usually around ten, the big barn takes quite a while to clean. Why?”

She looks away, “Antonio mentioned coming to help you sometime. I just wondered what your morning was like.”

“That’d be nice.” I admit. “I never get help cleaning stalls. And according to two little girls, I stink because of it.”

Allison tosses her head, “Ah the glamorous life of a stable hand.”

“Cinderella, Cinderella.” I reply.

She walks away and raises a hand, “Later!” she shouts.

I turn the hose on, and spray Jupiter with his cooling shower. He turns to the water flapping his lips in the spray.

I laugh, if only people were so easy, I thought.

Later that day, I bring two horses into the big barn, one in each hand.

Tracey trots in on her show-horse, Genie. “ Deb,” she said frantically, “I’m late picking up Tabby. Dick is at home but we have both vehicles here.”

She hops off her horse.

I put my two horses away in their stalls.

Tracey flips the reins off Genies neck. “Can you bring Salt and Pepper home?” she asks. “It’s so hot. The air conditioning is giving us trouble in the truck. I’d rather not bring the dogs to pick up Tabby.” She pulls a face, ”Especially if Tabby is going to make me wait— which is the usual.”

I walk over. “It’s not a bother.” I said, “I can bring them home.”

“And my horse?” she asks.

I smile and take the reins, “Of course, I’ll look after Genie.”

I hear the truck leave and the two little corgi’s look at me expectantly, “Don’t worry kids, I’ll take you home.”

They wag their tales at the sound of my voice, and I bend down to give them each a rub. The dogs are my favourites out of the entire Fatterod family.

I complete the evening chores at the big barn. I turn the lights out and slide the doors shut.

I hop in the Jeep to drive to the little barn. It’s a quarter of a mile away. I pat the seat as Salt looks up with dewy eyes. She jumps into my lap.

Pepper eyes us up, and then trots off towards the far barn. It’s not the first time he has refused a ride.

I put the Jeep in gear and drive. I can’t see where Pepper went. I assume he’s racing ahead. I follow the curve around the drive and hear a thud, thud. At the same time the Jeep bumps like it’s going over a rock. My heart thumps. There are no rocks. I hear Pepper yelp.

Oh God! Oh my God! I ran over Pepper.

My chest constricts. My head hurts.

I jump out of the Jeep and run to the back. Nothing. There is no Pepper. I look under. Still nothing. I check out every inch of the Jeep. There is no sign of him.

I imagine him wounded and bleeding —he ran off to die.

Tracey will hate me. I hate me.

I’m crying. Tears are running down my face. I killed their beloved pet. Poor pepper.

“Pepper. Here Pepper!” I cry and snivel barely making a sound because I’m crying too hard. I walk around the bushes searching.

I wipe my face with the back of my hand and holler, “Peeeepper!”

Nothing.

I jog towards the caretaker’s barn. There is a phone on the wall. I need to call for help.

I see a movement in the corner of my eye. It’s Pepper. He limps towards me. I can’t see any cuts, or any blood.

I gently pick him up. He whimpers. I cry.

I dial the Fatterod’s number.

“Hello,” answers Dick.

“Hi’” I said with a sniffle

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

I sob. “III accidently ran ooover Pepper with tthe Jeep.” I stutter.

“What? How? Is he alive.”

I suck in a breath of air, “Yes, he’s alive. He’s even walking, but he has a limp.”

“Bring him home.” Dick orders. “Tracey and I will get him to the vet.”

The phone clicks and the wall holds me up.

Pepper is a miracle. There’s no broken bones and no internal bleeding. The Fatterod kids, Tabby and Zack fawn all over him when he comes back home. There is nothing like a near death experience to get your family to pay attention to you.

The entire day had been trying. I’m glad I didn’t end it with murdering the family pet.

The next day is worse.

It starts out ordinary. I feed, water, turn out horses, fling horse poop and fill stalls with clean bedding. Around ten o’clock I finish cleaning the big barn.

I drive to the small barn watching closely for dogs.

I have eight stalls to clean. I finish around eleven and roll the wheelbarrow of poop outside to the shit pile.

I hear the roar of a working truck going down the road. I lift my head and shade my eyes from the sun—I see a truck and horse trailer leaving the stable yard.

Who could that be I wonder? It’s the off-season for horse events. We’re the only customers here.

Oh crap. I feel a heaviness growing in the pit of my stomach. Allison.

I race up to the big barn.

Razor is gone.

“Fuck!” I scream in a long drawn out tone. I put my hands on my face and crouch down. Dick is going to fucking kill me.

I traipse to the caretakers barn to make the phone call to the Fatterods.

I put a shaky hand on the receiver —The phone of miserable happenings. My hand drops away. I lean back against the wall. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” I chant as though it’s going to help.

I feel ill, and dizzy.

I tilt forward and place my hands on my knees. “Ok Deb, just breathe. It’s going to be okay.” I said to myself.

I stand up and shake my hands vigorously. I roll my neck like I’m some sort of athlete about to do something spectacular.

I grab the receiver and dial the phone as quickly as I can before I lose my courage.

I huff out a breath of air. My hands vibrate.

“Hello,” said Dick.

Dammit! It had to be Dick. I can’t get a fricken break. “Hello,” I reply.

“Oh, Debby. What’s up?” He asks sounding somewhat confused.

I never call—Unless I run over a dog, and there’s no dog here now.

“Razor’s gone.” I said flatly, there was no sugar coating this puppy.

“What do you mean Razor’s gone?” he asks with a hard edge to his voice.

I can hear Tracey’s voice in the background high pitched.

“I saw a horse trailer leaving. I think Allison took him.” I said.

“You think Allison took him?” He asks— or accuses. I’m not sure which.

“It had to be Allison.”  I reply. “Who else would take him?”

I continue to hear Tracey in the background. She has switched to her angry voice.

“Hold on,” Dick said.

I wait. I hear muffled yet elevated voices.

I can feel how this will play out. I’m friends with Allison. I’m dating her brother. This would land on me.

The phone comes to life, “Debby, come back to the condo,” Dick orders. “Tracey is going out to the barn.”

The phone clicks.

I want to drop the receiver and run away.

I don’t. I slide into the drivers seat in the jeep and wonder if I’ll ever see my horse companions again.

I admit to being scared. Dick has no morale compass. So far I am certain Tracey’s been my protector. Hmmm, I ran over her dog last night. How’s that going to work out for you Deb?

I enter the condo reminding myself I have done nothing wrong.

“Hello?” I call out.

“In here,” Dick answers from the kitchen.

I stride in pushing myself to be confident. I will not cower.

Dick is chopping carrots with a butcher knife.

I’ve never seen Dick cook.

He waves the knife towards me, ”Sit down,” he orders. “We have a lot to talk about.”

He stabs the knife into the wooden board with aggression— and I cower.

The Lull

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A new location, not as classy, but there are riding trails nearby. 

Moving is a daunting task. The physical effort of relocating personal items to a new location is exhausting. The Fatterod family enlisted the help of their friends Joe and Janine, from Tampa Bay, to help with the household move to the condo.

My stuff was easy, fill suitcase with clothes, zip up, and dust off hands. Done. Ready for my cushy digs on the living room floor.

Dick and Tracey haul the horses to the new location while I prepare the stalls. The facility itself is massive. It has seven long barns sitting in a row, with forty stalls in each barn. There are countless turnout stalls in the back, and a racetrack just beyond. On the edge of the stables there is a white rail riding ring and a round pen.

