Moonbeams and Mistletoe
Moonbeams and Mistletoe
Jordan and Jenna Kirby were twins since birth. They were developed from two different eggs, which just happened to be fertilized at the same time. They were born four days late, which was unusual. Twins are usually born almost three weeks early. Their mother hadn’t planned on carrying twins for four more days. They were born on June 29th and were eleven minutes apart. Jordan had been born first and often teased Jenna by calling her his little sister.
Their father was a rancher. Ranch life is often lonely. Because of their large size, most ranches lie some distance from the nearest town or city. This means most ranches are pretty much self-sufficient. The hands look after stock and perform many odd jobs. They may dig holes for fences, grow certain crops for their own use, lay brick and concrete, perform blacksmith work and do whatever else is necessary to keep ranch life moving smoothly. The cowboys also act as guides and instructors, giving lesson in horseback riding, roping and even western style dancing. At night, they arrange barbeques and campfires. One cowboy usually plays the guitar and leads in singing western songs.
A woman on the ranch must not only look after her own family, but must also serve as cook, mender and even a mother for most of the hands. She seldom sees an outside face and had little time to visit when company comes. The men usually treat the women with great respect, courtesy and affection. And ranch life in Clear Creek, Wyoming on Painted Horse Ranch suited them just fine.
From an early age Jordan and Jenna learned to ride a horse, move a herd of cattle and milk a cow. But mostly they learned the hallmarks of the ranching heritage: hard work, loyalty, integrity and love of family.
At age ten, Jordan and Jenna were very active in the local 4-H Club as well as FFA and raised steers to show and sell.
“Dad taught me to respect and work with a horse,” recalled Jenna.
Jordan purchased his second cutting horse, but he and the horse just didn't click -- an important aspect of cutting. Cutting is an equestrian event in the western riding style where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single animal away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time. A cutting horse is an athletic and willing animal possessing an innate "cow sense" and ability to respond quickly and turn sharply. The horses involved are typically American Quarter Horses, although many other stock horse breeds are also used. The horse's trainer suggested Jenna show the horse instead.
“When I started showing horses, it fulfilled a part of me that was missing,” said Jenna. “I'm like one of those border collies that just loved working the cattle.” Jenna had continued to show horses in an open class.
Jenna loved trick riding ever since she saw her first horse show at The Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne. Trick riding refers to the act of performing stunts while riding a horse, such as the rider standing upright on a galloping horse. Other stunts might include: hanging upside down off of the side of the horse while attached to a strap or jumping on and off a galloping horse.
There are many horse riding stunts and many different variations of tricks, with each rider having an individual style. Tricks can be strap tricks or vault type tricks. Some tricks include the forward fender, one foot drag, spritz stand, shoulder stand, back drag, hippodrome, and spin the horn.
One type of trick riding is known as "roman riding", and is usually performed as entertainment in rodeos, circuses and horse shows. In Roman riding, the rider stands atop a pair of horses, with one foot on each horse. Roman riding is one of the older forms of riding, and was performed during the time of the Roman Empire. As many as 5 horses, with the rider standing on the inner 3, have been ridden and jumped abreast. As many as 9 horses, 3 teams of 3 abreast, have been ridden and jumped in tandem. Tricks such as trading teams while riding, riding a pony team between the horse team and jumping 6 and 9 horse tandems are also performed. Sometimes riders will change teams at the trot, dance, ride backward and twirl a baton.
Many trick riding competitions consist of two sections: the compulsories and the freestyle section. Important compulsories are the horizontal layover, the reverse fender, the spritz and the hippodrome.
The horizontal layover, which is a test of balance, is a movement in which the rider lays horizontally across the back of the horse, perpendicular to the horse’s body. The rider must stretch out the movement, with straight legs, pointed toes, one pointed arm and one arm to hold on to the trick saddle.
The spritz movement is a one-footed stand that also tests the balance of the rider. The reverse fender is a move that dates back to Cossacks. In the drag move, the rider hangs horizontally over the side of the horse. The hippodrome is a standing maneuver in which the rider must balance while the horse travels at a full gallop.
