Brittany moved silently across the kitchen to the beverage maker. She tipped her head sideways, giving me a suspicious look, before pouring a cup of coffee. I handed her a plate with three chocolate chip pancakes, with a generous slab of butter on top, which slid off one side when she took the plate.
She dipped a finger in the golden puddle. “Pancakes? You only cook pancakes on Sunday mornings, if then, and never--ever--at 5:30 A.M.” Trailing me to the table, the second she sat down, we locked gazes. “What’s up, Davis?”
“Can’t I just do something nice for my bestie?”
“Nope. I’ve known you since we were seven years old. You have an agenda.”
“I do not.” I really didn’t. Just a tough day ahead, which I’d need a ton of carbs to make it through. And caffeine. And a best friend. Casually, I lifted my coffee mug to my mouth. “It’s Fucking Friday.” Hot coffee burned my throat when I swallowed, hopefully washing down the tears that kept surfacing.
Brittany’s eyes widened, a forkful of pancakes poised in front of her gaped mouth. She placed the forked morsels back on the plate. “No,” she whispered. “Girlfriend, I’m so sorry. How are you?”
“Shitty. Angry.” I sighed deep. “Sad.” Another hot gulp. “But it is what it is, and I can’t change anything, so…” Pushing away from the table, I picked up my plate of half-eaten hotcakes. “I’ve given Jordan enough of my attention. Today, I need to concentrate on holding a maiden mare still, while a stallion covers her with blunt force, and try to avoid getting myself kicked, in the process. This breeding thing is eighty percent of my grade. And Azzam requested me inside the pen, so Jordan pledging his undying love to his slut, must take a backseat. If I could erase him from my memory banks, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
“I doubt that,” Brit replied around a mouthful. “But I’m glad your priorities are in check. This internship is huge. Don’t let that jackass get in your head and ruin things.” She picked up her plate and followed me into our tiny kitchen. Explain what a ‘maiden mare’ is.”
“Whoa. Button Baby? I hope your hottie lab partner’s horse doesn’t hurt her.”
“Same here, but she’s been treated to a teasing stallion all week and appears ready. Dr. Marchant claims it’s not as painful with horses, as it is with humans. Like that conversation wasn’t awkward.”
Brittany winced. “Ouch. Still, not fun that first time…but after that…”
I grabbed her ponytail and yanked. “Stop. No sex talk. I don’t need any visual of you and Doug in my head either. Still can’t scrub the one from New Year’s Eve out of my brain.” Unbidden tears suddenly pushed forward, and I wiped my cheeks with the back of my soapy hand. “Dammit. I can’t do this.”
Brittany pulled me to her. “Yes you can. You’re the strongest, bad-ass girl I know. Tougher than Alex.” She kissed the side of my head and pushed me back. “You’ve got this, Davis. Just focus on your gorgeous lab partner. I’m pretty sure his attention will be on you.”
“That’s the last thing I need. You know Azzam asked me to go home with him? Just for a couple of weeks. An escape. Apparently, his place is close to the gulf, near the border of Qatar.”
“The Persian Gulf? Um…did you talk to Rick about this? I mean, if you’re seriously thinking of going. And what about The Program? Aren’t we supposed to apply weeks ahead to leave the country?”
“I didn’t say I was going. I said Azzam asked. And no, I’m not. The idea whipped through my head for like two seconds, then I considered everything you just said. Plus one more.”
I hated that she knew me so well. The thought of Jordan’s reaction when his father informed him I’d applied to go to the United Arab Emirates, which meant I’d be with Azzam, gave me a happy, fleeting tinge of revenge. But Azzam was more than some rebound pawn for me to throw in Jordan’s face. Azzam was my friend. A dear one, it turned out. If I even mentioned I’d entertained the possibility, after he’d confessed his feelings for me, I’d only give him false hope. I couldn’t be that cruel to him. Or even, Jordan.