Dick and Tracey had rented one of the forty stall barns, which includes a feed room and a tack room. They also rented a small eight stall barn on the far side of the property. A fancy twenty stall barn with living quarters upstairs stood between the two barns they rented. The caretaker of the facility lived in those quarters— I bet she had a bed.

Sometime during the move the BMW convertible disappeared and a Jeep showed up in its place. The Jeep became my vehicle to commute from condo to barn. I don’t know if the Jeep was purchased? Leased? Or stolen? I drive it regardless.

Joe and Dick act like schoolboys during the move, the hooligans of the classroom who’d been separated from each other for far too long. I prayed for a principal to discipline them. Janine is wary, a gazelle with anxiety. She gives Dick a wide berth and clings to Tracey’s shadow. She will not be caught alone with Dick again.

I’m not as fortunate.

Joe and Janine leave us to finish up at the barn while they pick up supper. We are meeting them back at the condo to eat.

Tracey heads to the smaller barn across the yard, to check on the horses for the night. That left Dick and I, we were responsible for moving the tack into the tack room at the large barn. Lets face it though— I would be doing the grunt of the work.

Dick sat in a lawn chair on the edge of the alleyway and observed me traipse from the trailer, to the tack room, arms full, to arms empty, and back again. I wondered how a person could be so blatantly unashamed at ogling another human being? We all have different standards of decency I guess.

A sheen of perspiration formed on my face, due to both the humidity in the air and the discomfort of Dick’s unwanted attention.

As I exit the tack room for the umpteenth time, Dick taps the lawn chair beside him. “Debby, come and take a break. You’re starting to look hot and bothered, maybe you’ll finally give in to me,” he suggests.

I give my head a shake avoiding eye contact. “ I don’t think so Dick. I’m almost done. I’ll take a break after,” I said, hoping Tracey would be back by then.

“No,” he growls, “I’m the boss. And I said— it’s time to take a break.”

I meet his iron stare and relent.

I reluctantly take a seat beside him. I can barely breathe. My heebie jeebies are slam dancing inside my skin.

“We haven’t had a chat in a while,” he said leaning in towards me. “I wanted to tell you Tracey is pleased with your work. She thinks your riding abilities deserve some coaching, so you’ll be happy to know you’ll be joining Tabby in her English riding lessons.”

He reaches out and touches my arm, “I’d like to give you some riding lessons too.”

I lean away from his hand, but can’t help but smile. Riding lessons? It’s every stable hands dream to be allowed to ride. But riding lessons? That’s the bomb. I can’t help but smile at Dick. “ That’s fantastic,” I gush, “It’s so generous of Tracey to include me.”

Dick nods, “Then you’ll be happy to know,  you’ll be taking polo lessons from an instructor across the road as well.”

I beam. My eyes are wide, “What?” I pause for a second absorbing this unexpected news. The heebie jeebies are gone. “Are you for real?” I exclaim.

“Yeah, Tracey made the arrangements.” He said.

I sink back into my chair and gaze at the ceiling. “That’s amazing.” I said with a gasp.

Dick licks his lips, and leans in tightly to me. “It could be better yet,” he murmurs in my ear and drops his hand to squeeze my knee.

I jump up and away from his advances.

“What?” he questions sounding offended. “You know, if you were less uptight and played a few games with me, you might get some other unexpected perks.”

I stare at him feeling my dislike for him rise, “I’m going to tell Tracey that you’ve been making moves on me,” I threaten. Just saying those words feels awful. It’s like I’m back in kindergarten about to rat out Marc for putting a tack on the teachers chair.

He laughs, “I wouldn’t push Tracey too hard. She has a temper you know.”

“Janine was going to tell her too. You know?”

He throws a hand up, “That doesn’t matter,” he dismisses my words. “She knows which side of the bread the butter is on. She married into it.” He pats his leg, “You’d be wise to come and find out just how buttery your bread can be.”

I feel my stomach churn, and the heat of anger in my face, “No thank you,” I spit.

I turn and stomp out to the trailer. For the record, cement is not very satisfying to storm out on — it is practically silent. It’s just like soft close doors when you really want to make a cracking noise— and it slows down at the last second to a poof. It’s ridiculous! Most of the satisfaction from storming away from an angry situation is the noise you leave behind.

All I can hear in my wake, is the sound of Dick chuckling.

I stalk towards the far barn planning to tell Tracey everything. I’ve had enough of Dick’s nonsense— Damn the consequences. She is a reasonable woman.

I come upon Tracey halfway back to the main barn.

She comes to a quick halt as she sees my face. “What’s wrong?” she asks.

I look at my feet and kick at the sand. I haven’t even planned what I was going to say. I lift my eyes suddenly remembering the good news.

I smile widely at her, “Well, first of all, I want to thank you— Dick told me about the lessons and polo. I can’t believe it!” I place a hand on my heart, “You have no idea how much this means to me,” I babble.

Tracey returns my grin, “It’s no problem Deb,” she said, placing an arm around me to guide me forward in the direction of the large barn. “I’m planning for your future with us,” she said giving me a squeeze. “You’re a capable rider, and we’re going to make you even better.”

We walk as friends, and I feel my guts clench knowing I still need to tell her about her husband. I stare at the ground while we walk biting my lip.

Tracey stops abruptly bringing me to a halt.

She steps directly in front of me. “What’s the problem?” she asks, “I can see somethings still bothering you.”

I lift my head and attempting to gather my courage.

She puts her hands on her hips, and stares me down, blue eyes on blue eyes. “I need to know what’s going on,” she demands. “If you don’t spit your troubles out they fester into something worse. What’s up?”

I exhale heavily, “Dicks been coming on to me.” I hesitate, and then power through. “It happens a lot. He is always asking me to mess around with him.”

Her face freezes.

I feel my wonderful riding opportunities slip away.

All at once Tracey bursts out laughing. “Are you kidding me?” she snorts. “That’s why your shorts are in a knot?” She slaps me on the shoulder, “He’s just joking. He does that with every woman.”

I force a smile, “Oh. Okay then.” I say, and think about Janine and how he put his hands on her.

We enter barn together.

Dick jostles himself out of the lawn chair, and makes his way over, “Ready to go Trace?” he asks with a grin.

“Sure,” she said, “I’m ready to call it a night.”

“Deb?” she says turning back to me, “We’ll take the Jeep. Can you finish unloading the tack, and then drive the truck home? Joe and Janine are probably wondering where we are.”

“Yes of course I can do that,” I said.

Dick throws his arm around Tracey’s shoulder, and tosses his head in my direction. “See you at home,“ he said with a wink and a sly grin.

I shiver.

Joe and Janine arrive at the barn the following Sunday afternoon. They are leaving to go back home.

I’m taking Charlie for a trail ride across the road, and leading a yearling colt. It’s good experience for all of us.

Janine exits the vehicle and holds up her hand to gain my attention. She’s wearing a lacy tank top with a fitted skirt, her heels dig into the sand as she makes her way over to me. Never a lack of style with that lady.

“Hey Deb, we’re on our way out,” she calls, coming closer.

She glances back at Joe who heads towards the barn to greet Dick.

Knowing Joe is occupied she returns her focus to me, “ Everything was fine this time with Dick. I thought you should know,” she said quietly.

My yearling tugs on the lead shank anxious to be away. I reach down and pat Charlie. He’s a trouper for ignoring the impatience beside him.

I shield my eyes from the sun, and give Janine a slight nod. “I mentioned something to Tracey on my behalf, but she just laughed at me,” I said, “Maybe we’re making too much out of it?”

Her mouth tightens, furrow lines appear on her brow, “No,” she hisses. “I know men like him, and it’s not just joking.” She leans closer. “Last time he pushed me up against the wall and grabbed my breasts,” she seethes. “I was more careful this time. He never had me alone for a second.”