Unfortunately, trick riding is no longer a competitive sport at the present time. It’s more for entertainment purposes. Since she was eight, Jenna started trying to stand on her saddle. She took some trick riding classes and even went to an Experience Days camp. However, in trick riding you need to take as many classes as you can, have a horse specifically trained in and for trick riding and a special trick riding saddle. Since her parents could not afford all these things, Jenna did the closest thing she could find. She took gymnastics.
Gymnastics is a sport involving the performance sequence of movements, requiring physical strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, gracefulness and awareness; things that are very beneficial in trick riding. The four apparatus were useful, too. The vault was used for jumping onto, off and over a stationary horse. The uneven bars proved useful in Roman riding transferring from one bar to the other. The balance beam helped with balance, flexibility and strength. In the floor exercise the gymnast must perform a series of three or more tricks while moving across the floor. It is accompanied by music much like trick riding.
And also like trick riding, gymnastics is a dangerous sport. One year, Jenna broke and dislocated her elbow. She struggled with injuries, fatigue and a growth spurt. She had severe tendentious in her left wrist. She competed in the Regionals where she won, but her wrist was in poor shape. She had two cortisone injections, but failed to complete a new skill on the floor due to a hamstring injury, which made it difficult for her to pike. She also crashed badly in the vault. Jenna qualified to compete in the all-around competition. She won gold on bars and floor exercise, but fell three times on the balance beam. She was battling the stomach flu, which made her withdraw from the vault.
Jenna walked out on the porch. She gazed out over the landscape. There were silhouettes of corrals, bunkhouses and lush pastures. The rail fence at her right was unpainted and broken in two places. The dairy barns were hidden beyond the knoll and hadn’t been in operation for some time. A grove of peach trees at her left were vigorous and well-spaced. The Bermuda grass pasture beyond the rail fence was dotted with shade trees, protected against grazing animals by triangular rail guards. From one of the nearby branches a mocking bird sang to the early morning sunshine. The concrete slab on the side of the steps displayed the handprints she and Jordan had made when they were six.
She leaned against the railing she used to use as a balance beam. She remembered her mother scolding her. But Jenna would never hear those words again. Florence Kirby had passed away. Even though her mother’s scolding annoyed her to no end, Jenna would have given anything to hear, “Don’t come crying to me when you fall and break your neck.” And even though her mother was not like her best friend or anything, Jenna felt like an orphan.
The slamming of the screen door interrupted her memories. Jordan had arrived. Even though they were fraternal twins, they violated twin tradition by not looking anything alike. Jordan had taken after his father while Jenna looked like Flo. The top of Jordan’s brown hair was sun streaked which gave him a surfer look and blue eyes. Jenna’s auburn hair hung to her shoulders and her blue-green eyes depended on what color she was wearing. Flo had been a looker when she was young. After high school, Jenna had stayed in the area, being involved in anything horse related while Jordan became a personal trainer and moved out to sunny California. For a moment they just stared at each other. Then Jordan opened his arms, something he never did. Jenna didn’t resist. She needed a hug right now. It had taken a death to bring the twins back together again.
Jenna hated funerals. Everyone dressed in black, all the people saying how sorry they were for their loss and asking her if she was okay. Then they would all drop off food: zucchini bread, banana bread, pies, chili and a vast array of casseroles many of which Jenna didn’t like.
At the service, the minister read a couple of Bible verses including the 23rd Psalm. Then people got up and told some memories they had of Flo. When piglets wore born in the dead of winter, Flo was so sure they would freeze to death. She brought all eight of them into the house and put them in a cardboard box next to the wood burning stove. Dad had worked for Grandpa laying sod and was always asked to stay for supper. One time Flo made tomato salad. Dad didn’t have the heart to tell her he didn’t like tomatoes. He managed to choke down the first helping. She thought he must have liked it so she gave him another spoonful. By the time they were married, he had gotten to the place where he liked tomatoes.
Jordan told about all the ornery things he used to do. When Flo would come into the kitchen carrying the big heavy creamer, she would have to open the door with her elbow. Jordan made sure there was always a glass of water or a raw egg on the top of the door waiting for her. He timed it so he would be on the school bus when she came in. By the time he got home, she had forgotten about the whole thing.
