Keep in mind folks, this is not complete and only the 1st 10 pages (on my screen anyway) are fully edited. Basically not needing critique except when riding is being done. I'm broke so I can't afford to ride, so I may be off on that. Otherwise, I have a professional writer/editor as a father and have learned about writing for years and years. This will also be a series, the 2nd one is about 1 1/2 pages long so I know when it happens, and how it starts. I'd like to also turn this into a mini movie series or tv series, with for sure, Kurt Russell as George and Jody Foster as Jacky Mard. Pardon the fact that I have no clue how the chapters work. When I view, I don't see chapter 2 o.O So if you'd like to read this in sequence, let me know, or let me know how it's done.
Why do you haunt me? Why have you followed me this far? I've tried so hard to get away from everything that's destroying my inner self, but that everything is here, too, and I don't understand why.
A sign loomed ahead amidst the pouring rain. Big bold letters seemed to say to her, "Welcome to Lexington, everything is waiting for you."
The picture of Anthonie when they had first been happily married was still where she left it, hanging from the mirror like a testament of time. Leaving him wasn`t exactly her decision. She probably wouldn't have had the willpower if it hadn`t been for her six-year-old son, Jeremy, and her four-year-old daughter, Mason. The way they had looked so fearful when he'd laid a hand on them - that's what it had taken to send her over the edge. But why did it take so long?
The memory of the night she left still burned in her brain. Anthonie had been drinking. He drank often, but that day had been especially bad. Maybe the beer had been too warm or maybe it had been too cold. Mason had brought it to him. She was always trying to prove to her father that she was worth loving, although it seemed she was always trying in vain. He'd taken a sip of the beer, already half-drunk, and had spit it out all over her. He grabbed her arm pulling her up into the air. Then there was that horrible snapping sound from her arm. He'd shaken her violently as she'd cried and had screamed in pain. Becky had grabbed a fresh bottle of beer from the fridge and slammed it over Anthonie`s head, knocking him out cold. She packed what they needed, rushed the kids into the car and, with tears streaming down her bruised face, left him far behind.
The car seemed to crawl into the parking lot of the Lazy 8 Motel just as Becky`s mind came back to reality. She slowly got out of the car and stretched out her tired limbs. The rain had let up, leaving behind a heavy, choking mist. She quickly woke up the kids and gathered what they needed for the night.
Mason looked up at her, trembling, a neon pink cast on her arm, holding her teddy bear tightly with the other arm.
"Will bad daddy find us?" she asked.
Ouch, Becky thought and winced.
"No honey, he won't," Becky said. There was no way she`d let him find them. There was just no way. Once in a safe, warm and dry motel room, she collapsed on the bed for a nap while the kids watched cartoons.
Early the following morning Becky woke up and took a mile-long jog. Birds sang and mist still cloaked the pungent hayfields. The motel was on the outskirts of town, a small field of brown Jersey cows across the road. As Becky ran, she thought about the past few days. With the conflict and then running she hadn't time to stop and think about anything until they had arrived in Lexington. She smiled knowing that instead of the fight or flight mechanism it was the fight and flight. Subconsciously she knew why she chose Lexington as their destination. She was returning to her roots without the soundtrack of constant nagging from her mother in Flagstaff … and it was horse country, of course.
Becky returned to the motel, crossing the parking lot and realized that she was starving. The Restaurant, best known for it's flavored coffees and rhubarb pie, sat behind the motel. She slowly walked toward the restaurant still breathing hard, giving her time to cool off, and then entered the door. It was fairly bustling for a Thursday morning.
A bubbly young brunette woman with Tasha on her nametag greeted her at the desk.
"Good morning ma'am. Breakfast for one?"
"Morning," Becky said, still catching her breath. "Yes. Kids are busy watching cartoons and I`m starved."
"Sounds like my brother. He'd rather watch cartoons then eat," she said. Becky already felt connected. "He's thirteen. Come with me." She briskly walked in the direction of a small table in the center of the dining area and laid down a menu, filling a cup with ice water. Becky sat down and picked up the menu as Tasha said she'd be back shortly to take her order.
"Hm … what looks good," Becky asked herself aloud. She wanted something "breakfasty" like eggs, hashbrowns, sausage and a tall glass of fresh orange juice and found exactly that with a side order of French toast on Sourdough bread with Strawberry jam.
When her meal came she gently took hold of Tasha`s arm to keep her from getting away.
"You look like you're ready for a break. Sit and talk with me."
"Thanks. My feet are killing me. I can only sit down if someone asks me to." She pulled up a chair and slumped in the seat. "So, you from around here or traveling through?"
"I'm moving here actually. Guess you could say running away from somewhere. Today will be my first full day here."
"Well, welcome to Lexington then. I`m born and bred here and as much as I complain about how much I hate it, I don`t really mean it."
"I understand. I felt the same way when I lived with my parents in Arizona. I loved the atmosphere, just couldn't stand my manipulative mother." Skilled in multitasking, Becky spread the jam on her toast with one hand and held her orange juice cup to her lips to take a drink.