“I’m through running away from Jordan Mason’s shadow. It’s imprinted in almost every place in my life, but he’s not. Today, he starts a new life with Heather, so I’m done with Jordan. The real reason is Azzam. He admitted he likes me more than a friend. I’d hate to give him the wrong idea and encourage him to believe in something that will never happen.”
Brit handed me the last washed coffee mug to place in the cupboard. “Good, on both counts. The fact you realize you’d hurt Azzam in the process, means your head’s on straight. But your heart? Jury’s still out.”
I looked at the clock. “I better get ready. I’ve got to be to the equestrian barns in an hour.” When I handed her the damp dishtowel, she caught my wrist.
“What time is Jordan’s wedding?”
“I have no idea. The announcement said they were getting married at the penthouse in Miami, so I’m guessing afternoon. They have a gorgeous patio with a pool…” I blew a shaky breath. “Oh boy. Doesn’t matter. He made his choice weeks ago and now he, and I, will have to live with that decision.” I hurried to my bedroom, but before I closed the door, I smiled at my worried girlfriend. “Jordan’s having a little girl. Did I tell you that already? So, I’m happy for him. He’ll make a great daddy. And I’m going to be fine with that, so quit worrying about me. Or…at least don’t worry as much. You’re a good friend, Brit. I love you to pieces.”
I arrived thirty minutes early, hoping to get a chance to brush Button Baby before today’s routine started. The light dusting of snow, along with the lavender glow the world took on before dawn, calmed me. Even the outside lights appeared softer somehow, and I took my time walking to the barn, slowly breathing in the crisp air.
Jordan kept popping into my thoughts, which I both hated and loved. Maybe I suffered from melancholy this morning, more so than sadness. As I took note of the six o’clock hour on an outside clock, I wondered if he’d be out jogging through one of the several parks that surrounded their penthouse complex, or if he’d driven down to the docks to run by the water. Or maybe he slept in and skipped his daily run to make pre-wedding omelets for everyone.
An unexpected memory slithered behind my eyes, and for a moment, I was back at the beach house, watching Jordan make his signature omelets at the stove, flipping the pan with one hand, while holding me against him with his free arm. I stilled, willing the sensation of his lips pressing my hair, his hand inching upward until his palm pressed the side of my breast in a daring, intimate move, and me, tucking my arm tight to both hide, and keep his hand in place.
“Go away Jordan memories,” I whispered into the air. “Please, stop hurting me.”
I wandered to the rail fence surrounding the grazing pasture and faced South, as if I could peer through the trees and see Jordan’s house. Him, through a window. By this time tomorrow, everything would be finished. The breeding, the wedding, and any remnants of my relationship with Jordan, shoved into the past. He’d be married to Heather and have shared a romantic wedding night, which I knew he’d make special. That’s just who Jordan was. A hopeless romantic.
“I love you, babe. Be happy.” I blew a light kiss off my gloved hand. “Always.”
Behind me, car doors slammed, and a few excited voices carried on the morning air. The breeding teams had arrived. One set of footsteps crunching in the snow, headed my direction and I could tell by the long gait, it was Azzam. Or Jordan, and I whipped around with the thought, my heart pounding.
“Oh, it’s just you.”
“I’ll try not to take offense to the disappointment in your voice,” Azzam teased.
“Sorry, you startled me,” I lied.
Azzam leaned on the fence, his body close enough our shoulders touched. “Are you nervous about today?”
Talk about a loaded question. “Yes,” I answered truthfully, but not for the reasons he assumed.
Turning to face me, I noticed Azzam’s expression more serious than I’d seen before. “Marli, I need your head in the game today. The pen is small, and your mare will be nervous. If she suddenly becomes skittish, you could get seriously hurt, and I don’t think I could handle that. So, if you have any reservations, please say so now.”
