Author: Teresa Mummert
"It's time to get back on the horse." I grinned as I caught sight of a horse near the fence.
"You're insane." She shook her head, which only made my smile grow.
"We can't just ride these horses. They don't even have saddles," she said as she started walking back toward the road.
"We can fix that." I smiled as I followed her to the car and placed the cake in the back seat. Jenn got in and gave me a worried look. I got in the car and pulled us back out onto the road, turning to follow the perimeter of the field.
"What are you doing?"
I turned down the gravel driveway leading to an old farmhouse.
"Doesn't hurt to ask." I put the car in park and turned off the engine.
"You really are crazy, aren't you? I am out with a lunatic," she said under her breath as I exited the car and made my way to her side.
"But I'm fun," I said as I closed the door behind her and took her hand, pulling her to the front porch.
I knocked on the screen door and waited for an answer.
"No solicitors." A woman in faded jeans and a dirty T-shirt answered the door.
"No, ma'am. We aren't solicitors."
Her eyes narrowed as she looked us over, her eyes stopping on the dog tags hanging from my neck.
"Name's Betty. What can I do for you?" she asked as she stepped out of the door and let it close behind her.
"I'm Shane and this is Jenn. I am home from war and my girlfriend here just loves horses. She has always wanted to ride one and I couldn't head back to war without making her dreams come true."
She didn't respond as she looked over Jenn.
"I can pay you." I spoke up as I squeezed Jenn's hand.
"You have paid enough for this country." She waved her hand and stepped off the porch toward the barn. I grinned over at Jenn, who shook her head in disbelief.
"You are such a liar!" she whispered as we walked across the yard to the old red barn. The only lie I had told was that Jenn was my girlfriend, but I didn't want to talk about war or the fact that I would soon be ripped out of my life once again and thrown back into the harsh reality of Iraq.
"This is going to be fun."
"If your idea of fun is a concussion!"
"Trust me," I replied as we stopped just outside of the barn.
"You ever rode before?" the woman asked, her eyes dancing between us.
"When I was younger." I ran my hand over my hair, remembering falling off a miniature pony and having to get three stitches.
"I haven't. Horses kind of scare me." She worried her lip as she glanced to me.
"So do I, but you're still here," I joked as the woman opened the barn door and led us inside. We watched as the owner pulled the saddles from the waist-high wooden wall and began preparing the horses to ride.
"Why aren't you spending time with your parents for your birthday?"
"You know how parents are." She sighed as she petted a horse on the nose, who stuck his head out of the stall.
"I don't, actually." I reached out and stroked the diamond pattern of fur between the horse's eyes. I could feel Jenn's eyes on me and when I glanced over at her, she raised an eyebrow.
"My mom died when I was little and I don't know much about my father." Saying I didn't know much was an understatement. I had very few memories of him.
I peeked through the bedroom door as I watched Dad pull the clip from his gun. I leaned my forehead against the door, and it squeaked as the door moved a fraction of an inch further open. My dad's eyes locked on to mine and I could see he was angry.
"Damn it. I thought I told you to keep him out of here!" he yelled to my mother as I took off down the hall. I heard him slam the door closed seconds later and the familiar clicking of the lock.
"Where'd you go?" Jenn asked, placing her fingers on my arm.
"Just thinking," I replied as I walked away from Jenn toward Betty.
"Anything I can help you with?" I asked as I held up a saddle for her to place on one of the horses.
"If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." She laughed as she took the saddle from my hands and hoisted it over the back of the cream-colored horse.
"Which one do you want to ride?" I asked over my shoulder at Jenn, who had made her way to my side.
I frowned at her and ran my hand down the neck of the brown horse.
"This one seems pretty gentle."
"Gentle intentions mean nothing when you're his size." She rolled her eyes as she put her hands on her hips. "Fine. I'll take the brown one."
"That's Duke," Betty chimed in. "And this here is Jack."
"Duke it is." Jenn smiled.
"All set." Betty patted Jack and took a step back.
"Thanks." I followed Jenn to the side of Duke as she glanced up his back, not sure how to get herself up there.
"I'll boost you. Grab hold of the front of the saddle. Right there."
Jenn reached up and wrapped her fingers around the front of the saddle, cursing under her breath. I put my hands on her hips and gripped her tightly as I counted in her ear.
"One, two, three!" I lifted her over the side of the horse as she wrapped her legs around the giant beast.
"Pick up the reins so you can guide him where you want to go," Betty explained as I pulled myself on to my horse.
"Woah…" I rubbed over his mane as I gathered the reins in my hands. Betty walked to the far end of the barn and opened the giant doors that led into the pasture. The docile creatures followed behind her slowly, used to the routine.
Stepping out into the wide-open field on the back of such a large animal was intimidating to say the least, but I couldn't show any fear. Jenn was counting on me to keep her safe and if she suspected how nervous I was, she would jump off the horse's back.