"Oh my goodness. We sound exactly alike. My dad is the same way. I think he's trying to live through me, which won't work. I can barely live through me."
"My mom was a perfectionist and trained me not to show emotion or make close friends. I rebelled. I have a very close friend and I cry at sappy movies." Becky finished off the toast and listened attentively to Tasha who seemed to be the perfect first new friend.
"My dad's a by-the-book army colonel. While I understand him wanting me to do well in a confined structure that's just not my life. I thought about taking a cross-country horseback ride, ya know, making an adventure of it, so I`m here saving up for the right horse. Mine is too delicate for a life like that."
"Wow. That sounds like a lot of fun, Tasha. I had a horse myself when I was a kid. My friend has him now. He was a racer, now he's a jumper."
"Wicked cool. Mine is a Holsteiner-Friesian cross mare. Yeah, I know, it's an odd cross, to say the least. I tell my non-horse friends, 'she's part cow,' because nobody seems to know there is a Holsteiner breed in horses."
Becky threw back her head and laughed and soon Tasha joined in. When one started losing momentum the other got her going again, until real life intruded on Tasha's world. She checked her watch.
"Oh. dear. I gotta get going. I have a jump meet to prepare for this weekend, but hey, I`d love to hang with you sometime." She wrote out Becky`s bill and, on the next check in her order pad, then wrote her phone number. "Keep in touch, OK?" she smiled.
"I sure will. When I get settled into a home, I'll give you a ring. Oh … uh … hey." She pulled out a few dollars for a tip. "You`ve earned it. Put it towards that horse of yours."
"Aw, thank you very much. B'ya." Tasha got up and headed into the kitchen to clock out.
Becky settled in at her booth, letting her stomach settle. Her eyes wandered, checking out the locals when she overheard something that grabbed her attention.
"Is he going back to the track or has Josh finally grown a pair, George?" the man asked. They sat in the booth ahead of hers and looked like the type who met at this restaurant because they liked the way the waitresses fussed and flirted with them. Or maybe it was the coffee, Becky thought, sipping from hers. It was superb.
She tuned back into the nearby conversation. She couldn't help herself. They were talking about her passion - horses.
"I'm going to persuade Joshua to take him to Keenland in October. Maybe pick up something far superior. But who knows what`s running around in that man`s head. He may prove he knows jackshit and use him as a stud. Then we`re all piss out of luck." The other man replied.
"Uh. I see. Time for mediocrity to go I suppose, which can be meant in more ways than one huh? But hey, George, with you helping him he's bound to learn something on the way out. Has he filled that grooms position yet?"
"One of the two open positions filled, Arthur, and thanks for the compliment. If I can't help him, who can?"
"I`ll ask around. Let Riven know, all of us at Hollow Crossing are sure his Sleet Storm is the next Derby contender," Arthur said, standing up from the table.
Both men shook hands, as George said, "I agree, but I wish he knew that."
With that closing statement, Arthur nodded in agreement and walked out of the restaurant with a curt wave in George's direction. Becky seized the opportunity to inject herself into the Lexington horse scene and approached George.
"I'm sorry for eavesdropping on your conversation but I heard you mention a grooms job available."
George looked up at her and was lost for words momentarily.
"Oh, yeah, at Sleet Storm Stables. You don't look familiar. New around here?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in question.
"Yes, I am. I just threw everything in the car and drove; this is where we ended up." She answered.
"I've done that. Where you end up always seems to be the place you never leave. You can follow me to the stable if you'd like. I'm on my way over. Need to run some two-year-olds on the training track in the morning."
"Sure. I have time. I gotta bring my kids, if that's OK."
George nodded as she said this, leaving a ten-dollar bill on the table to pay for the bill.
"I take it you're the trainer?" Becky asked, as she led him to the motel room to get the kids.
"Head trainer," he said, gruffly.
She pried the kids away from the motel room TV, and convinced them to help her pack up their few belongings while George stood impatiently outside the door. Once they were back in all too familiar places in the car, she followed George down several old roads to a moderately sized stable. It looked new, as if it hadn't been in operation long. But it gave off the atmosphere that it had previously been a going concern, then left behind to manufacture dust and cobwebs.
Standing proudly in a front paddock by himself, stood a leggy but well proportioned dapple gray colt. Nose to the wind, tail held high, it was obvious he was of fine breeding. Becky and the kids walked alongside George as he gave them the grand tour.
"I can see you`re captivated by the gray, Becky," he noted as he draped his arms over the fence railing and whistled. The colt's ears pricked forward and he trotted briskly over to his visitors. He snuffled into George`s hands then threw back his head, curling his upper lip in a great Mr. Ed impersonation.
"Always trying to get a laugh out of everyone, huh?" he joked. "Sleet Storm, the stable`s namesake. He was the first-born colt on the farm so that`s why the name of this place is what it is. He started training on the track last month. I believe he's the most impressive colt of the state, as do many other people. Look at how well he's put together."