One person said Flo had worked for…get this…the police department. She wasn’t an officer, but she would go down a couple days a week, take in goodies and answer the phone. Another thing Jenna and Jordan never knew about their mother.
Their first task was to tackle the house. Neither one of them was looking forward to it. Flo had been sort of a pack rat.
“Let’s swing on the swing,” Jordan said.
“What about the house?”
“We’ll take care of it later.”
“We haven’t done that since we were kids,” Jenna protested.
“Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“Oh, alright,” Jenna finally gave in and they ran to the barn.
The swing was a single long piece of rope tied to a beam over the north doorway. At the bottom end of the rope was a fat knot to sit on. It was arranged so you could swing without being pushed. You climbed a ladder to the hayloft. Then holding the rope you stood at the edge and looked down and were scared and dizzy. Then you straddled the knot so that it acted as a seat. Then you got up all your nerve, took a deep breath and jumped. For a second you seemed to be falling to the barn floor far below. Then suddenly the rope would begin to catch you and you would sail through the barn door going a mile a minute with the wind whistling in your eyes, ears and hair. You would zoom upward into the sky and look up at the clouds and the rope would twist and you would twist and turn with rope. Then you would drop down, down, down out of the sky and come sailing back into the barn almost to the hayloft before going back out again. You did this around seven more times before jumping off and falling down so someone else could try.
Jordan straddled the rope and jumped. He sailed out through the door almost crashing into a barn swallow and into the sky. Then he sailed back into the barn.
“I have hay inside my shirt. It itches,” called Jenna.
“Then scratch it,” Jordan yelled sailing out again.
“It’s my turn anyway. Jump off.”
When Jordan jumped off, he threw the swing up to his sister. Jenna shut her eyes tight and jumped. She felt the dizzy drop then the supporting lift of the swing When she opened her eyes, she was looking up into the blue sky and was about to fly back through the door. Finally, after taking turns for hours the both collapsed in the hayloft. It was only when they decided to head back to the house they realized they were in trouble. The ladder to the hayloft had been knocked down. One of them must have hit it going in or out of the barn. They were too busy screaming to notice. The rope hung straight down from the middle beam. There was no way to reach it.
“How are we going to get down?” asked Jenna. If you tried to jump from the hay loft you would break your neck or seriously injure yourself. The only way was to walk across the four foot inch wide beam to the other side of the barn and slide down the chute used for feeding horses hay. You would land in the hay manager. It was either that or climb into the corn crib and wade through waist high corn to get to the door which led to the outside. Either way someone would have to cross the beam.
“You go,” Jordan said.
“Why me?” Jenna asked.
“You were the one who took all that gymnastics junk, remember?”
“Oh, yeah.” The balance beam hadn’t been Jenna’s best event. Wearing only a size five shoe, her feet were small and it gave her an advantage. And it was a straight walk. She wasn’t required to do any tricks or flips. She positioned herself at the edge of the beam.
“Just don’t look down,” encouraged Jordan.
Jenna clenched her teeth. He wasn’t helping. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She carefully placed her left foot on the beam like she was testing the water before jumping in. She put one foot in front of the other like a dancer while keeping her eyes glued to the far barn wall. She held her arms out to the side for balance. Her gymnastics instructor told her to walk as if she was on level ground. If you overly concentrate, that is when you fall. After what seemed like forever, Jenna had made it across successfully. She slid down the chute and landed with a thud in the hay manger.
“Ooofff,” Jenna groaned. Then she climbed out and put the ladder up so Jordan could climb down. “Next time you’ll be the one who crosses the beam.”
The next day they started on the house. It was going to have to be done sometime. No sense in putting it off anymore. Jenna went through the closest boxing up the clothes which would be given to the good will. A yellow sun dress her mother always wore to social and church functions, a blueberry work shirt…there was a red and white polka dot dress in which Jenna had one made of the same material. A mother/ daughter dress. Flo had been quite the seamstress and had made all of Jenna’s clothes growing up so they had a lot of matching outfits. Jenna could still hear Flo’s voice in the background, “Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” She took one of the t-shirts off the hanger, put it on and in hailed. Flo had a very distinct scent.