"This is not what I expected to be doing today
." She smiled as we slowly made our way toward the group of trees in the center of the field.
"This is better than a book." I looked up at the sky and closed my eyes, taking in the little bit of warmth the sun provided.
"Ahh…you must not be an avid reader. Books are amazing."
"It's nice to escape inside of your head, but it's better to escape in real life. To live." I nudged my heel into the side of the horse and made a quiet clicking sound with my tongue. He began to trot faster toward the trees.
"I'm not much for taking risks."
I slowed to a stop under the branches and turned to face her as she slowed in front of me.
"Sitting on the ledge of a bridge to read seems pretty risky to me." I squinted as I tried to see her through the sunshine.
"No one bothers me there."
"Until today," she repeated as we began walking farther down the field.
March 16, 2010, 4:00 p.m.
"Thanks for…everything." I took the half-eaten cake from Shane's hands. His eyes drifted over my apartment door as he ran a hand over his short hair. "You want to come in?" I asked, motioning toward my place with my chin.
"Sure," he replied, taking the cake back from me. I unlocked the door and held it open as he stepped inside.
"I can make us something to eat." I walked by him and into the kitchen. He placed the cake on the table and pulled out a chair to sit in.
"Sounds great, but it's your birthday. I should make you something."
I turned around to look at him, not able to hide the stupid grin on my face.
"You want to cook?" I cocked my eyebrow and put my hands on my hips.
"You don't think I can cook?" he asked as he pushed his chair back and stood. His arms went over his head as he stretched, nearly touching the ceiling because of his height.
"Be my guest." I took a seat at the table and watched him as he began pulling open the cupboard doors and examining the contents of my freezer. He pulled out a few cans and a box of noodles.
"Spaghetti?" I asked as he turned around, looking for where I kept my pots and pans.
"I said I could cook. I didn't say I was good at it." He laughed as he grabbed a pot from the cupboard under the sink and placed it on the stove.
"Let me help," I said with a sigh as I grabbed a loaf of bread from the cupboard and the butter from the fridge.
"There is no bread in spaghetti." He filled the pot with hot water for the noodles.
"I'm making garlic toast."
March 17, 2010, 5:30 a.m.
"Where have you been?" May asked as I stifled a yawn.
"Around. I got in late so I just went to bed." I smiled as I pulled open the fridge and grabbed the carton of orange juice.
"Uh huh." She continued to lay out strips of bacon in the hot frying pan. It sizzled and cracked as it hit the heat.
"That smells delicious." I kissed her on the side of the head as I turned and made my way into the living room. Jake glanced up at me before looking back at the television and turning down the volume.
"Back at ya." I sank down on the cushion on the far end of the couch.
"You see this." Jake motioned to the news covering a story about military casualties in Iraq.
"I was there, Jake." I shook my head at my cousin. Jake quickly changed the channel as May came into the living room holding a plate of breakfast.
"Yours is next." She smiled at me and headed back for the stove.
"So…" Jake leaned toward me and whispered, "where have you been?"
I laughed and shook my head.
"What's her name?" Jake asked as he picked up a piece of hot bacon and shoved it into his mouth.
"Jenn." I glanced over at Jake, who stopped chewing.
"Jenn Reynolds?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"That's the one." I mouthed thank you to May as she handed me a plate. She winked and wiped her hands on her pants as she went to make the boys their breakfast before school.
"I'm not trying to tell you your business, Shane."
"Then don't." I stared at Jake who dropped the piece of bacon from his fingers back onto his plate.
"Look, she's sweet. All I'm saying is a few weeks back she went through a pretty devastating breakup. It was all anyone gossiped about around the office."
"I didn't take you for the gossiping type." I picked up an entire egg on my fork and shoved it into my mouth.
"I'm not, but it sounded pretty bad. I just don't want you getting into something messy."
"Messy is what I'm good at."
"She know you're going back to Iraq?"
I shook my head and dropped my fork on my plate.
"I'll tell her when the time is right. We are just friends."
"Don't make things worse for her, Shane. She's had a hard time. I know that look. You're not thinking clearly."
"I'll tell her." I got up and put my plate in the sink.
"Thanks, May. It was delicious." I smiled and grabbed her keys from the counter.
"Fill it up," she called out to me as I grabbed my new coat and pulled it on.
"I will." I made my way across the living room and nodded good-bye to Jake.
I didn't need the lectures about not hurting Jenn. I had no intention of making this girl cry. I just couldn't tell her yet that I was only home on leave. My thoughts drifted to Chelsea. She had vowed to wait for me and no matter how good her intentions were, she was now in the arms of another man. I wanted to live in the fantasy that I was just another normal guy like anyone else. I needed that. I drove across town to Jenn's apartment as I tried to figure out what her ex had done to her that had hurt her so badly. I wanted to ask her, or better yet, hunt him down and make whoever this guy was apologize.