Becky scrutinized the colt closely: Taut muscles, great balance, straight legs, deep chest which all proved he'd be a late closer on the track and could still handle the distance. His eyes proved her theory, an intense fire and a passion for speed.
Mares and foals stood in pastures on either side of the barns, though not as many as she'd expect for a flourishing stud farm. It was enough, however, to make Becky feel intimidated by the operation. The kids, on the other hand, were in kid heaven. Mason even ignored the cast on her broken arm that, for the past week, she could never stop monkeying with.
They walked over to the training barn. As they approached the big bar M doors, George turned to Becky and solemnly said, "Mr. Riven is the owner. He's a good man. He worked hard to get where he is, but he's still a little green. He puts his faith in all the wrong horses. That conversation you heard between Arthur and I was about Mr. R`s supposed star of the stable. It's a big, butt ugly, black, five-year-old allowance-racing stallion by the name of The Bolt. Whoever named him had a sense of humor. Riven picked him out at a bankruptcy sale as a two-year-old. Bolt hasn`t won a race yet. He`s just a bumbling idiot and acts like one too. Stupidest horse I've ever had the 'luxury' to work with. Mr. R's instincts are good on people but he can't see the gold in his own horses."
Slowly, George opened the barn doors. A man's head popped up from a chestnut filly's stall with a grimace on his face.
"Hey, George, Candyland has heat in her front fore. Come take a look, will ya?" The man stood up, straightening his back.
Becky followed George over to the stall and watched the filly skitter sideways as he entered. Undaunted by the unfamiliar man, she reached out and ran her hand over the filly's nose. An exquisitely built horse, she glistened like a new penny. Candyland had an almost Arabian dished face but the conformation of a mid-pack runner.
"Nice filly. Looks like she could run the distance," she said to the man, now stooped over the leg again.
"I don't know. I hope so. I have more faith in that black-bay right across here." He gestured with a finger. Becky turned to the filly mentioned. She was a nice looking horse, but Becky just couldn't see a distance runner.
"I don`t know, with her shorter back she'd be better suited for sprinting, I think." She smiled, not wanting to seem rude. She walked slowly over to the black-bay filly and let herself into the stall, grabbing a body brush on her way in. She gently brushed the filly's neck more to remind herself of the joys of being around horses than actually grooming the filly's coat.
George smiled to himself and watched the woman intently as if seeing her for the first time, like seeing a horse that exceeded his initial assumptions. He then turned back to the task at hand and felt the ailing filly's leg. After moving his hand up and down the leg a few times, he stood up, looking over at Mr. Riven.
"Yeah, she does have some heat. Give her a two-week rest in pasture with cold compresses twice a day and I think she'll be fine."
Mr. Riven nodded, and left the stall with George right behind him.
"So, you must be Jamie?" he asked, turning to Becky.
"No, Josh, this is Becky Mard. We met at the Lazy 8 Motel restaurant and turns out she knows a lot about horses. Looking for a job, too." Turning to Becky, he explained the misidentification. "Josh was speaking about my daughter, Jamie. They've never met because she's always traveling to dressage shows all over God's green earth with her Friesians."
Josh Riven moved forward and shook Becky`s hand. He heard childrens' laughter and looked toward the barn door. He chuckled when he saw Jeremy and Mason playing with the two stable kittens that were learning how to pounce by chasing grasshoppers. Smiling, he walked with Becky over to the children.
"Hi, there. Like the kittens, huh?"
Mason was nervous and wasn`t sure if she should answer, but Jeremy looked up at him and smiled, two missing front teeth and all. "I think they`re silly."
"Well, I think so, too, sir. I'm Joshua Riven, and you are?"
"Jeremy, and this is my sister, Mason."
"Hello there Jeremy. Nice to meet you, Mason. You know, I haven`t gotten around to naming these little tykes yet. How about you guys helping me out?"
The children nodded and fell into deep thought watching the kittens tumble around their mother who wore the name 'Flirt' on her collar.
"Becky, I`m glad you're here. Your kids are delightful and you seem to know a lot about horses and their conformation. George just told me you wanted to apply for the grooms' job but it seems you have a lot of knowledge in racing and training. You might find yourself better suited working alongside George. But before I decide, what's your history with horses?" He leaned against a stall door where a black yearling filly slept soundly.
"My parents run a small Thoroughbred training facility outside Flagstaff, Arizona. I worked with my dad who trained a number of racers and still does. He trained them for distance, sprinting, steeplechasing, turf and a few trotters too. He was very flexible. My mom rides eventers. Most of her mounts were actually horses my dad had previously trained. We got several of them back after their track careers were over. I had my own horse too -- Jumping Jack -- who I trained for the track, then as a hunter. I retired him and sold him to a friend when I got married but still get updates from her on how he`s doing."
"Great name for your horse and awesome story," he said, obviously impressed. "Since you're not from around here, where's your husband?"