Underneath the bed, she found sixteen pairs of blue sneakers some still in the box. In the jewelry box there must have been a dozen rings with the price tag still on them. Flo could never turn down a deal. Bargain shopping was one of her fortes. At a garage sale, she was like a kid in a candy store. When she found a pretty church bulletin, she would cut it into strips, glue the ends together, and string them on a piece of yarn and make a necklace. In the dresser, Jenna found around twelve sets if knitting needles. A trash bag full of yarn was in the corner. Inside there was a half-finished green and white checkered afghan. It must have been the last thing Flo had been working on…or she had just forgotten about it completely.
In Flo’s sock drawer, Jenna found two things that caught her off guard. One was a book called, How to be a Sensual Woman and the other was a little pink sex toy. Jenna dropped it like a hot potato, shoved it in the very back of the drawer and shut it as quickly as she could. She tried to shake the image forming in her mind. Jenna never thought about her mother having a sexual side.
On a nail in the kitchen hung Flo’s fawn colored apron, sprinkled with fall colored leaves. They had all gone to town and their father had a little extra money so he wanted to get Flo a new apron. But she had to pick out the fabric. She kept complaining how she didn’t need a new apron and she didn’t want him to waste the money. Use it for something practical. If she didn’t pick out the fabric, he would get her the red turkey piece with a big, ugly gold pattern.
In the cupboards, Jenna found six big jars of peanut butter. Under the sink there was a whole box of candy bars: Snickers, Milky Way, Twix. She showed it to Jordan and he grabbed one. Not only was it stale, it would have broken his teeth. Who knows how long they had been in there? Next to five boxes of brownie mix, Jenna made a pleasant discovery. Four jars of what looked to be homemade blackberry jelly…her favorite. She decided to open one of those precious jars and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. When she joined Jordan on the back patio, he gave her a strange look.
“Can I ask a question?” he asked. “Why did you make me a peanut butter and prune sandwich?”
What Jenna had thought to be blackberry jelly had turned out be canned prunes. Well those went to the trash as well as half of the contents they found in the refrigerator. Most of it was already spoiled or out of date. Flo’s grandmother had grown up during the depression and taught her never to thrown anything away.
“What a day,” Jenna sighed falling into one of the easy chairs in the family room.
“You’re telling me.” Jordan collapsed on the couch. “We still have the basement to go.”
“Don’t remind me.”
The basement was worse than all the upstairs rooms put together. They had to go through an obstacle course just to get to the washing machine and back. Somewhere down there, Jenna knew was her old clarinet with no reeds or mouth piece.
She reached over a picked up Flo’s old black appointment book. She started to flip through it. About two thirds of the way through, she stopped and jumped up.
“Oh my God,” Jenna said. “Oh my God.”
“What?” asked Jordan.
“Look at this.’ Jenna shoved the appointment book in his face.
“So?! It says here Mom agreed to board Orb.”
“Oh my God,” Jordan said in high voice, imitating his sister. “Who’s Orb?”
“You don’t know who Orb is?”
Jordan gave her a blank stare.
“He’s Sawyer Hicks’s trick horse.”
“And?” Jordan prompted his sister to continue.
“Sawyer Hicks is one of the most famous trick riders. Forget it.” She didn’t expect Jordan to understand. Ever since she saw Sawyer and Orb perform at The Frontier Days, she had followed Sawyer’s career with admiration.
“Can’t you cancel it?”
“Why would I want to?” Jenna asked. The chance to meet the woman and the horse she had admired for so long. “Besides it says she is going to be here in two days. There’s not enough time.”
“Tough break,” Jordan said leaning his head back and closing his eyes.
“It would also be a way to honor Mom. She made the commitment and I can keep it.” It made her feel closer to Flo. She liked that.
Sawyer Hicks was your typical rags to riches story. She had earned a spot on the All-American Cowgirl Team. Not just anyone can join the team. They had performed all over the world. One of Sawyer’s signature tricks was the Ted Elder Suicide Drag. She hung upside down behind the horse with her head completely disappearing between the horse’s hind legs while her pointed toes danced in the arena dirt. Sawyer was the only woman to ever incorporate this contest trick into her performance. Another of her marquee tricks was the “under the belly”. She slid under the belly of her horse and returned to a sitting position in the saddle, all the while maintaining a constant smile for the audience as her horse galloped through the arena. She performed this trick unquestionably more times than any other trick rider. She was not what someone would call beautiful or even pretty. She was a handsome woman.