I took Azzam’s hand. “I’d be foolish not to be nervous, which also keeps me on guard. I’ve done my homework, and studied so many techniques, I could do this procedure in my sleep. I know I could get hurt. But I also know Button Baby trusts me. She’ll be much better off with me in the pen beside her.” I tugged him with me toward the barn. “You just tell your ‘horse-whore’ to be gentle with my lady.”
Azzam laughed, then stopped, yanking me into his arms. “Thank you. For everything.” He kissed me quick, which surprised me, the second one, deeper and making my head dizzy. “I’ll miss you the most.” Another car pulled into the lot, and Azzam released me just as the headlights swept over us. “See you in a few hours.” He skipped off toward the stud barn and I waited, stunned, and hoped not to appear guilty as Dr. Marchant approached.
“I knew it,” he chuckled as he passed. “Just keep your focus on your mare, Davis, not the sexy Arabian. Or his horse.”
My face flamed with heat, the barn suddenly too warm. I stepped into Button Baby’s stall and hugged her neck. She whinnied and nuzzled my shoulder. We’d both lose something today.
“Everything’s going to be all right, girl. I promise. We’ve got this, you and I.”
~ ~ ~
The clock in the tack room chimed the two o’clock hour. Button Baby was next. I walked her into the breeding pen, an odd sense of uneasiness ghosting through me. Maybe I was more nervous about the breeding than I’d thought, but a familiar niggle deep in my heart told me what I feared, had nothing to do with what was about to happen in this pen. My intuition had always been strong where Jordan was concerned. I glanced at the large clock hanging above the barn doors. The wedding. The realization of what I felt was certain—the wedding was happening—Jordan and Heather were exchanging vows—hit hard, and I folded. Air.
Breathe, Marli. Breathe. This time, however, the mantra came in my own voice, not Jordan’s.
Before Dr. Marchant reached me, I straightened and grabbed the leather blanket, folded over the pen wall.
“Marli? Are you okay?”
“Yes. I’m good. I swear.” I could tell he didn’t believe me, when he stayed inside the pen with me to prove it. I motioned for the other girl who also handled Button Baby to help me slide the leather sheet from the shoulder, to the mare’s hips. I patted my sweet horse every few inches, talking soft, and letting the lead stay loose so she could watch me move around her. She stayed still, her flanks relaxed.
Slow movements, soft voice inflections, and gentle touches were key to keeping her calm. The same tricks Jordan used with me whenever I became anxious. As much as I wanted him out of my thoughts, I needed him in them, so I’d stay relaxed.
I stroked the mare’s nose, her eyelids dropping halfway to let me know she was okay. Still trusted me. A good thing, because the hood was next. Talking gently, I tightened the restraints of the blanket across her chest. She shifted slightly, shook her head away from the mask, which caused the other girl to jump back and hit her head on the pen rails.
“Out! You’re making her nervous,” Dr. Marchant said to the girl, his tone sharp. “You can help the team on the outside of the pen.”
I grabbed the lead to hold Button Baby’s head still and scratched between her ears. “You’re okay, girl, I promise. I’m staying right here with you.” She pushed her nose into my chest.
I turned to Dr. Marchant who remained in the horse’s sightline and would step in, if necessary. His specialty was maiden mares, and he was very selective of who he let handle the horse during the mount, so I felt privileged both he, and Azzam, trusted me.
“I want to do this without the hood.” Dr. Marchant opened his mouth to object, but I didn’t let him. “And, I think we should use the method I studied.”
“Marli, it’s such an old breeding trick and I fear too risky. There’s maybe a ten-second window before the stallion enters, to get your mare to perform. If the timing is off even by a few seconds, you could be seriously hurt. Button Baby would survive, but you’d be…crushed.”
“I’m fully aware of the danger, sir. But I want to protect her leg, and you said the trainer was on board. Please. I’ve been practicing with her and she’s performed flawlessly every time the last week. But, you have to let me take charge. I need to be the one to give the command, or she could become confused. Spooked.”
He reached behind me and slowly handed me a padded suit thing that resembled a catcher’s vest, only this one covered all key parts. “Only if you’ll wear this. Otherwise, we stick to the original plan.”