Becky's face shadowed and she looked down. When Becky didn't answer, Josh glanced over at George, who looked away. They both looked at Mason's broken arm where she played with the kittens. Josh didn't push the issue. George winked impishly at Mason who slid shyly behind her mother.
"Becky, I could really use your help around here, training the young'ens," George told her. "It's a tough job and I just can't do it alone, especially since we have so many fillies. Just not having luck with colts. Must be something in the water." He smiled hopefully at her.
Becky looked up and the shadow lifted from her face and then she smiled.
"Thank you for the opportunity, sir."
"George Pidge, but folks call me George. If they have a sense of humor, they call me GTO."
The three of them went inside Joshua's house and sat in the living room, leaving Joey, the head groom, to keep an eye on the kids while they played with the kittens near the barns.
Two young women walked into the living room. There was a large picture window with a laced white curtain with barrel racing horses on it. The room had a large brick fireplace in the middle of the room. On one side was a rather comfortable looking leather couch and a few matching recliners with teak end tables and floor. On the other side of the fireplace were bookshelves filled to the brim with horse books and magazines. Then, there was an open walkway leading straight into the inviting kitchen, which didn't have a door, but an open concept. The color scheme seemed to be woody reds and burnt oranges with quiet lighting. One of the women was dressed like a flashy cowgirl, the other like an English rider ready for the foxhunt or the jumping ring. The cowgirl had deep green eyes and dark mahogany hair falling just past her shoulders in exaggerated curls. The other woman had dark hazel eyes and dark blond hair that ran all the way to the small of her back. They both walked over to Josh, who stood to greet them.
"Becky, these are my sisters." He gestured toward the cowgirl. "This is Jessica." She smiled a big Texan smile, proving you didn`t have to be a Texan to smile like one.
"And this is Ellis," he said, hugging her as she giggled.
"Hello Jessica, Ellis," Becky greeted them. "Your parents here, too, Josh?"
"No, I think my parents are somewhere in Ohio doing community service. They were deemed unfit parents about eight years ago. Since I was an adult, I got custody of my sisters. They are so different in personality and appearance you'd think twice about them being sisters. Jessica's 17 and owns three paints she rides in Western events. Ellis is 14 and just got her second horse. She rides jumpers and does a little eventing on the side."
"My first horse is Sylvester Stalone, his breeder's a big Rocky fan. I got him as a two-year old. He's a Canadian Sport gelding, and he's seven years old. I`ve been competing with him for about two years. My second horse was a birthday gift from Josh. He kept it very hush-hush, bred one of his best Thoroughbred mares to Jessica's paint, Jigger. So, once the filly Dance-A-Jig is two, I can start training her. She'll be Silly's replacement," Ellis smiled brightly, showing silver braces on her teeth. She was a talker.
It was clear to Becky that they were a close family, drawn closer together by adversity. She had personal experience with that.
"Well, aren't you lucky. At your age, I had my own horse, too, but still couldn`t find that second one. I think it was my way of saying there was no way to replace my first horse, Jumping Jack. He`s a big, dark bay, Louisiana-bred Thoroughbred gelding. I had a pony too, Gilligan`s Hidden Isle. He was half Shetland Pony and half POA."
"Awe, your pony must've been real cute. Is he still around?" Ellis asked, as she sat down.
"Sadly, no. I got Gill when we both were six years old. I'm twenty-seven now. He passed away two years ago, but those last days were the sweetest. He spent his last five years with my parents on their farm. She remembered the occasional visit to see him. He always ran to her the moment he saw her. "Jack I got when I was four and he was two. My parents made it a rule that as soon as I could crawl I'd be riding so, once I had enough knowledge about horse care, I helped my father train him for the track. Then, when he was eight, I trained him as a hunter. He's 25 years old and still kicking. He's with a friend of mine in Pittsburgh."
"So, you came here from Pittsburgh?" Jessica asked. "I have a friend who summers there on her uncle's quarter horse cutting ranch."
"Yes, I lived there for seven years. After I finished technical college in Flagstaff, I decided to enroll in a horse industry and then a business college for two years and the first year there I met my husband and the next year Jeremy was born. I bet I know that uncle -- Sam Gleece. Worked at his place for about a year. "
The two sisters and Joshua all looked at Becky, apparently struck by the coincidence.
"Maybe one day I`ll take you girls there."
"What were your degrees in?" Ellis asked.
"The first one was an associates in marketing and the other was a bachelors in equine business. So Jessica, tell me about your horses. I love hearing about what folks do with them."
"I have a two-year-old bay frame overo paint colt, which I bought last year. He's my new project, his name's Down Town Swagger. Eventually he'll be a barrel racing, roping and breeding stallion. Then there's Jigger Watt who's a nine-year-old palomino tobiano stallion. I did halter with him when he was younger, now he's my star barrel racer and stud. Then I have a five-year-old black bay Medicine Hat mare, Sweet Sister, who is my roping horse. I haven't done any roping this year, because I've been so busy training Swagger, so I decided to have Sister bred to Jigger. She's due late next month."
