Marcus is grieving -- for the lover he lost and for the life he once had on his farm. The years of sunny days and trail rides have given way to rainy nights and shadowed pastures. It's time to let go, but can Marcus make the hard decision to say goodbye?
This story appears in the author's print collection, Holding the Reins and Other Stories.
At the eastside of the ring, the stallion sprang into a choppy canter. His rider rode two-point for a few strides then sat down. Gabriel jerked his head from side to side and snorted, his strides slowed then sped up, slowed then sped up; he wanted to run.
As they passed Marcus again, he heard the man’s voice. “Easy, easy, easy ... Quiet now, Gabby, easy, easy.” All in a soothing, even tone. Marcus saw that his reins were just in contact with the horse, he wasn’t jerking on the bit to slow the animal down, he was using his legs and his seat to settle the horse.
Geez, he must have great thighs.
Gabriel finally settled into an easy canter. One-two-three, one-two-three, the gentle rhythm that charmed Marcus’s dreams. They floated by and the man looked as relaxed as if he were watching a Sunday game on his recliner. Another horse and rider walked by outside the ring and the rider called out, “Looking good!”
Gabriel's rider flashed a quick smile.
They had just moved past Marcus again when Gabriel stumbled. He jerked down to one knee, kicking up sand. Marcus heard his unsettled snort as he went down. His rider stayed in the saddle, thrust forward onto his neck but still seated. He let Gabriel take two steps then sprang out of the saddle.
Marcus walked over to them, concerned.
The rider looped the reins over the horse’s head; he had to stand on tiptoe to do it. Gabriel blew out his nostrils, seeming impatient. The rider made Gabriel walk in a circle around him, watching his left front leg.
Marcus called over. “What do you think?”
“I need to check his shoes. Do you know horses?”
“Sure.” Marcus squeezed through the arena’s railing and moved over to the pair. Up close, the man was solid and imposing. Five-foot-nine, with a sturdy build. Marcus envied the rider's body; his own long legs and top heavy build made riding hard work. A coconut-based whiff of sunscreen wafted off the other man. The rider’s blue eyes shone against his tanned skin. He had a slender nose, regal-looking, and his chin was sharp. Every plane of his face was crisp and angular.
Marcus took the stallion’s reins and held the animal steady. The other man lifted each hoof and tested the horse’s shoes.
“Well, they all seem to be tight. Maybe it was just a stumble.”
“Want me to trot him out for you?”
“That’d be great.”
Marcus moved the horse off, then turned to trot him in front of the other man. The arena’s sand was thick and unwieldy. He reversed, did the same movement back.
“I think he’s fine,” the rider called.
“The sand is pretty clunky. Need a leg up?” Marcus offered.
The other man grinned. “It’s either that or walk back to the barn to find a mounting stool. Thanks.”
Marcus handed back the reins and noticed the other man’s strangely mottled hands. Creamy white skin mixed in with normal brown, blotched like a pinto. Odd. When he saw the rider had the reins settled, he moved behind the other man, cupped the rider’s lower left calf, and the man was up and in the saddle in two seconds.
“Thanks.” They shook hands.
“Marcus Denton, Leprechaun Farms.”
“Philip Massein, errant rider, no farms.” They grinned.
“I actually came to see Gabriel. We’re looking for studs.”
“You’ll have to talk with Mrs. Reese; I’m just the hired help.” Gabriel tossed his head. “Time to get back to it.”
“Good luck with your class.”
“Thanks!” And they cantered away, kicking up dust, Gabriel tail swishing. Marcus’s throat went tight.