I bob my head and rub my forehead at the same time. “I know, he’s a pig.”

Janine pats the side of her leg a few times with a nervous twitch, then she straightens her shoulders. “Okay then, take care of yourself.”

“You too.” I reply feeling awkward and useless.

I make my way to the trails with Charlie and the colt in tow. I leave all my cares behind, right beside Charlie’s last dump.

I ride the wide sandy trail, I am serenaded by horny toads and rambunctious finches. The trees sway as the breeze whispers secrets to the leaves. The thick tangled undergrowth releases a pungent sweetness into the air with a hint of mint. Wild vines creep up trees— the thongs of the forest. My life in this moment is perfect. It doesn’t matter I owe money for my student loan and my car. It doesn’t matter I have no bed. Nothing feels bad, not even Dick’s shady behaviour. Right now, right in this moment— I am full of appreciation for the forest, the path, and my horses back.

This is the lull before the storm.

Condo

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A stablehand living in a condo? What madness is this?

The clients who had viewed Razor the previous day return to the stable. They pull up in a cobalt sports car driven by the young man with the flashing smile.

I’m rolling up the watering hose in the barn. A couple feet away Dick and Tracey stand in the shade of the barn door waiting for their clients to exit the car.

“Did you get the contract written up for her to sign?” Tracey asks Dick as she adjusts the ball cap on her head.

Dick nods and his jowls shake, “Of course. I printed out the stabling agreement and payment plan the way you wanted it done.”

“Tracey smiles, “Perfect.”

She turns her attention to me, “Hey Debby? Can you bring Razor in and brush him? Allison is going to want to ride.” Tracey rolls her eyes and sighs, “And then I’ll probably need to give her a lesson, because God knows she can use the help. Poor Razor.”

“Of course,” I comply, “I’ll go and get him right now.”

Razor is content to come into the barn and exit the hot sun.

I brush his already gleaming body, and he rests a hind leg with his eyes half closed enjoying the attention.

I hear the door to the office open and Tracey leads the clients towards me.

This time I’m introduced to Allison, a raven-haired, petite woman, with a large laugh and a well-endowed chest. Her husband John, is the classic boy-next-door, crossed with Barney Rubble from the Flintstones. Last, but certainly not least, I meet Allison’s brother Antonio, a good-looking fellow with obvious Italian genetics, dark-hair and a flashing smile.

Tracey places a hand on Allison’s shoulder, “If you ever need anything around the stable Allison,” she gestures towards me, “Debby can help you.”

I bow my head in agreement, “Sure, Absolutely anything,” I parrot.

I wish Tabby would show up to take Antonio away. He was making me nervous. “Do you need me for anything else Tracey?” I ask.

She waves her hand, “No, go ahead with the rest of your chores. I think Dick went to get Tabby.”

“Ok,” I reply, feeling eager to get back to my horses with their accepting ways.

I stroll down the alleyway to the tack room and empty the washing machine into a basket. Today was ideal to wash the horses’ flysheet covers. The wind outside was keeping the paddock area relatively fly free. I swing around with the basket and walk smack dab into Antonio who has followed me into the tack room.

“Oh, sorry “ I murmur, “I didn’t hear you come in.” I push past him towards the clothesline.

“It’s okay.” He said trailing me into the sunlight.

The breeze tosses my hair and I’m aware of how unkempt I feel. I hope Tabby gets here soon.

I take the basket of laundry to the far end of the line.

The Italian watches me with interest.

I want the Mafia to come and take him away.

“How long have you been working for Dick and Tracey?” He asks leaning back into the shade of a tree.

“A couple months,” I reply as I clothes pin the flysheet in a couple places, and pinch my finger in one. Where is Tabby?

I take the next flysheet even further away from him, next to the tree, and begin to pin it too.

“Do you like horses as much as your sister does?” I ask, struggling to make conversation.

Antonio walks out of the shade towards me, “ No, I’m slightly allergic to horses.”

He comes even closer, “I can help you hang the rest of those up.”

I’m just about to refuse. A shooting pain flares on my upper calf. I shake my leg and three more sharp pains flames up on different parts of my leg. I look down and see fire ants dashing around on my calf muscle. “Oww, Son of a bitch!” I holler frantically flicking ants off my legs. I distance myself from the fire ant hill which seems to have erupted overnight. Without our handyman Owen this would become a common occurrence.

I lean over taking a good look at the inflamed bite marks. Bloody hell— give me a grenade to exact my revenge those smarmy little bastards. They’re probably sitting on their anthill laughing at me.

Antonio kneels beside me to look at my leg.

He sucks in his breath, “Oooh that looks nasty. You should get some ice on those and take an antihistamine,” he shakes his head, “You need to watch where you put your feet.”

“Yeah, thanks Einstein, I’ll get right on that.” I said with knives in my tone.

He rubs his chin, “No offense. It happens easy enough.” He bends down and rolls up a pant leg, “See these scars?”

I look closer. There is a cluster of twelve scars in a tight grouping. “Yeah, looks like that was nasty, much worse than mine.”

He nods, “Two days in the hospital, rotten little mother effers. I’m also slightly allergic to them.”

“Antonio!” Tabby shouts from the barn.

The Italian looks in that direction and then flicks his gaze back to me, his eyes dance with amusement, “Duty calls.” He said getting to his feet. “Don’t forget to look after your bites.”

“I’ll take care of them.” I said, “You go look after Tabby.”

After Allison, John, and Antonio left for the day, Tabby tracked me down at the back barn.

She wanted to vent. I had become her confidant.

Tabby sighs with exasperation, “I wish that women would just sign the papers already, and then I can end this pretence.”

I toss the hay in the stalls energetically.“ I thought they signed the papers.”

“Yeah they did,” she huffs, “but they have a small window of time to reconsider.”

I purse my lips together and bob my head. “Well that’s good, they signed the papers. I don’t think Allison will reconsider though, she not letting Razor go. She loves that horse. You can see it when she looks at him” I said picking up another flake of hay. “She won’t give up Razor just because you’re no longer entertaining her baby brother.”

Tabby smoothens her hair behind her ear and studies me with a new appreciation, ”Are you sure about that.”

“Positive.” I reply bending down to collect bits of hay that dropped to the ground.

“Perfect, then the next time they come, I’m going to stay in my room.” She gazes over at the big barn, ”Do you think Dad will be angry if I quit playing the hostess?” asks Tabby picking out a speck of dirt from under her nail.

“No.” I shake my head, “Not if Allison is buying the horse, and believe me— Allison is buying Razor. “

Her lips stretch across her teeth in a broad smile, “Since I don’t want to date Antonio, maybe you want to date Antonio?”

I shake my head with aggression. “No way.” I said flushing at the idea of dating Antonio. “No. I’m busy enough looking after horses and spending my days off with Carlin. I don’t need the complication of a pretty boy.”

She pokes me in the shoulder and gives me an exaggerated wink. “Yeah right. Because your life is so complicated.”

I smile, “My life is uncomplicated. I have my job, and I hang out on Mondays with Carlin. We go on adventures to different beaches, and try different foods like alligator. My life is great. A guy would interfere. I would need to fit him in— I don’t have much time off. I only have Mondays. Next thing you know, he would try and horn in on my Mondays with Carlin. That would be a downer. Mondays right now are magnificent.”

“Yuck!” She said scrunching up her face, “You ate alligator?”

“Yeah, Carlin and I both did.”

What did it taste like?” She asks wrinkling her nose.