"You two are very accomplished for your age. What are your goals for the future?" Becky asked, with interest.
"I want to run my own paint breeding and show farm. Josh said he'd get me started right after college. In fact, since you mentioned the equine business school, could you find me some information about it?" Jessica asked, expectantly.
"Sure. I can swing that."
"I haven't decided what I want to do yet, but it will definitely have something to do with horses." Ellis said, smiling big enough to show off her braces.
"Duh," Jessica intoned. Everyone laughed once more.
"Becky will be working with George," Joshua told the girls.
"I am? I mean, I got the job?" She broke in excitedly.
"There is a guest house here as well, the only thing I built on after buying the place. It was originally made for George but he lives down the road at his daughter Jamie's place," Josh explained.
"That and, for just one man, it's too big. It's perfect for you and the kids. They can have their own bedrooms," George smiled.
Becky couldn't speak for a moment, not knowing what to say.
"This is more than I could hope for. I am so thankful for the opportunity to prove my horsemanship skills again and … well … Thank you so much," she said finally, pinching back tears.
"Then it's settled," Joshua said. "Let me show you the way to the guest house."
Once outside, they saw Joey, the old head groom, ambling toward them with the kids behind carrying the two kittens. A very talkative, dark brown, tabby cat followed, swinging her bell furiously as if music was playing in her head and it lacked the bell.
"Got somethin' ya might wanna see, boss," Joey drawled to Josh.
"Sure thing Joey. Lead the way, but give me a moment will ya?" Joshua turned towards Becky.
"The guesthouse is just past those spruces over there, you can probably see the fence that surrounds it from here," he said, pointing to the east.
"Oh, yes, I see it." She was just about to head in that direction when her daughter started pulling on her pant leg.
"Momma … can I name this kitten Kiss Kiss?" Mason asked after pulling her thumb out of her mouth. The kitten was mewing happily from Mason's overalls pocket.
Joshua smiled and stooped to Mason`s level. "That's a wonderful name. I like it. In fact, how would you like to call Kiss your very own?"
Mason looked up at Becky who nodded.
"Really?" The four-year-old glanced down at the kitten that was starting to purr in agreement.
"Sure. And Jeremy, you got yourself a kitten too. Did you come up with a name for him yet?"
"I like Manny," he said.
"Then Manny it is," Joshua said.
That night Becky and the kids unpacked in the guesthouse. The living room was large and with time could be very inviting but, at this point, it appeared cold. The walls and ceiling were the same color, a creamy light yellow. The couch was hard. The TV was smaller than most computer screens. The carpet had stains that would never come out. It was like a large apartment that was haphazardly put together in order to be ready for a renter. The fireplace …
The fireplace was gorgeous, with marble facing and seemed to be in working order.
There really wasn't a dining room, just a sunny semi-circle off the living room, which looked to be a sitting room complete with a few chairs that had seen better days and generic paintings on the walls.
A cheap wooden door in one wall, lead downstairs into a spacious basement that looked more inviting than the living room. Another doorway lead from the living room into the kitchen, which lead to the garage that was nice and large.
The kitchen was depressing. The walls were cream-colored like the rest of the first floor, only more so. It had dark oak cabinets, a ceiling fan too small for the room, a pantry completely stocked with canned foods and a bright sunny window with a boring floral curtain. The floor tiles were discolored and some were missing. They would need to be replaced.
Becky took a deep breath. All right, she loved a challenge and home making was something she enjoyed. She continued the tour while the kids carried in their belongings from the car.
A door in the kitchen led outside onto a small deck and a nice-sized garden shed in the yard. A garden shed meant they could have a garden.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms, a large hallway and a large bathroom. The hallway floor was hideous, linoleum that was worn through in places showing at least three layers beneath. As she walked she heard the floorboards creak a tiny bit. The original wood had to be somewhere under there. The bedrooms were very open and airy but lacked doors. Two bedrooms had moderate sized closets while the third had a walk-in master closet. On the hallway ceiling was a pull down door and ladder that led into an unfinished attic. Bricks lay scattered about and an old rocking chair was sat motionless next to a window. She walked over to the rocking chair and sat down, breathing deeply. As she exhaled, she said to herself, "Yep. Smells like home."
The kids were sprawled out fast asleep on the couch when she finally went downstairs. She smiled. At least the kids seemed to feel like they belonged somewhere. Finally, the kids could accidentally get finger paint on the walls and not worry about an angry landlord; or father.
Becky walked back outside to make sure they had everything out of the car. The outside of the house was almost a pristine white. It just needed touching up in a few places. A large maple stump sat in the front yard, it seemed sad, like it was asking, "Where's the rest of me?" Becky could whole-heartedly sympathize with it. She felt as if she had left a part of herself back in that house of pain in Philadelphia and it would take some healing to get it back.