I turned to my mare. “Well, it doesn’t match my muck boots, and certainly won’t win me any points in the dating ring, so promise not to laugh. And whatever you do, don’t tell Miss Barnaby. You know what a gossip she is.” Button Baby bobbed her head and I patted her neck.
“It’s as if she understands you,” Dr. Marchant chuckled. “Okay, Davis, work your magic.” He motioned to the others on the outside of the pen. “Firm grip on the stabilizer ropes, folks, in case Marli needs help.”
I eased my mare against the front of the pen until her shoulders touched, then looped the lead through a rig mounted over her head, handing it to Ben, one of the boys on the team, whose muscular upper body meant he could handle any sudden movement.
“Keep her head high, the lead taught, when you see the stallion come close,” I instructed. “She won’t like it because she’ll want to back away, but you must keep her against the front of the pen. There’s padding here to protect her, so no need to pull her in, just keep her head up. But not too high. We don’t want to hurt her neck.”
We practiced a couple of times, so he was familiar with her weight. Dr. Marchant radioed one of the other seasoned crew to stand with Ben, in case he needed help, but, so far, Dr. Marchant hadn’t balked at my plan. Also, with the mare’s head held and shoulders against the pen wall, I could fasten the special socks on her back hooves, to protect the stallion. But if my plan worked, those hooves would never leave the ground.
“Good girl.” I said softly, while double-checking harnesses and clips. I rubbed the length of her beautiful neck, giving her a quick hug when two members of the stallion team walked into the breeding barn. Azzam and Midnight Warrior would soon follow.
I glanced at the clock, the numbers 2:30 glowing ominously. The wedding ceremony was probably over, Jordan and Heather announced as ‘man and wife’, which I decided was the reason behind my steadier, more determined demeanor. I’d been officially cut from Jordan’s life.
Now all that mattered, was Button Baby’s virgin mount, because while mine wasn’t happening anytime soon, hers just pranced into the barn.
The electricity, which was the closest description of the energy suddenly surging in the air, seemed alive between the two horses. Azzam, plus another bulky handler, strained to keep a very vocal Midnight Warrior in control. Dust and straw fragments swirled through the air, each time he raised on his hind legs. I’d been beside the stallion in the field with Azzam, but wasn’t prepared for how big he appeared inside the closed area. A glossy black from his heavy tail and thick mane, to the bottom of his powerful legs and hooves. Magnificent. Regal.
And Button Baby? Wild-eyed. But ready. Her taped tail had raised.
“What?” I whispered to her, stroking the side of her face. “You’re going to give it up just like that? No playing ‘hard-to-get’? He is a handsome devil. Your baby will be gorgeous.”
Azzam appeared more nervous than my mare, which seemed odd, given he’d already handled two mounts earlier. “Ready?” he asked.
“I think that’s up to your stallion, mister. My girl’s ready,” I said with a wink, pointing to her tail.”
I could hear Azzam’s deep breaths louder than Dr. Marchant’s. “Let’s do this!”
When I crouched down by Button Baby’s left front leg, though, Dr. Marchant threw his hands out, his command to stop, lost in the violent noise of horse neighs and snorts, metal rails pinging, and hooves scraping wildly against the pen floor.
With only seconds to make this work, I pretended I didn’t see him, circled my hand in the air with the signal, before the mount could be thwarted. “Now!” I yelled to Ben. Terror ripped through me in a split second, knowing the confusion could get me physically hurt.
But Ben heard me and Button Baby’s head lifted with the taut lead, her shoulders pressed to the protective mat, just as the massive, airborne stallion came down in a dark shroud.
“Shake!” I yelled at Button Baby, firmly grabbing her left leg just as she lifted it, and Midnight Warrior buried into her hind quarters with such force, I stopped breathing. But my girl stood rock solid, her surrender given with a loud whinny, but only a slight flinch in her front shoulders. Her hoof, while heavy, remained steady against my palm. I broke into tears, proud of my virgin mare. Proud that my plan worked.