“It tasted like a piece of tough old chicken with seasoning. Maybe it was just an old alligator.”

She contemplates that for a moment, and then asks, “Where are you guys going this Monday?”

“It’s Carlin’s pick. I think she said we’re going to Sanibel Island. We can collect seashells on the beach. And maybe eat snails.” I jest.

She shakes her head hard and her hair flows like satin waves. “I’m never going on adventures with you girls. You two are gross.”

I laugh.

She sticks her tongue out at me, and then trots off. “I’m going swimming” she shouts out, “Come and join me when you’re done.”

I don’t answer. I grab the hose for watering and turn it on. I drag it over to the far stall.

A rattling vehicle pulls into the yard.

It’s Owen.

I turn off the water tap and dash over to the truck.

I rush over to the open window on the drivers side.

He steps out of the vehicle. “What’s the hurry Deb?” He asks. “You’ve been moving like a snail since you got here, and now you have a little spring in your step.” Owen teases with a wide grin.

“Asshole.” I snip. “I’ll put a spring in your step. I was worried about you. I didn’t know if Dick fed you to the gators or what? Everything that man says requires a shovel.”

Owen rubs his nose and nods, “Yep, that’s why I thought I’d let you know Dick is behind on his rent. That’s why I haven’t been around. The leasing company has given him notice to vacate the premises. I work for the leasing company so they told me to stop coming until the Fatterods moved out.”

I stare at Owen, mesmerized by the truth, “I thought Dick owned this place.” I confess, the words come out like thick molasses. “I mean, he never actually said that— but he implied it many times. “

Owen scratches at a mosquito bite on his arm, “I kinda wondered if you knew he was renting? But then I thought—what difference would it make anyway?” He looks down and kicks a black pebble down the driveway. “Sorry Deb.”

I knit my eyebrows together and sigh, “Oh well, not much to be done. So far all my cheques have been good—“ I pause and meet his eyes, “Sorry about your job.”

He shrugs, “Shit happens. I have other jobs. I wasn’t full time here anywho— I’m kinda curious, what did Dick tell you?”

“He told me you moved back to Idaho.” I said bending down and gently touching my fire-ant stings. They throbbed with a heartbeat all their own.

“Pishaw on Idaho, I like the heat,” Owen said with enthusiasm.

He stares down at my leg. “I see you’ve gone and got bit up? Didn’t I warn you about them little hell fires?”

“Yeah, you did. But they are sneaky little bastards. It happened a while ago, I’ll treat them soon.”

“Damn right. You’d better treat them soon. Be careful of infection.”

Dick’s truck rumbles into the barnyard. I can see him craning his head to give Owen a hard stare.

I smirk at the maintenance man, “Speaking of infections. Am I a bad person if I find delight in Dicks misery?”

“If you are— then I am too.” Owen confesses with a grin. “Now, “ he continues, “I want you to be cautious around him. Don’t poke the bear too much because he does have teeth. You’re a nice kid, I wouldn’t want to see you get hurt. Maybe you should go back home?”

“I shake my head, “But—”

He raises a finger and wags it to silence me. “ I know. I realize you’re on a quest of sorts, and you’re only young once. But I had to mention the possibility of you going home for my own peace of mind.” He pulls a slip of paper out of his pocket and discreetly hands it to me. “This is my home phone number, the missus and I had a chat, if you need anything— if you get into any sort of trouble. You call us.”

My eyes water, and my heart ripples with warmth, “Thank you Owen,” I reach out and touch his arm, “You’re a good man. I glad I met you.”

We hug briefly feeling the dark glare of Dick upon us, and then Owen is gone as quickly as he came.

Dick idles up to me in his truck.

He parks beside me. The window rolls down and he removes his sunglasses. His cold eyes are such a stark contrast to those of Owens.

“It’s time I let you know,” He drawls. “We’re moving.” He said.

We all move into a condo, minus the horses of course. The Fatterods had rented out a couple barns at a large horse facility a twenty minute drive away. Everyone had a bed or a stall to lay their head on at night. Everyone except for me. I slept on the floor in the living room. It didn’t bother me, as a youth I am flexible enough to flow along with any plan. So far all my cheques cleared. Each month I had enough to pay my student loan, and car payment to my bank in Canada.

At 21, I’m floating through my days, and wandering on the whims of life. All is well—for now.

Meet the Clients

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Easy Relationships

It’s the relationships in life, which add depth to our existence. In my job as a stable hand my contact with people is limited. My strongest relationships are with the horses that never judge me. They depend on me. I tend to their needs with gentle care, and they return my efforts with trust and affection. People, ahhh people can be bastards. I knew this already, trust is a convenient word to be bent, and sometimes broken on the whims of desire. In this life if you find a loyal human soul— hold them close.

Dick and Tracey sold horses, boarded horses, and participated at horse shows. Clients would come to the stable to view prospective horses to purchase, or board, or both. On this particular day we have clients coming in the morning, and in the afternoon.

I’m in the middle of my morning chores. It’s time to take Jupiter out for his daily exercise. He is the showpiece stud of the stable. I slide the stall door open, and step inside with the halter and lead. Jupiter, the coal black stallion greets me with a lowered head. He loves his morning routine.

The sound of tires on gravel just outside the door announces the arrival of someone. I see the road from the stall, Dick and Tracey pull up in their fancy one-ton horse-hauling truck. Tracey leaps out of the passengers side striding towards the barn. Dick throws his door open. He wiggles out of his seat, it looks like he’s wrestling a grizzly bear. No, it’s all him. He heaves himself out of the truck. He wipes his forehead with his hand, and eyes up the distance to the barn. He turns back to the truck, and clambers inside. The truck roars to life as he starts it up for the air-conditioning.

Tracey comes to a halt in front of Jupiter’s stall, “Morning Deb, how’s it going today?”

I give her a grin and rub Jupiter on the neck; “ It’s going good. I was about to exercise Jupe.” The horse nudges my arm. I gently push him away.

Tracey reaches up and grips the stall railing, “He’s looking good. He seems to like you.”

“I smile down at him, “Yeah, we get along.”

“Do you think you could bring Razor in and give him a quick brush, before you exercise Jupiter. We have clients coming to look at him this morning.”

I nod. “Sure thing.”

“Good stuff,” Tracey says as she heads towards the office. “See you later.”

“For sure.” I reply, sliding the halter off Jupiter’s head, “Sorry Boy. I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

I take two steps out of the stall, and Dick’s horn honks loudly twice. I glance over and see him staring at me.

I stop in my tracks and sigh. I silently curse him in my mind.

He honks again and motions me over. The horn is the invisible shock collar for me. Whenever he needs to talk, he’ll drive to the barn and blow the horn until I come. It makes me feel like a dog. I’m sure he gets off on it. If only I had the powers of an electrician. I could rig up a high voltage jolt to the horn. Press that then sucker!

I put a fake smile on my face and walk over to Dick’s window, “Good Morning, what can I do for you today?”

He lifts the sunglasses off his eyes, “Well, I think you know?” He states lewdly. “But since you won’t do that— I’m checking to see if you have everything in tiptop shape around here. We have clients coming this morning, and this afternoon as well.”

I nod, and flick a fly off my arm. “Everything looks good but I’ll double check.”

A bead of sweat trickles down Dicks jaw line, “I just wanted to make sure. We need to sell some horses. We can’t ride them all.”

“Absolutely,” I reply, thinking of all the work involved in caring for the horses. Which reminds me, I hadn’t seen Owen yet this morning. It wasn’t like him to be late. “Hey Dick, where’s Owen? I haven’t seen him around.”