Sawyer was requested to be one of the commentators for a three week riding event in London, England. The event would include dressage, show jumping and exhibition performances. Being a trick rider, Sawyer would be commenting on the exhibitions. Even though they were last, she had to be there for the whole three weeks. When she wasn’t commenting, she would be interviewing past winners, the current competitors and the fan favorites. She would coach the younger riders who weren’t old enough to compete and pass on the secrets she had learned in all her years of trick riding.
As Jenna fixed up a stall for Orb, memories of her own horses came back to her. It made her sad to think they had been gone for close to ten years. Her first horse was a bay gelding named Moonbeam….not because he had a white spot on his forehead, but because his mother’s name had been Sunrise. Her other horse had been a white mare. Jenna had named her Sprout since she wasn’t much bigger than a sprout when she was born.
A muddy pickup truck hauling a horse trailer pulled in the driveway. Jenna’s heart beat with anticipation. She didn’t know what she was expecting, but the sight of Sawyer was not what she had pictured at all. There was no glitz, no glamour. There was no long, sleek black limousine, no luxury horse trailer. Sawyer stepped out wearing faded jeans and a baggy white t-shirt. Not the white suede coat and skirt lined with fringe and glittery red and blue stars; her trick riding attire. The sun highlighted some of the lines on her overly tan face. Her hair was dish water blonde and limp. She looked tired and…old. But she was still Sawyer Hicks.
“It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Hicks. I’m a big fan.” Jenna held out her hand.
“And you are?” Sawyer replied.
“I’m a little confused. I spoke with someone named Flo.”
“She was my mother. She passed away only recently.”
“Thanks. I’ll make sure your horse gets the very best treatment.”
“I would like to take a look at your facilities if you don’t mind.”
“Of course. Come with me.”
They walked out to the stables in awkward silence.
“So… you were really part of the All-American Cowgirl Team,” Jenna wasn’t quite sure what to say. “I think you’re a wonderful rider.”
“Yeah. Well my mother kicked me out when I was sixteen. I’ve been professionally riding ever since. It’s all I ever wanted to do anyway.”
“I envy you.”
Sawyer had a queer look on her face as she examined the stall Jenna had set up especially for Orb. She had selected one of the larger stalls, usually used for foaling. She had washed the walls down, put all new straw on the floor, and polished the iron. A full feed bag of alfalfa hay was waiting for him.
“By any chance does Orb crib?” It was a logical inquiry. Some horses nibble at the wood of their stall. It’s a nervous habit, like nail biting.
“Certainly not. Orb does not crib,” Sawyer replied insulted.
“It was just a question,” Jenna replied softly. Sawyer must be the kind of rider who if you insult her horse then you insult her.
“Well, it’s not exactly Buckingham Palace.” Sawyer kicked the stall door with her foot. “It seems to be sturdy enough. I guess it will have to do. It will only be for three weeks. Be sure to exercise him twice a day, groom him regularly and feed him his special blend of food. I can’t sell a sick horse.”
“Sell him? What do you mean sell him?”
“I’m retiring. I won’t need a trick horse anymore.”
“I’m sure you won’t have any trouble. Any trick rider would kill to have a horse like him.”
“I have some would be buyers, but I don’t see trick riding in his future.”
“You can’t sell him to just anybody. Especially if they’re not interested in trick riding or showing.”
“I can and I will. My mind is made up, Jennifer.”
Jenna bit her lip and tried to ignore Sawyer’s misuse of her name. Jenna had been called by the wrong name many times and it never bugged her until now. The way Sawyer said it; it came off more like an insult.
“Even if I wanted to continue, no. I would have to find that go to horse,” Sawyer replied. “Orb’s just not there quite yet.”
“But with the proper training…”
“Well I have a plane to catch,” Sawyer cut her off.
“What about …”
“Just see to it you take care of him. Can you handle such simple instructions?”
