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Excerpt from "January Frost"
We rolled to a stop in front of the farmhouse and the wrench deep inside took my breath away. The remodeling had not extended to the exterior, so the visible reminders of my previous life were still quite real. Davy was already bouncing on the seat, ready to find her room, ready to get out of the car after hours of riding. Cate was beaming; she supervised the remodel and was hoping I liked her choices. I felt the eggshells everyone trod around me, the expectation of an explosion from reality smacking me across the face. It wouldn’t matter but I put on a big show because I loved her. She was the closest to a sister I ever knew and whatever she chose would be right with me.
Standing in the front yard, looking out at the fields I could almost erase those long years of exile and see into the past. The fences, the rock walls, the barns and paddocks – nothing can ever remain the same, but this was close to time standing still. The wind blew in off the ocean, bringing that tang of salt water. The trailer bringing Manny pulled in behind us, and I needed to supervise his unloading or there might be problems.
“Lady Rachel, would you tell Davy the trailer with Manny is here and I want to help unload? If she wants to walk to the stud barn, show the path, please?” I was already moving as fast as the brace on my damaged leg would allow. “Thank you!” I threw over my shoulder. Davy would understand. Manny was still a stallion, and he could be very temperamental when it came to changing places. I could see her shaking her head as I hobbled down the familiar path.
Taking deep breaths, I steeled myself to see the stud barn again. The last time I was here, I took possession of Manny and left. Now I was working in reverse but at least returning the heroine I wanted to be all those years ago as a child riding the sea Cliffs of my home.
The air-conditioned van pulled to a stop in the large cobblestone courtyard in front of the stud barn. The barn itself was a large, comfortable stone stable with four stalls, two on each side of the aisle. Each stall opened to its own enclosed paddock, separating the fiery stallions from each other’s sharp teeth and short tempers. There was also a large wash stall, with hot and cold water, ceiling fans twirled in the warm late summer air. A tack room, a groom’s apartment, a feed room and storage room rounded out the building. Mares and their offspring were kept on the other side of the farm, nearest to the manor to bring help quickly if anything were to go wrong. Everything depended on Cate, the resident vet, who lived there in the manor house with Trey and their mother.
The driver was already opening the side exit door when I approached.
“Howdy Miss Evie, here to supervise the big boy’s arrival?”
“Of course Dex. How was the trip? Was Manny a good boy?” I smiled at the driver. Dex had shuttled Manny and I around the world for many years. He was the only one I trusted to ignore the stallion’s shenanigans.
“Well he had some rough moments in the traffic coming out of Chesleton, but once we hit the open road he settled down real good. I think he knows this is home, he’s been pawing at the door since we pulled into the driveway.” Dex dragged the ramp down and opened the large door. Manny, still cross-tied inside trumpeted his arrival with all his loud, brash personality pushing against the partition that divided the van. I had to laugh at his brass.
“Dex, bring him to me, so I can work some of the kinks out.”
Dex hooked a lead rope to the big stud, unclipped the side ties and eased him down the ramp. Hesitant at first, he soon realized momma was standing on the ground waiting. Pushing Dex aside, he thrust himself over, sniffing my pockets for the treats he knew I always carried for him. Always except for today.
“Crap old man, I forgot to stock the pockets.” I patted my jacket looking for anything I could pass off as his reward.
“Perhaps he’ll accept something from an old friend,” the familiar voice was in my ear the same time the musk hit my nostrils. I whirled so fast I thought might get whiplash. Of course with only one good leg, I lost my balance and toppled into Trey’s arms. Like touching fire, I jumped back. The flush that rose from my feet and raced to my head betrayed my emotional upset. Manny, traitor that he was took the proffered treat with a rub of his large, ungrateful head against Trey’s shoulder.
The groom, I didn’t even notice which one, took Manny’s lead rope while I stared at my new boss. He hadn’t changed much. Same crooked smile, same laughing eyes, a few more wrinkles at the eyes – at thirty-three the promise had matured into full manhood. But the bricks around my heart are stacked high, built with pain and bonded with hours of tears spilled in remembrance and they weren’t going to be breached by a simple smile.
“Hey.” He used the old greeting so easily, our code for ‘love you’ hanging unspoken in the air.
“Hey yourself.” I tried to bring my voice into neutral. “Thanks for Manny’s treat, he would have pouted otherwise.”