Dick narrows his eyes, and reaches for a thought. “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. He’s gone back to Idaho. I guess you’ll have to empty the manure spreader yourself from now on.” He said with a snide grin.

I shrug watching the beads of sweat collect on Dick’s brow. “Sure thing. It’s nothing I haven’t done at other stables.”

It’s strange Owen wouldn’t have said goodbye to me. Strange he wouldn’t have given notice either. Maybe Julie, the previous stable-hand would know what happened.They had been good friends.

Dick wipes the sweat of his forehead with the back of his hand, “Yeah,” he grunts. “ I’ll have to start mowing the grass until we find a replacement for Owen.” He pauses, “Actually, I think Zack can do that.”

I look off in the distance toward Razor’s paddock. “Is that everything you needed to see me about?” I ask in a short tone. “I should be getting Razor ready for your clients.”

“Yeah that’s all for now.” He said rolling up his window, effectively dismissing me. Yes sir, King Sloth. I walk away with a stiff back ignoring the feeling of his eyes on me.

The clients arrive, a petite woman, with a large laugh and a well-endowed chest. Her husband is the classic boy-next-door crossed with Barney Rubble. A young man around my age is with them, a good-looking fellow with obvious Italian genetics, dark-hair, and a flashing smile.

Within minutes of the clients arriving Dick ambles down the alleyway towards me.

“Debby,” He said with a puff, “Go to the house and tell Tabby to come down to the barn. Tell her to wear something nice. Every edge you can get in a sale matters.” He shoos me away. “Get going.”

Wow, pimping out your daughter to get a sale. Stellar. Dick Fatterod you have just been awarded the Father of the Year trophy.

I tip toe into the house, and I peer into the kitchen. Tabby is hunched over a bowl of cereal reading a magazine.

I sneak up behind her, “Boo!” I shout.

“Eek!” She jumps up throwing her spoon across the kitchen.

I laugh uncontrollably.

She smacks me on the shoulder, “That’s not funny!”

I chortle, “Oh my God! Sooo funny!”

She glares.

I put a hand out, “Ok. I’m sorry. Your Dad wants you to come to the barn and entertain a young man. The family is looking at buying Razor.”

Tabby exhales heavily, “Oh crap.” Then she gives an almost imperceptible nod, and her features soften. “Okay, I’ll change and be right down.”

I make my way over to the other side of the table and pick up her spoon. I freeze for a second, and then give her a questioning look, “He said to wear something nice.”

Tabby nods, “Of course.”

I furrow my brow, “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you have to wear something nice?” I ask, just wanting her to say it aloud. Maybe it will change something?

“So the guy will like me. It will help with the sale.”

I raise my eyebrows at her and roll my eyes, ”Oh,” I said.

Tabby sneers at me, “Don’t judge me.”

I hold up my hands, “I’m not.”

I am. But I shouldn’t— people do what they are taught to do. Until they question it.

I throw the spoon in the sink and wipe the table.

Tabby stomps out of the room towards her bedroom.

I shake my head, well at least my parents didn’t try to pimp me out.

I didn’t get an introduction to those clients that day. We met later on. We even became good friends, and when my job with the Fatterods came to a heated end— they had a place for me to lay my head.

The clients that arrive in the afternoon seem nice— awkwardly nice— not cool nice like Canadians. They’re a middle-aged couple with two little girls. Ralph, the husband, is enthusiastic. When he talks, his jaw works so hard his spikey brown hair vibrates. When he shakes my hand, my cheeks jiggle and I’m certain he will dislocate my arm. Vanessa is the opposite of her husband; her hair is a smooth flowing mane of gold. Her manner is calm and collected. When Vanessa shakes my hand it’s like a wet paper towel, no substance to it at all. Their two little girls hover behind their parents and peek out at me.

Vanessa catches my eye and gestures behind her, “The tall one is Lauryl, and the little one is Beth. They adore horses. Hopefully we can find the right horse for them.”

I smile and nod, “I’m sure Tracey will help you find what you are looking for.” I bow a subtle bow, I’m not sure why. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all,” I offer. “But I need to get back to work. Maybe we’ll see you again sometime.”

Ralph bobs his head and chuckles, “Oh absolutely!” He chirps.

I walk away feeling relieved at being done with people today.

Then I hear giggles, and the patter of tiny feet behind me.

I ignore the girls and begin to bring the horses in for the night.

The two little girls continue to trail me. They stick close to each other like they are Private Investigators hired to follow each other as well.

I smile at Beth, the youngest girl, as she pokes her head out from a bush.

This is a dilemma for me, how friendly should I get? I like kids, but only in the first two stages of becoming friends. There are three stages when you meet little humans. During the first stage of friendship they are on their best behaviour, a little shy, but they want to be your friends. The second stage is when they get to know you— just a little— suddenly they’re funny, and silly. The third stage is when they are very familiar with you—now they want to be in charge. They become bossy. And if they don’t get their own way? Well Holy Mother Of Martha’ s Muff. They whine, and pout, and cry. You try to run away, but they follow you everywhere you go. They stick to you like a bad smell.

When I was in my early teens, my parents would inevitably saddle me with the visitors kids. Eventually I took to hiding out in the potato bin; at least the eyes on the spuds were less needy. But that was then and this is now. As a working adult there is no potato bin. Plus, there is an unwritten rule that implies I must not run away from client’s children.

The kids and I became stage two friends. I put them to work filling water buckets, sweeping the alleyway, or whatever other little job I could find. It’s amazing what kids think is fun, if you do it with a song and dance. I convince them I am the stable version of Cinderella and they are my mice.

Dick, Tracey, Vanessa and Ralph finally arrive to collect the girls.

Beth is bouncing on her toes, “Debby let me brush a horse!” She squeals.

“She let me brush a horse too!” Lauryl crows, giving Beth a cross look.

Vanessa waves her hands faintly, “Okay, okay girls. Say thank you. We have to go home now.”

“Awww.” Beth, and Lauryl chorus with pouty faces.

Ralph scoops up Beth in one arm, and scoops up Lauryl in the other, “No awww’s here. Say thank you, we have to go now.”

The girls wave and grin, “Thank you.” They said in unison.

“Your welcome,” I offer with a smile. “Thank you— for all your help.”

Ralph puts the kids down and they run after Vanessa and Tracey towards the car.

Dick lumbers along beside Ralph. It looks as though they have formed a relationship.

Like I said in the beginning, people can be bastards, trust is a convenient word to be bent, and sometimes broken on the whims of desire. Ralph and his whole family would find this out the hard way— as would I.

Dark Days

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What cha gonna do when it comes for you?

No one knows when the dark days are coming. They just happen. They can occur even when everything begins in the most perfect of ways. On the days when the sun shines high, and puffy white clouds intermittently offer shade. When the coffee tastes like a gift from the God, and the birds sing as a choir in the trees. It can even come on a day when all things flow together into a state of joy, when a sparkling lightness lands in every step. Still, the darkness can come. It brings with it shades of trouble, an unexpected phone call, a knock on the door, or an unfortunate circumstance to remind you of life’s fragile state.

This dark day began with a two-month old foal showing signs of illness. Dancer’s high-headed bounce had disappeared, and his sparkling eyes had dulled. He had swelling on his left hind leg and it felt hot to touch.

Tracey called the vet.

The middle-aged vet arrived, Dr. Brenner moved with quiet assurance around the subdued foal.

Dick held the mare on the outside of the stall.

Tracey entered the stall with the vet. The foal never even spared them a glance.

I stood beside the little guy holding his head. The halter hung loose. It was almost too big to stay buckled. It hardly seemed necessary.