Grateful I’d lived through the ordeal.
The stallion dropped down, shook his massive head, spraying snot everywhere, then nudged Button Baby’s hip as if saying “later, baby”. Luckily, I still held the mare’s leg and Ben had her head so she couldn’t move, or I believed Azzam’s horse would have received a mighty kick in his royal head.
“Such a good, brave girl,” I repeated quietly, waiting until Midnight Warrior had been pulled far enough away and turned the other direction, before setting the mare’s foot on the ground. Ben loosened the lead, but didn’t release it until we were sure how the mare would react. Stroking in a steady rhythm between her eyes, until she blinked, I lifted my other hand and tugged the lead from the ring. Button Baby stepped back, but didn’t raise up as I was prepared for. She shook her head, then moved to me, nose down and nuzzled my shoulder, so I could scratch between her ears. A collective breath blew through the pen from all those standing nearby, ready to save me, or her.
“That was insane!” Dr. Marchant all but yelled. “Still, when that stallion reared up and I lost sight of you, my heart stopped. You could have been—”
“I’m fully aware of the risk I took, but to make the entry gentler, and her less anxious, her head had to be held up so she couldn’t see the stallion. And with me holding her weaker left leg, she remained steady on her right one, but couldn’t kick her back legs. Plus to her, it was just a game, and she willingly participated. If she hadn’t lifted her leg on her own, I’d have grabbed it.”
“Watch.” I bent down and held out my hand. “Shake, girl.” The mare lifted her leg and I grasped it, stroked, and set it back down. “Good girl,” I said, patting her shoulder, and releasing the leather blanket that protected her hide from the stallion’s hooves.
“I’m relieved and pleasantly surprised, Marli Davis. You’re going to make a damn good vet, someday. But if you ever ignore my orders again, or pull another stupid stunt like that, you’re out of the veterinarian program. Understood?”
“It would’ve been more dangerous to change the plan at the last second. We had a stallion reared into mounting position! And it wasn’t a stunt. Button Baby’s left leg is the one she hurt, and the reason she’s a broodmare this year, not racing the Kentucky Derby. If Midnight Warrior had come down on her without her leg braced, his weight could have snapped her leg like a twig, and we’d be performing a much more difficult task.”
“And cost me a ton of money.”
Dr. Marchant stiffened, and I wondered for a moment if he was going to salute the woman standing by the pen gate, who’d interjected herself into our conversation.
Dressed in the smartest riding gear I’d ever seen, her gray hair pulled into a French knot on the side of her head, the stranger extended her hand to me. “Jasmine Fischer, as in Fischer Chocolatiers, and the proud owner of Button Baby. And you are?”
“Marli Davis, ma’am.”
Her handshake rivaled any man’s grip I’d encountered, and judging by her penetrating steel-blue eyes, she was all business. Not sugar-sweet like her company’s namesake.
“Button Baby’s trainer just showed me the digital recap of the mount. To say I’m impressed isn’t enough. You put my horse before your own safety. Some may call such behavior reckless, even audacious. From what I witnessed, I’d call your actions valiant, innovative, and kind. My horse trusted you, explicitly. That’s a gift, not something learned.”
She faced Dr. Marchant. “Tell me Miss Davis will be invited to your team for future breeding sessions. It’s students like this young lady, who give Cornell their prestigious standing. And why owners, like myself, invest heavily in the equestrian program and lend our cherished bloodstock to your center.”
“She’s only a freshman, but I agree, someone I should consider.”
Ms. Fischer sized me up, her expression softened. “If Miss Davis is this good as a freshman, imagine what she’ll accomplish by the time she graduates. I’d think you’d want to be around, Dr. Marchant, when she breaks your glass ceiling.”
She sandwiched my hand between hers. “Job well done, Miss Davis. I look forward to watching your transformation in this career, and when you graduate, I’ll find you. Like my horses, you are a rare breed.”