Becky built a fire. The light and the warmth made her feel a little better. She covered the kids with a blanket, and then she sat in a dusty overstuffed easy chair, curled her legs beneath her and fell asleep.
Joey sat in his old wicker chair on the porch of his cottage and watched the deer graze in the empty horse pastures totally oblivious of him. An owl hooted on a high oak tree branch nearby. Wolves howled in the distance. He could hear a few horses in their stalls move around nervously. The rest would be sleeping soundly, he knew, or would be trying to chew on something out of their reach.
He could see the kittens wide-awake, stumbling over their mother as she tried to stalk the barnyard for mice. Kiss was black with large white spots, or white with small black spots, whichever way you looked at it. Manny was almost solid black, but had a white front paw and blue eyes, evidence of Siamese blood. They would be good mousers like their mother, he thought.
He could see a dim light from the fireplace at the guesthouse shining dimly through the living room window. Something seemed right about it, he thought. Yeah, it just seemed right.
The fire had gone out, and the sunlight had replaced it by the time Becky awoke in the morning. The blanket that had covered the kids had been tossed aside and they were already out of the house. She washed her face, hands and arms, and then changed into work clothes before leaving the house.
It was a warm, sunny morning. It was hopeful.
She walked toward the main house, and almost ran into George as she ascended the porch.
"The kids have already eaten their breakfast. We saved something for you," he told her cheerfully. "They're off exploring the place. Joshua's just left on his monthly run for horse feed, mumbling something about having to meet with a breeder so you can meet us over at the barn when you're done eating."
The dining room table was filled with the rumor of breakfast - empty plates and dirty silverware - but there was plenty of food left over for her. She suddenly felt famished and ate until she couldn't eat anymore.
The barn was a flurry of activity. She and George prepared the mornings' horses for training. One colt and one filly were lined up to run on the track. A young man with short, shaggy, black hair and deep green eyes walked over, jumping lightly into the saddle of the very same gray colt Becky had seen the day before. George led the colt onto the track for his first run. Previously, he had walked, trotted and cantered, with more experienced horses both on and off the track. Now, he was ready for some slow gallops.
"OK, Donny, we don't want to push him too hard today but we do want to see how he moves. So, run him for four furlongs at a slow gallop and, no matter what, hold him back." George backed up, unclipping the lead line with one hand and holding a stopwatch with the other. Donny took Sleet Storm counter clockwise around the track to loosen him up. The big grey colt danced and snorted anxiously under him ready to be on his way. When Donny felt the big colt's movements relax into that fluid, catlike grace, he turned him to the start pole. Sleet Storm hauled on the reins, nearly pulling Donny out of the saddle as he eased him into a canter a furlong before the pole. As they neared the pole, Donny slowly let out a wrap of the reins and instantly felt the surge of the big colt under him as Sleet Storm felt the freedom. Donny took the colt the required distance and it was a battle to keep him slow and collected. Sleet Storm ran the full four furlongs with his nose in his chest pulling like a freight train trying to go faster. After they crossed the line, Donny stood in the irons and talked the big colt back to a trot though he was barely breathing hard after the work. Sleet Storm tossed his head and danced as he cooled down as if to show how dissatisfied he was with his work. He was bred to be a champion and he looked like he knew it. George and Becky watched the work stoically but, as Donny brought the colt back, they turned to each other and smiled knowingly. "How did he feel?" Becky asked Donny. She wanted to gauge Donny's' reaction to the colt.
"Fabulous. He could've run another mile without breaking a sweat if I had let him. Kept asking for more and I was so tempted to give it to him." Donny jumped down from the saddle, letting George clip the lead shank back on.
"Next week I think we'll step up his works. We'll breeze him out to see what he can really do and maybe push the distance a bit," George told Donny. "I like how things are going." He looked over at Becky who nodded in agreement.
The black bay filly that Joshua thought was a distance runner and Becky thought was a sprinter was lead onto the track. She was big, built more like a warmblood rather than a Thoroughbred. Where Sleet Storm was lithe and graceful, she was pure power. She had a fiery look in her eyes and skittered sideways, almost colliding with Sleet Storm as Joey led him off the track to untack him and finish cooling him down. Sleet Storm, still keyed up from his work on the track, arched his beautiful neck and danced gracefully out of her way.
"This lady is Drama Queen and she sure acts like one. Not on purpose though. It's just her nature. That and I think she has a thing for Storm. Maybe it's her way of saying put him on the racetrack you buffoons." George winked at Becky. She ran a hand over Queen's neck as Donny was boosted into the saddle. Donny smiled at her and said, "I love riding these horses. They're so full of potential. I really hope you love training here." With that said, Donny turned the filly up the track to warm her up.
"Queen's a little older than Storm and has had more training, "George explained. "We've breezed her out four furlongs and all she has is a short burst. She has no longevity but boy is that short burst a blast. I don't see why Josh thinks she's a distance runner."
George and Becky walked over to the track railing, as George gave Donny directions.