The vet takes Dancer’s temperature, and listens to his heart and breathing. He kneels down beside the colt’s slightly swollen hind leg, and gently pushes the hair aside. “Ahhh,” he said with dismay in his voice. “Not great. This poor little guy has a snakebite. It’s hard to see, but there are two puncture marks. What sorts of snakes do you have around here? Coral? Water Moccasin?”

“I saw a Water Moccasin a couple of months ago.” I answer.

Dick wraps his sausage-like fingers around the top of the stall leaning in close, “What’s the treatment for a snakebite?”

The vet answers as he exits the stall, “ The colt needs an antivenom shot, IV fluids, corticosteroids, pain medication, antibiotics, and wound care.”

Tracey follows the vet out of the stall. “What are his chances?”

The vet turns to face Dick and Tracey, “Not great, the smaller the animal the less chance of recovery.” He pauses and then goes on, “Sorry, but there you have it. “ Dr. Brenner grimaces, “It’s not ideal— I know. Do you still want to try?”

Tracey nods, “Of course.”

Dick gives Tracey a sour look but keeps his mouth shut

Dr. Brenner returns with a couple syringes. He injects the foal with the antivenom and then gives him a shot of antibiotics. The foal is quiet.

The vet turns to the door to get the next syringe. The foal explodes, blindly leaping around the stall. I rein him in with the lead shank to prevent him from hitting the wall. I hold him close but he’s strong, in the grips of a bad reaction. He throws himself over directly into me. I fly into the cinder brick wall backwards slamming the back of my head, and my lower back against the wall. The air leaves my lungs and refuses to return. I gasp.

The foal lay on his side winded, nostrils flaring.

The vet kneels down beside the foal.

Tracey rushes over to me and places a hand on my shoulder, “Are you ok?”

I wince drawing in a tiny breath. I feel pain radiate down my back. My head is a spike set in a railroad track and any movement is the hammer. “Need,” I gasp, “to rest a sec.” I said forcing the words out.

I gesture with a loose hand towards the foal. “How bout him?”

Tracey slides over to the vet and hovers over his shoulder, “What do you think?” She asks.

He runs a hand through his grey-flecked hair, and gives his head a soft shake. “It’s not looking good, he had a reaction to the preservative in the antibiotics. It happens sometimes. But with his system already being compromised…” He grimaces, “I’d be surprised if he pulls through. I can keep going by putting him on an IV and giving him pain medication to keep him comfortable. But, it’s your decision.”

Tracey frowns and glances towards Dick.

“We have to try. “ Tracey said. “That colts worth too much to just give up on him.”

The mare shuffles around Dick impatiently. She wants to be with her baby. She softly nickers.

The foal’s ears flicker.

The back of my head is pulsing. I reach up and touch the tender spot. It’s swelling into a baseball size bump. I push myself upright, and sharp pain radiates throughout my lower back. I inhale sharply.

Tracey shoots me a hard look, “Deb, I think you should go up to the house and rest for a while. That colt really sent you crashing. The stall door rattled when you hit the wall, and it’s cinder brick.” Tracey tips her head towards Dick, “ Dick will drive you back up to the house.”

I furrow my brow and gaze at Dancer flat-out on the ground; his nostrils blow with every strained breath. I can see the pain in his eyes. I feel the tears rise up in my own. “But, I want to help look after Dancer.” I said with a waver in my voice.

Tracey shakes her head. “I know you want to help. But there’s nothing to do. The vet’s got this. Go put your feet up, and get some ice on your head and back.” She steps up to me continuing on, “Dick and I have a function to attend this evening, we need you to be fit to water tonight.” She holds out a hand. “Tabby can help me finish up around the barn. It’s not going to kill her to do a little work.”

“Alright.” I reluctantly agree. I accept her hand.

I cautiously rise to my feet, and pain shoots through my back.

I drop Tracey’s hand and make my way over to Dancer. I screw up my face as I bend down to stroke his silky shoulder. He still has the baby fine hair. He’s too young to die. “Come on little buddy. You can do this.” I encourage.

My heart hurts as I head to the house with Dick. I tune him out, I don’t remember walking into the house. I say a silent prayer for Dancer.

A couple of hours later Tracey comes to check on me. She has the two bouncy Corgi’s, Salt and Pepper with her. They jump at the edge of the bed so I lean over and lift them up to cuddle with me. They lick my face and snuggle. I smile at the loving little dogs.

Tracey’s quiet. I lift my head to meet her eyes— they are two reflective pools of sadness.

“He didn’t make it,” she said in a heavy voice. “Owen is burying him out in the back.”

I close up my heart, and try to swallow the sorrow, but it leaks out my eyes, “I’m sorry Tracey. He was such a beauty. So full of himself.”

She nods, “Yeah it’s the shits— but that’s life.” She adds without conviction.

Yes, death is a part of life, the end part— the big finale for the body. People who raise animals experience this more often than most. It never gets any easier.

“How are you feeling?” She asks.

“Better,” I said in a hollow voice, “The pain relief and ice has helped.” I sit up taller. My body protests. I slap imaginary duct tape over my body’s loud voice. “I can come back out and help with the night feeding.” I offer.

Tracy gives me a hard look, “Come on,” she scoffed, “don’t try to be a hero. There’s no key to the city here. Stay in bed. You can do the watering tonight.”

I scowl. I hate lying around. I can hear Mom and Dad calling me lazy bones. “Oh fine.” I relent.

Salt and Pepper follow Tracey out the door.

The clock ticked on to watering time, Tabby and Zack are sprawled out on the sofa watching TV as I walk past. Pepper is cuddled up under Zack’s arm.

I stop and look around. “Where’s Salt?’ I ask.

Zack gives me a distracted look, “Tabby has her.”

Tabby glares at Zack, “I don’t have her. I thought you had her.”

They glower at each other— Two cats with their backs up, hissing with their eyeballs.

I snort, “You guys.” I wave them off each other. “Chillax. I’ll look for her outside.”

I slip my shoes on grunting in discomfort from my aches and pains, keeping my worries to myself. The poison cane toads are out and about. I hope she hasn’t gotten into chasing them.

I walk into the barn and flick on the lights. A few of the horses greet me with a nicker.

“Salt! Come here baby, come on.” I call out in a musical tone. I attempt a whistle but it sounds more like a balloon going flat.

I walk up the alley and the mare that lost her foal is whinnying frantically to me. My heart constricts. I step into her stall and rub her shoulder. She swings away from me, and calls again. It’s not me she wants. What she wants can no longer come.

I swallow my sorrow for her.

I walk to the office thinking maybe Salt got locked inside. I flip the light switch on. No happy little doggie here.

I cruise around the desk, and there’s Salt stretched out on the floor. She looks dead. Oh my God, this can’t be happening. What is going on today?

I drop to my knees wincing in pain. Salt doesn’t move. I feel for a pulse in her neck, there is a shallow flutter.

I grab the phone on the desk and call the house.

“Hello, knick knack patty whack, do you want to bone?” answers Zack.

“Zack!” I shout. “What the hell? Put Tabby on.”

“Hello?”

“Tabby, it’s Deb. Do you have a number for your mom and dad? Salt is really sick. I don’t know what happened, but she needs a vet.”

“What? Shit! How bad?” Where is she?”

“Tabby! Just call your mom.” I said sternly, “I’ll bring Salt to the house. Just find out where we need to go?”

“Ok!”

I pick up Salt, she droops in my hands, and her tongue falls out of the side of her mouth. I fold her into my chest carrying her like a baby.

I get to the house and Tabby has a map in hand. We are heading to a twenty-four hour vet clinic in West Palm Beach.