“But he’s a trick riding horse. He was specifically bred for this. If you take that away, you might as well cut his legs off. It’s just not right.” Jenna stormed around the living room.
“I hear you, Jen and I feel for you. I really do,” Jordan sympathized. “But he’s not your horse. It’s not your decision.”
“Too bad for him it’s not,” Jenna mumbled.
“It could be worse…a lot worse. Orb could be one of those horses who are starved, kicked or even beaten. How many times have you seen horses tied up? How many times you ever put your mind to whether or not it’s happy, its ribs sticking out like handles on the sides? Now you’re face-to-face with a horse that pulls at your heart and you all at once want to change things?”
“There’s got to be a first time.”
“You’re right about that, but take my advice. Put your mind on something else.”
“I can’t, Jordan,”
“Well, Jen, you have to try,” Jordan replied gently.
Night in Wyoming is as dark as black can be. No car lights sweeping across the walls or ceilings like in town. No street lamps shining in the windows, no lights from next door houses. Where they live there are no street lamps at all, no houses close enough to see from the windows. Jenna’s eyes were open anyway. She stared up into the darkness of her bedroom and the darkness stared back. She just couldn’t shake the feeling something wasn’t right. Something about Sawyer’s story wasn’t adding up. She couldn’t believe Sawyer would be so heartless and didn’t care what happened to Orb. Was there another reason behind her decision to sell him? What was really going on here?
Besides loving on horses, Jenna also had a gift for loving on children. Flo had also devoted her life to giving disadvantaged, abused and abandoned children a chance. She worked with Children’s Services. When there was a shortage of foster homes, Flo would take in the kids until a suitable one could be found. Some stayed a minimum of 24 hours while others stayed for a month. She started a program called Spotted Hill. At one time 80 children called it home. There were acres of beautiful land, a lake, a clubhouse… and a fine horse program. Jenna had helped out whenever she could. Sometimes she was mucking out stalls. Other times she was giving grooming lessons, leading the smaller children around on horseback and taking the older kids on trail rides.
One year, Jenna became quite fond of one special child; six year old Peyton. That spring a pretty, new filly was foaled. The kids had named the foal Mistletoe. Peyton, who still needed braces to stand because she could barely walk, cautiously stood as Mistletoe approached her. Delighted, Peyton put her arms around Mistletoe, who simply closed her eyes and enjoyed the soft caress of this gentle child. It was feared Peyton, whose face was unlike an angel’s with a soft, golden halo of silken hair, would never walk, but after several surgeries she made a remarkable recovery.
The quote, “Little Angel, hold me gently for I, too, can help you stand,” ran through Jenna’s head. This just went to prove horses can help heal a person’s soul. There was no doubt in Jenna’s mind Orb could help heal Sawyer’s soul if she would let him.
Flo had tried to keep Spotted Hill up and running, but when her health started to fail so had Spotted Hill. It had always been Jenna’s dream to reopen it one day.
Jenna was depressed and moping around the house. She was no closer to figuring out Sawyer’s motives then she had been three days ago.
“You know pacing isn’t going to help,” Jordan said. He was sitting in an armchair reading a magazine and had been watching Jenna pace for over an hour.
“I know,” Jenna sighed. “I just can’t sit here while Orb’s life is at stake.”
“Neither is getting burnt out or stressing about it,” Jordan pointed out.
“What do you suggest I do?”
“Take a break. “
Jenna hated to admit it, but Jordan was right. These were the times when being a twin was aggravating. Having someone who knows you better than you know yourself.
“I saw Ian in town the other day. He wanted to come out to the house, but didn’t know if you were up for visitors with Mom passing and all.”
Ian had been working on their father’s ranch. He needed some help from someone with a truck, two strong arms, someone not scared of dirt and willing to work until the sun went down. Ian fit the bill and they shook hands. The fences needed fixing, the peaches needed picking and the cattle needed to be brought in. Ian was hauling hay, feeding the hogs and the summer sun had him sweating like a dog. Only a half an hour for lunch and then it was back to work in that dad gum heat. He was cussing out loud, thinking about quitting. Looking back now he was sure glad he didn’t. Just when he thought it couldn’t get any hotter he caught a glimpse of Jenna.