When she turned, I took another risk. One for personal reasons. “Ms. Fischer? Would I be too bold to ask if I could have a copy of the digital recording? My father is a veterinarian in Maple Heights, Ohio. I’d like to show him what I did, today.”
“You’ll give the man a heart attack, but of course. Dr. Marchant will have it within the hour.” She patted and kissed Button Baby. “You did great, my precious,” she whispered, then strolled out of the pen. With her back to us, she called out. “Miss Davis, tell your father he has a remarkable daughter.”
“Looks like you’ve already secured your first client,” Dr. Marchant said. “Now go spoil your mare and give her a couple of the sugar cubes you keep stashed in your locker. I’ll send the digital file to your cell receptor when I receive it. And Monday, we’ll discuss your next steps, after the internship closes.”
“For what it’s worth, I apologize for being insubordinate, today.”
“You made a judgment call for the sake of the animal commended to your care. Reckless and audacious as Ms. Fischer pointed out? Maybe. Maybe just damn lucky. Either way, I’m grateful I got to witness your bold persistence in action. But to even the score and perhaps humble you a tad, I want a full, written report on your research and your justification for implementing the procedure for this particular breeding case. I’ll need something to read while recuperating from my own possible heart attack.
Tears streamed down my face, my legs wobbly as wet noodles with the adrenalin drain. I’d proven myself worthy for the career I’d dreamed about my whole life, but had no one to share in my victory. Worse, I was guilty of wanting what no longer belonged to me. I wished more than anything that Jordan had been here with me, instead of repeating marriage vows to another girl.
I’d just finished brushing out Button Baby’s tail from being taped, when Azzam stormed into her stall. “What, in the name of all things holy, were you thinking today! You could have been severely injured, and I would have been responsible! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?”
Brush in hand, I carefully moved around the horse and came toe-to-toe with Azzam. “Honestly? I don’t care how you feel.” Harsh, and not meant in the context he took my statement, judging by his shocked face. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right. But what I did today had nothing to do with you, Dr. Marchant, or Jordan.”
“Jordan? Is that what this is about? Your need to prove yourself to your boyfriend?”
“No! And he’s not my boyfriend,” my voice trailing off. “Not anymore.”
Azzam touched my shoulder, but I shrugged his hand off. “Marli?”
Tired of hiding my emotions, I let the tears continue to stain my dusty face. “Today was about protecting the horse entrusted to me. No one addressed her lame leg when discussing methods, so I took it upon myself to research for one tailored to what she needed. I knew what I was doing, despite everyone’s reaction. Could I have been hurt? Yes, but the risk is present with any procedure involving a human and a horse in small quarters. The fact that everybody--no, every male—thinks I need protecting, is not only aggravating, but exhausting. I can take care of myself. Heroes don’t stay in my life, and I’ve learned the hard way, the only one watching out for me…is me.”
This time when Azzam reached for me, I didn’t back away and let him gather me in his arms. When the flood gates opened, he didn’t try to console me, just held tighter.
“I’m here,” he whispered in my hair, followed by a small kiss.
“You’re leaving me, too,” the declaration summoning a fresh wave of emotions.
Azzam stroked my hair. “But I’m with you right now. Tell me, please. What’s happened to your heart? I told you, your secrets are safe, and in a few hours, they will fly away with me.”
I pushed back, embarrassed by the muddy patch I’d made on his shoulder. But if I didn’t release the pain, I feared I’d crumble under the weight. Sniffing back as many tears as possible, I lifted my eyes to Azzam’s.
“Jordan slept with another girl. She’s pregnant. Today, they got married.”
This time, I pulled Azzam with me when I dropped to the ground, weeping inconsolably. “I’ve lost him. And it hurts so bad, because as much as I hate him—”
“You love him, more,” Azzam finished. “This I understand. I’m sorry, my friend, because this pain I share with you. I could promise you, with time, it will hurt less, but I can’t lie. Not to you. But I do wish you’d told me. Today was too hard to bear alone.”