"Give her a good mile-and-a-half warm-up today. Really loosen her up and let her stretch out those legs. Turn her past the half-mile pole and get her into a solid gallop. I want a 24- to 25-second pace by the time she hits the pole. At the three-quarter pole ask her for all she's got. This is a good time to find out if she'll have anything left in the tank for the stretch. Let me know how much horse you have left at the end and that will give us a good idea if she can stay a classic distance or not. If she comes out of this good, we'll start working her over five furlongs."
Donny turned the filly and warmed her up to George's orders. This was the longest warm-up she'd had. The mile-and-a-half seemed to take forever. She tossed her head impatiently, snorting and seeming to strike out with each stride. Donny laughed at her exuberance and wrapped the reins once more pulling her back to him.
"Easy there darling, you'll get to show off soon enough," Becky heard him tell the horse. With a sigh of relief, Donny cantered her past the half-mile pole counter clockwise ending their warm up session. He slowly brought her to a trot well past the half-mile pole and then brought her to a halt and turned her down the track shaking his head, "Well darling, let's see what you're made of today."
Drama Queen danced excitedly beneath him, working the bit as she tossed her head slightly. She was impatient to get going and she wasn't shy about letting Donny know it. Donny tightened his grip on the reins and lined her up down the center of the track for a heart-stopping moment, her big body quivering beneath him ready to explode. At his signal, Drama Queen surged forward in a powerful, driving gallop. Her hooves churned the track beneath her to send it flying behind her as she moved forward in great, powerful bounds. Donny had a hard time keeping her to the pace George had asked for.
Becky saw George check his stopwatch.
"Hold her back," George muttered.
They could see Donny desperately pull on the reins and using his body as a windbreak to slow her down, but she showed no signs of stopping. As the three-quarter pole flashed by, Donny gave her her head.
Feeling the complete freedom she had just been given, Drama Queen dug in and surged forward in another powerful bound. Donny felt like he had just been shot out of a cannon as she rocketed off the turn and barreled down the stretch, but only for a short burst. Drama Queen was out of steam. As they neared the wire, she slowed into a more controlled gallop and began blowing hard. Donny stood in the stirrups far before the wire and slowed her down to a mild canter, cooling her out, then turning back to the railing where George and Becky were waiting.
Becky felt satisfied that her assessment proved true. She looked at George and noticed the look of excitement.
"Breeder's Cup," was all he said.
They kept busy the rest of the day, breaking only for lunch, the only time she saw her kids who, apparently, had found enough adventure on the farm to stay entertained. She was tired but excited when she headed back to the guesthouse at the end of the workday.
For Jeremy and Mason the farm was a combination of Disney World, the State Fair and the playroom at any fast food restaurant all rolled into one.
"Come here, look at this," Jeremy said, as he peered at a fuzzy caterpillar on the trunk of a large tree.
"Yucky," Mason said, but only after pulling her thumb out of her mouth. With her other hand, she poked the caterpillar and it wriggled quicker up the tree.
"That's funny," Jeremy laughed. "What else should we do?"
The kids had decided to walk in the woods bordering the farm and had already seen a few birds and the caterpillar.
"Umh … swimmy," Mason said, making motions with her hands like she was paddling.
"Oh, yeah. We can go to that pond Joey told us about yesterday."
They ran to Joey's cottage but he wasn't there, having already gone to the track to help cool out the horses. Jeremy grabbed Mason's hand and together they ran toward the track where they found Joey sitting in the shade of a tree watching Donny gallop Sleet Storm. They could see their mother, Joshua and George further down the track watching the horse run. They waved at her but she didn't see them.
"Wall, hallo young'ens. Finding cool stuffs to see?" Joey was from the deep South and sometimes it was tough to understand him but they figured it out soon enough.
"We saw a fuzzy caterpillar," Mason said excitedly as if she had just discovered King Tut's Tomb. "Right on. Wha'cha kids need?"
"We were wondering how to get to that swimming hole you told us about. It's a nice day and we'd like to cool off." Jeremy sat down next to Joey.
"Ah see. Y'all know where that old shed is right?" He started chewing on a blade of grass. Jeremy pulled a blade of grass and began doing the same as if it was an important part of giving and taking directions.
"Yeah, I know where that is," Jeremy, answered.
"M'kay. There's a little footpath that's just to the right of that there shed. Walk it a ways. It forks off left and right. Either way is considered a good trail ride, but ya'lls wanna go to the right and that'll take you directly to the water'n hole." He smiled brightly, showing pristine white teeth with a nice sized gap in his front teeth.
"Thanks Joey. " Jeremy slowly got up and reached for Mason's hand again.
"Yawls lemme know how the water is, hm?" Joey called after them as they headed toward the house.
"Sure will, Joey," Jeremy yelled back.
Inside the house, they put on their swimsuits, grabbed some towels, and made some sandwiches for lunch, then walked down the path pointing out little flowers along the way. Many were either white or purple. Mason especially had an eye for the purple flowers. It was her favorite color, which she managed to point out more than once.