“I know, I remember.” His face was neutral as well. I think he was taking his cues from me. He motioned to the brace on my leg. “So how long do they anticipate you being grounded?”
“The leg isn’t the real problem.” I responded on automatic, haven given this interview three times in the past month to the various trade papers. “My neck has nerve damage, and the combined pressure and the whipping around during jumping will probably be too much. And of course Manny is retired now, so unless something comes along to excite me, my victories will come as a trainer and instructor, not a rider.”
“Hm. Evelyn Graham-Frost earthbound. That’s a sentence I would have never thought to hear. How does it feel to join the rest of us ungifted people?” The goofy loving smile was back, the implied laugh with me, not at me.
“Painful, very painful.” Against my better judgment, I smiled back.
“Let me drive you back up to the house. We can talk on the way.” He took my elbow and guided me toward the golf cart, helping me across the troublesome cobblestones. Uh oh – he wanted to talk already. Concentrating on my breathing, I eased myself onto the seat, mentally preparing my gut for whatever he had to say. After all, as Karl would remind me, it wasn’t him I was truly angry with. And you can’t hold grudges against a dead man.
“So, how have you been?” I opened the conversation in neutral territory.
“Good, mostly good. And very busy, especially since Mum announced your arrival. The boarding barns are getting full and you have enough advanced riders to keep you busy three hours a day, seven days a week. I didn’t want to burden you with more students than that, especially until you healed.”
“Thanks Trey, I appreciate that. I’m not sure how long I’m going to be dragging this brace around; it’s only been a few weeks.”
“I know.” His answer spoke volumes. He kept track of me, behind the scenes. Without hesitation he dove into the gist of his train of thought. “Evie, I know this is strange. It’s strange for me, too. But put yourself in my shoes for a moment. I just found out a month ago I have a daughter. Her mother never told me about her, never gave me the chance to be a part of her life until now. If I said I’m a little irate about that, I’d be making an understatement.
“On the other hand, this is an opportunity for me to excel at something my father failed miserably to do and that’s have a loving relationship with my child. I want that chance Evie. I want to show you I’m a different man than the one you ran away from all those years ago.”
I interrupted him. “I didn’t run from you Trey.”
“I stand corrected. But I know it hurt when I didn’t come after you.”
“I knew you had your reasons.” Tears threatened to fill my eyes but I blinked them away. Too personal too fast. I had been afraid this would happen.
“I did, but in retrospect, they were wrong. I should have come after you. I made a mistake. I thought Dad would realize, would change his mind. But when he died with things between us unresolved, I caved and left you alone. I was too ashamed to come find you, bring you back. I’m sorry. I can’t change our past, but I want us to get along, for Davy.”
“She has no expectations from either of us. She knows we didn’t work out. Book closed.”
For a long moment Trey was quiet. There was a hint of pain underlying his voice when he spoke again. “Are you ever going to forgive me?”
“I was eighteen Trey, alone with no one in the world except you. Do you know what he did to me? Did you hear the things he said? How can I forgive that?”
“Because that was him, not me.”
“Right now, I can’t distinguish the two.”
“That, my Evelyn, is your problem.”
“I know.” He hit the nail on the head. I was holding resentment toward all the Tattinger men. “I know it’s my problem and I’m working on it. But don’t expect miracles right away. There’s ten years of baggage to work through. I’ve been wounded a long time. I’m not the girl you knew. She died long ago.”
“I understand. I’ll give you space.”
By then we were at the farmhouse. Trey helped me out of the cart and up the front steps. Davy came flying down the hall, through the door and in Trey’s arms before I could warn him. I didn't need to. Father and daughter took to each other immediately. The tears that had been held at bay all afternoon finally had their way and spilled down my face. Davy, always attuned to my emotional state, added me into their circle.
“You okay Mom?” The concern on her face matched the look on Trey’s. Great, now there were two of them assaulting my emotions.
Smiling, “I’m fine baby. Just overly tired and I think it’s time for my afternoon nap. You stay out here with your father,” I choked a little saying the word for the first time, “and I’ll be in my room.”
Trey’s gaze followed me as I walked into the farmhouse for the first time since that horrid night. Too much excitement and too many memories all crowded around me, caving in the air, making the world smaller, causing me to hit my braced right leg against the corner of the steps. The pain brought stars before my eyes and my breath pounded inside my ears; then I did something I hadn't done since the accident. I fainted.