Button Baby nosed both of us and we laughed.
“She gets you,” Azzam said.
“She wants the sugar cube in my back pocket,” I giggled. “But yeah, she gets me. Just like you.”
I kissed Azzam with my tear-washed lips, his hands cupping my dirty face while he kissed me back. A kiss filled with understanding, compassion, and friendship.
A kiss goodbye.
The apartment was quiet when I returned. Brit had gone to work, her note from earlier thanking me for the additional fat grams she’d have to run off, still pinned to the message board. Friday night shift meant she wouldn’t be home until the wee hours of Saturday morning. I kicked off my boots and stripped down to my bra and panties, leaving my dusty clothes in a heap on the entry floor. When I saw my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I laughed out loud. Mud, not dirt, streaked my face. The edges of my lips were caked with a brown crust, and still swollen from a steamy make-out session with Azzam, on the floor of Button Baby’s stall. Something we both needed, and another secret he’d take with him.
A murky trail of water circled my feet the first few minutes of my shower, and I worried I’d never get all the dirt, and straw, out of my hair before the water shut off at the allotted seven minutes.
After I dried off, combed the tangles from my wet hair, and lathered my body with the lavender-scented lotion Jordan’s mother gave me, I stood nude and still pinked from the hot shower, before the full-length bathroom mirror.
This could have been yours, Jordan Mason. Maybe a bit twisted, but the thought felt justified. Vindicated. His loss, and from my perspective, a great one.
I climbed into bed wearing Jordan’s oversized Cornell sweatshirt, and nestled inside the down comforter he’d given me as a housewarming gift, when I moved into the apartment. My cell receptor chimed before my thoughts could drag me down another hole, and Azzam’s face filled the screen. A picture I took before we left the barns, his hair a sexy mess and filled with straw. His provocative smile, along with the memory attached, was something I’d treasure whenever the darkness pulled at me.
Your secrets and I are airborne. Thanks again for the send-off. I’ll sleep well for years to come. Stay happy, my friend. And keep pushing the envelope. Hugs, Azzam.
I snuggled in my pillow, keeping his face lit up on my screen. My body hummed with a sensation I thought had died, and just as I closed my eyes to a sultry daydream, my receptor buzzed. Dad’s face, tired and his eyes shiny, took me in.
We hadn’t been on the best of terms since the whole holiday debacle, but tonight, I was excited to talk to him. Maybe it was about starting anew—closing doors to the past and opening windows to the future.
“Hey Dad. Miss you.”
He beamed. “Miss you, too, pumpkin, or should I say ‘the up and coming future Dr. Davis’? Pretty damn impressive moves today. Scared your old man there for a second, but your timing was impeccable. Perfect execution. My guess is the outcome will be successful. Congratulations!”
“Thanks, Daddy. You’re the only one I’ll admit this to, but I was scared to death I’d be crushed. That stallion was huge! I thought I was going to pee my pants when he reared up.”
We laughed, something we hadn’t done together in what felt like eons. He wanted to know why I chose that particular method, where I’d researched the mechanics of the technique, and if Dr. Marchant was still alive, or if I’d killed the professor with fright. I shared my experience with the owner, who Dad gasped when I revealed her identity. I had no idea the depth of her fame, which probably played in my favor. I’d have been tongue-tied, or fainted, otherwise.
Before we ended our conversation, Rick braved asking me about Jordan. I didn’t tell him about Heather, the pregnancy, or the fact the two of them were on their honeymoon. Jordan’s reputation didn’t need me to darken the tarnish, and I wanted my father to only see Jordan in the light. Someday, if the truth surfaced and my heart had healed, I’d share the details.
But not tonight.
Tonight, was about me and the spotlight I stood under. No one was taking this magic moment from me. Especially not the very married, Jordan Mason.
~ ~ ~