The swimming hole was every kid's dream. The water seemed almost invisible, it was so clear. It was warm as a bathtub. They jumped in, splashing each other, and pretended to be dolphins. They stayed and swam for about an hour, ate their sandwiches, and then made a few mud pies. By the time they trudged back to the house, four hours after they left, their shorts were covered in caked mud. They had bits of grass in their hair, an essential ingredient, they had thought, in the mud pies. They were a mess. But there was still one more thing they had to do, having almost forgotten. They raced out to the very same tree in the shade by the track and Joey was not there. So, they raced to his cottage and he was there enjoying an early supper on the little porch.
"W'all …you little'uns look like you've been a mud-trampin'," he said slowly, swallowing.
"We was swimming, sir." Mason said, diminutively.
"Ah see. And how was it?"
"It was really nice, Joey. You should go there tomorrow."
"Ah'll put some thought into that, thanks."
Jeremy smiled and again, grabbed Mason's arm and they ran home where Becky met them at the door and gasped at all the mud.
Because they seemed to have half the farm on their faces, Becky sent them off for baths.
Then, she relaxed on the couch, pretending to watch some boring TV cooking show, while her mind replayed the training session that morning. She felt like she was part of something, and could be a part of making it grow. But just as her mind was looking into the future, it was pulled back into the past. There was something she had to do. She picked up the phone. She waited impatiently while it rang and was grateful for the familiar voice on the other side.
A pause ensued, followed by a quiet gasp.
"Oh, my goodness, you gave me quite the scare vanishing like that. Where are you? I had nightmares that Anthonie murdered you and he was hiding your body. I half expected to see the case on America's Most Wanted." She sounded genuinely concerned.
"Lexington, Kentucky. But that's just between us, huh?" Hearing Anthonie's name, Becky rubbed her neck on impulse, letting herself feel physical pain in place of emotional. "I wouldn't put it past him, knowing how he likes to hog the spotlight, when he's not drunk that is. What a hunk, that John Walsh, at least his voice that is."
"Sure thing, hon'. Are you doing OK over there?" Diane asked, expectantly, stifling a laugh over Becky's America's Most Wanted comment.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Working at a racing stable. I was lucky to get the job. How's Jack?" Becky asked after Jumping Jack, the Thoroughbred gelding she had once owned.
"He's doing great, although he doesn't move as well as he used to. I gave him to Chelsea so she can train on a starter horse. But then, that leaves me without a horse, not that it's an issue as he's not fast enough for me anymore."
"Hm?" Diane asked, confused.
"I got you a horse. But would you be able to get here?"
"I think I could. Wait, you got me a horse?"
"Yeah, a five-year-old, black Thoroughbred! He'd need to be gelded first, in my opinion, but I saw him briefly in his paddock this morning and he's built perfectly for jumping. On the track he's worthless. Watching him run is like a weird science fiction flick from the '70s. He seems to be in slow motion while the rest of the field is just blazing by. He needs something else to do and jumping fits him. I've seen him jump logs on the trail, pretty impressive."
A week later, as Becky and the kids were getting into the swing of things, settling into the house, one evening a Jeep Liberty Sport wound up the drive and stopped. All four doors opened at nearly the same time. A woman of about Becky's age got out of the passengers side. She had black hair French braided down to her mid-back, and olive colored skin. She wore a black T-shirt that had written in white letters across her chest, "Cherokee." Becky knew Diane had always thought the one word was enough and nothing else was needed to prove her point. Next to her was her husband, who was a red-haired, red-goateed, very light skinned Irishman always with a smile on his face and in his green eyes. He wore a teal cardigan sweater and blue jeans. Behind them walked two children, both young girls, one looking more like Diane and the other more like her dad. Becky ran over to them and grabbed Diane in a big bear hug. As Diane finally let Becky go, concern was etched on her face.
"Are you OK?"
"I'm fine. Ya know I thought it was funny when you told me that I'm in the papers. I figured Anthonie would be too drunk to notice us being gone. Now he's almost acting sober."
"That and you'd think with him being in the media because of all this, he'd clean up his act and join AA, but nothings' changed."
"Enough about the stupid ass, how was your trip?"
"Good. The girls wouldn't stop talking about visiting a horseracing farm. Nice place," Diane gushed.
"I like it too. You girls can share a room with Mason," she told Diane's kids. "I turned the attic into a guestroom. It's great to have you guys here."
"I agree. I'm excited to see the daily goings on of a racing stable," the happy Irishman, Brian cheerfully remarked.
"It's awesome. We may have a few who'll be ready to run this fall. How's Philly?"
"You're known in Philly as the woman who abducted her children. You're being roasted like a celebrity comedian. There's a warrant out for your arrest. Makes me want to move away. It's really tempting," Diane explained.
"Oh, shit, why am I not surprised that Anthonie dragged me through the media mud. If you guys do decide to move, I highly recommend Lexington."