Shit! I think to myself, city driving— Eek! Something I have rarely done. Now I am officially responsible for the lives of two kids and a dog. Zack is too young to stay home alone and I need Tabby for directions. May the force be with me man! What I really need is the guy that offered me a joint on the freeway last week to show up again. Meet me in lane number three on the way to the vet please—because I’m freaking out!

We arrive alive at the vet clinic. There were several screams of terror along the way. A few what the hell are you doings? And a couple near misses with blaring horns, but somehow but we are intact.

Tabby never asked me to drive her anywhere else again.

Dick and Tracey met us at the vet clinic.

The vet was baffled. She had no idea what was wrong with Salt. It was some kind of poisoning, but it wasn’t consistent with the cane toad poison.

The next morning Owe, the handyman and our undertaker, discovered the reason for Salts illness. Owen hadn’t finished burying the foal’s body and Salt had eaten a large chunk of the muscle in the hind end, right where the injection site for the pain medication had been. Salt overdosed on pain meds.

Salt spent three days at the vet clinic. She returned home not quite as clever as she had been, but as loving as ever.

You just never know in life,  one moment you’re given sparkles and rainbows— and the next, you’re getting shot in the baloney butt with a lightening bolt, while the Universe calls out “Bulls eye!”

Tagged By Life

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Time traveled like a freight train rolling down the tracks always moving forwards and never rolling back. Before I knew it a month had gone past. I had put my tag on each section of the day, like taggers claim freight cars. I followed the sway of direction at the stable adding my own colourful style and the horses thrived. Dick and Tracey came to trust in my abilities. Everything moved along smoothly with no complaining from customers or horses. For a while it seemed I was on the right track, but like everything in life, if you sit there long enough, you’re going to get run over. I couldn’t move fast enough to get out of the way.

About two months into the job, Dick and Tracey’s friends from Tampa drove out for a visit. Joe was a long time friend of Dicks. He was short, with a muscular build like a bulldog. His gleaming black hair reflected everything including the kitchen cabinets. His eyes were so dark, the brown around the pupil was hard to see. He struck me as a used car salesman, or an enforcer for the mob. I never discovered which one he did for a living.

His wife Janine towered over him by a good four inches. She was a stewardess for United Airlines. She was a finished product, like a fondant wrapped cake, all smoothed into place, with colourful decorative accents, brightly painted nails and deep red lips. Her eyes flashed with life, and she flirted with all the ease of breathing.

I kept myself busy at the barns aiming for minimal contact during the alcohol-laden event of old friends.

I was singing along to an overplayed song on the local radio station, my hands were busy on the broom giving the alleyway of the barn one final sweep.

“Debby!” Shouts a person from the other end of the barn. I resist my introverted urge to scurry away.

I turn and squint looking down the long aisle. The sun is shining like the light of heaven at the end, and a silhouette appears in the brilliant glow. It seems almost mystical and appropriate that God would be a woman, tall and lithe clicking down the asphalt aisle in high heel shoes. Right about then I expect to hear angels sing, but all I hear is a lengthy musical fart from a mare lifting her tail in the stall beside me.

The deity walks into the barn and out of the glaring brightness. My shoulders sag. It was Janine.

“Hey Janine.” I finally respond, replying to her original shout.

I look down at the ground muttering to myself over the disruption in my routine. I give the floor a couple more overly aggressive strokes with my broom.

Janine comes closer with her clacking stylish shoes, her badly chosen barn wear.

Salt and Pepper, the corgis bound towards her, barking enthusiastic greetings. Dogs are marvellous.

I reluctantly lean my broom against the cinder brick wall and meet her halfway. I feel the resistance pile up inside me. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Maybe I can smile and nod my way through the conversation?

Her eyes search the barn, “You’re all alone?”

I smile at her and nod.

“Good,” She said smoothening her mini skirt down with a nervous motion. “I was hoping to talk to you for a minute in the office.”

I smile and nod again. All the while wondering what she could want from me? I’m a no-one really.

I follow her into the room. The two tiny fox-like corgis hanging onto my every step. I hope whatever Janine has to say won’t take too long. With my day nearly done, my mind begins to consider the book, which sits at the end of my bed. I can hear it calling my name. ‘Come here my minion, you are under my spell. I shall throw you to the bed and have my way with you.’ I had hoped to finish the book before dark. I needed time to disconnect from the story of the monstrous creatures that fed on human flesh. If I were still mesmerized by the stories vivid enchantment, the monsters from the novel would be joining me on my evening watering detail. My chores tonight would be mingled with self inflicted fear, and borderline heart attacks from the nightly noises in the bush. I push these thoughts aside.

I take a seat on the chair by the door. The dogs hop up on my lap simultaneously filling all the space. “Ok, shoot. What’s up?” I ask bluntly, giving up on the smiling and nodding routine.

Janine paces in front of the trophy case, “I was wondering? Has Dick ever—” She pauses, and then faces me straight on, “Has Dick ever made any inappropriate advances on you?” She blurts out, staring me down with her clear green eyes, “I need to know,” she adds with a troubled look.

The air conditioning kicks in noisily. Dick left it cranked on high.

Janine wraps her arms around herself as goose bumps appear.

I nod without smiling, “Kind of— not advances per say, he wanted to know if I would mess around with him. And when he watches me work, it feels like he’s stripped me down naked with his beady little eyes— But he’s never touched me. Why?” I ask, already sensing the answer.

“She rubs at her forehead with a hand and wrinkles her brow, “When Joe and Tracey went into the house to get drinks today, Dick and I were still in the pool.” Her lips tighten; she hesitates, and then continues, “ Dick kept moving closer to me until he had me trapped in the corner of the pool. Zack was at the far end of the pool. I didn’t want to create a scene in front of Zack. So I stayed quiet. Before I could get away, Dick pressed himself against me, and started squeezing my breasts.” She confesses, her eyes filling with tears.

I feel nauseous. I imagine his grubby hands pawing at splendid Janine. “That’s disgusting.” I said. “I’m so sorry. He’s never forced himself on me. I can’t imagine— I mean, I can — but gross! What did you do?”

“I told him no. And I tried to push his hands away. He just laughed and said I liked it. I told him Joe would be back right away. I told him I would tell Joe what he did.” Janine said sniffling.

“Did he back off?” I asked.

She scrunches up her face, “Yeah, but it was so— so awful. And I can’t tell Joe. Dick is his oldest friend.” She shakes her head and shivers, “I just can’t believe this? Joe talks about him all the time. How wonderful Dick is. How Dick has gotten Joe out of tight spots. Joe practically hero-worships the man. I don’t want Joe having to choose between Dick and myself. ” Janine gets a far away look on her face. “I mean, he knows Dick’s a womanizer, but Joe thinks Dick would never touch me.” She sighs. “I’ll have to be more careful from now on.” She pauses and blinks, sucking in a heavy breath of air, “I don’t know? Maybe it was the booze? We were drinking all afternoon?”

She paces over to the picture window and gazes into the barn. “I don’t want to cause trouble between them—“ She lets the words hang in the air for a moment, and then turns to me with fire in her eyes. “But if he ever touches me again— I will tell Joe, and the hell with their friendship!”

I bob my head in agreement, “You gotta protect yourself.”

She shakes a finger at me, “You have to protect yourself too. That’s why I came down here. It was to warn you. You’re so young, and you’re alone with him a lot of the time.”

I press my lips together and shake, “Such a creep. Thanks for having my back. I appreciate that, ” I said stroking the corgi’s fur. “But I’m careful, I keep my distance. “

She tilts her head and looks at me, “Do you think Tracey knows?” Janine asks.

“Knows about her horny husband?” I question, and then shrug, “Who knows?”

Janine shakes her head and her auburn hair bounces like a model in a shampoo commercial. “He shouldn’t get away with this. Maybe you should talk to Tracey?”

I groan aloud, “No. I’m the hired hand, for all I know that’s standard practice to hit on the help. You should say something. You’re the guest. And he actually touched you!”

She shakes her head, “No, I don’t want to upset things, we are only here for two more nights.”

I set the dogs down on the ground and stand up, “Ok. That’s your choice.” I’m feeling annoyed. Nothing here to see or do. Once a creep always a creep, and nobody is willing to say anything. Me included. “If that’s everything I’m going to finish my chores.”

Janine growls and throws her hands up. “I can’t stand it!” She said with a hard edge to her tone. “He’s getting away with this crap because we are staying silent.”

It’s like she read my mind.

Janine touches me on the arm. “If he puts his hands on me again— I will tell Joe. And then you should say something to Tracey.”

I chew on my bottom lip considering her proposal. I need this job. I can’t rock the boat too much. But then again— I could always go home. I need to do what’s right. “Ok. I’ll say something to Tracey if it happens again. But you need to be more careful. Don’t get caught alone.“

We go our separate ways and the rest of Joe and Janine’s visit is uneventful—until the next time.

In the meantime, the train of life is barrelling down on me. I’m sitting on the tracks playing with the horses. My back is to the oncoming locomotive, it carries all sorts of interesting little packages, all tagged for me.

Snake Hug

 

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Carlin and I on a Monday outing, at First Federal Bank in Lake Park, Palm Beach in 1987. Earl LaPan created the bucking horse statue in 1962. In 2005 one horse toppled in a storm and it was decided the second was a danger to pedestrians so it was taken down as well. 😦

I feel something brush along my leg, I don’t know why I stood, I normally jump at the slightest unexpected touch. I glance down. In the subdued light of the far barn I can just make out a gleaming black snake leaning against my lower leg. The rest of the reptile’s body slides with slow purpose under the stall to where I stand with a water hose filling buckets. The tropical Florida night had invited me to wear shorts for the evening chore. It’s a decision I regret, as I feel the snake’s large triangular head press into me. It seems to adore the warmth of my skin. I freeze, and suck in a silent breath suppressing a scream. Wild things seldom appreciate the explosive sound of a terrified shriek. It would have surely led to an assault by deadly fangs. I keep quiet. My heart beats at breakneck speed, like the bass of a heavy metal death song. He, or she, I’m not sure which— My knowledge of a snakes sex anatomy is sadly lacking. It encircles my leg with a thick ropy body. I stare down at my ankle watching its body seamlessly slide along my flesh.

I flick a glance to the water bucket. The water reflects near the top. I maintain my statue posture as well as I can, while slowly folding the hose to prevent the water from spilling over onto the snake. A dousing with cold water would surely cause aggression as well. It was a cottonmouth water moccasin. The groundskeeper, Owen had mentioned there were some in the canal nearby. I knew they were venomous, treatable if you got help. I shiver, wondering how fast a person needs treatment? All we have in Canada are bears, and wolves, and crazy moose. None of them could have snuck under a stall and threatened me with death. Oh Canada— how I am missing thee.

I turn my focus back to the ground, and watch with silent relief as the snake lowers his head to the dirt, and unwinds off my leg slipping away under the stall. Maybe it was the garlic I had for supper?

I inhale a deep breath. I scream. I cuss. I jump up and down making strange noises.

The colt in the stall gives me a curious stare.

I shake my finger at him. “Don’t you look at me like that. What kind of horse are you anyway? Aren’t you supposed to protect me? You should have stomped him into the ground. Isn’t that what horses are supposed to do?”

The sorrel colt steps up to me and nuzzles my side.

I shake my head. “Yeah, yeah, okay apology accepted.”

Back at the house the family is hanging out in the living room, Dick is sprawled out on one sofa, and Tracey is sandwiched in between Zack and Tabby on the other sofa.

Tracy looks up as I enter the room, “Everything good out there?” she asks.

I shudder, “Yeah, except my leg was mugged by a snake.”

Zack straightens up with wide eyes, “What? You saw a snake?”

“Yeah, it was down at the far barn. It came out from under a stall, slithered around my leg, and then took off under the other stall.” I wrap my arms around myself and quake.

Zack smacks his leg. “No fair! I want to see a snake.”

Tabby sits forward and wrinkles her nose, “That’s disgusting! I would have bolted for sure,” she exclaims. Tabby gives me a look, it’s crossed between respect and sympathy. “Poor you.”

I smile at her. “Then I guess it’s a good thing it was me with the snake instead of you. I hate to think what might have happened if I tried to run with a snake wrapped around my leg. Probably a trip to the hospital.”

Dick studies me with eyes as expressionless as the snakes, “Did you make sure it was out of the stalls?”

I give him a flat look, “Yes. It was gone. I had to finish watering the rest of the stalls in the same direction it went.”

Tracey rubs her arms and shivers, “Yuck, I’m just glad it was you. No offense. What did the horses do?”

I shrug and shake my head, “Nothing. They didn’t seem bothered by it at all. Weird, I would have thought they’d freak right out.” I scrunch up my face. “It sure as heck bothered me. So gross!” I throw Tabby a meaningful look. “We’ll have to be really careful from now on. Who knows? It could happen again.”

Tabby nods and hugs her knees into her chest leaning back into the couch. “I’ll be very careful.” She stresses. The she shifts her body cuddling up under Tracey’s arm. “I guess Mom’s going to have to water tomorrow night, since it’s your day off. There’s no way I’m going to do it.”

Dick sits up a little, “There’s all kinds of critters that live in the canals around here. It’s a good place to get rid of a body. Actually—“

“Dick!” interrupts Tracey. “That’s not an appropriate thing to say around the kids.”

Dick chuckles and his eyes glitter, “Why not? It’s true. The gangsters around here can just dump the bodies in a remote waterway, or slough, and ta da! The alligators, and snakes, and Mother Nature will dispose of the evidence.”

Tracey stands up and shakes her head, “You’re talking out of your ass again.”

Dick thrusts his chin towards her, “Do a little research. You’ll find out I’m right.” He glances at me, “Problems are easily taken care of in the wilds of Florida.”

Tracey points at the empty glass beside Dick, “I think you’ve had one too many tonight my dear.”

The following day my new friend Carlin picks me up and we headed out to the Fort Lauderdale Beach. Carlin’s platinum blonde hair tosses in the breeze as we drive the freeway in her fire-red Camaro. Mötley Crüe’s, Smoking in the Boys Room blasts out of Carlin’s jacked up stereo speakers. In no time at all, we’re stretching out in the sunshine on our beach towels, and listening to the ocean sigh.

“Debby?” Carlin says, breaking the oceans spell.

I roll onto my stomach and look at her, “Yes?”

She brushes her hair away from her face, and props herself up on her elbows, “So I talked to my boss about Tracey and Dick—” Carlin’s blue eyes narrow in the bright sunshine as they meet mine, “She says not many people in the show circuit know very much about the Fatterods— but the ones that do know them— they know something. But no one’s talking. And the one’s that know something— they avoid the Fatterod family like they are carriers of the plague.” Carlin gives her head a shake, her hair flops with the gesture, “It sounds to me— like there is one hellacious secret. My boss thinks you should look for a different job.”

I’m beginning to think the same.

 

Friend in My Corner

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Carlin and I. My friend in my corner. 

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.