She was just getting home, all tanned up and his kind of pretty. When her eyes met his, he was thinking, “I love my job.”
As the days got shorter, their talks got longer. The kisses got sweeter and the feelings got stronger. They would hop in his truck and get all tangled up every chance they got. They were down by the river all night long. When the sun came up, he was sneaking her home and dragging his butt to work with the smell of her perfume on his shirt. He’d be on the tractor; she’d be on his mind with the sun beating down on his back. He couldn’t wait until it was quitting time. In the midst of everything they had fallen into a summer romance.
“It would do you some good to get out,” Jordan replied.
“Maybe I’ll give him a call.”
Sawyer e-mailed Jenna from London telling her Hank McManus was interested in Orb and would be stopping by in a day or so to give Orb a once over. Jenna knew Hank was a small time show man who just sort of popped up now and then. He wanted a headline act for a carnival and Sawyer had told him about Orb.
Hank was a heavy man with small sleepy eyes. He was wearing a two toned brown shirt with fancy stitching.
“Well, where is he?” Hank asked in wheezy voice like he had smoked too many cigarettes.
“This way,” Jenna led Hank over to the pasture gate. Orb was out in the pasture grazing. “There he is over yonder.”
With a deep wrinkling of his forehead, Hank opened his eyes a little wider. “Huh,” he said after a long look.
“He could stand another grooming,” Jenna said even though she had just groomed him that morning.
“I reckon so. Bring him in. I want a closer look.”
When he came face to face with Orb, the furrows in Hank’s forehead deepened. It hadn’t hit Jenna until now. Here was a potential buyer ready to talk business if he liked what he saw. Jenna figured Sawyer wouldn’t sell Orb until she had returned from London and could oversee the sale herself. This act only deepened Jenna’s suspicions about Sawyer. Jenna led Orb around gently until his glossy flank was turned toward Hank.
“What do you reckon he’ll be worth?” Hank asked.
“I couldn’t put a price on him,” Jenna replied. “I think you had better ask Sawyer. There will be time enough to settle it since she won’t be back for a couple weeks.”
“Are you trying to back me into a corner?”
“Because if your price gets too high then maybe I won’t take him.”
“If you don’t want him, somebody else will,” Jenna couldn’t resist. “He would draw more than enough customers to your stupid carnival.”
Hank turned and stomped off toward his truck. Jenna had bought Orb a little more time.
“Don’t worry,” Jenna put her cheek against Orb’s neck. “It’s his loss. You are better than some little old carnival.” Orb whinnied as if he knew what she was saying.
“How are you doing?” Jordan asked walking out to the fence. He reached over scratched Orb’s forehead.
“I’m fine,” Jenna answered.
“I know you better than that.”
“Jordan, it’s tearing me apart, okay?”
“I know, but you are stuck between a rock and hard place.”
“If only I could buy him.”
“But you’re not a trick rider,” Jordan replied.
“I have taken a few classes.”
“Yeah, four. Sawyer has taken over a hundred and is probably still taking them.”
“I still have two weeks to figure something out.”
The next night the phone rang.
“Jen, it’s for you,” Jordan called.
Jenna was just finishing up the evening feeding and was hauling two metal water buckets to the house. She was sweating, her hands were dirty and her hair had pieces of straw in it. She gave an exasperated sigh. It was probably someone who had just learned of Flo’s death and was calling to express their sympathy. Since they had arrived back at the ranch the phone had been ringing nonstop. Jenna used to be the first one to jump up and answer the phone. Now just the sound of the phone ringing made her cringe.
“What?” Jenna spoke into the receiver.
“You know it’s customary to say hello when you answer the phone.”
“Ian,” Jenna replied as casually as she could. “Sorry, I meant to call you. You’re not exactly catching me at my best.” That much was certain.
“I have a hunch,” Ian said. “We would be a lot happier get reacquainted over dinner. What do you say?”
“Ah, sure, okay.” What else could she say? It felt like she couldn’t control the words coming out of her mouth. She was almost in a daze.
“Great, I’ll pick you up at 6:30 tomorrow evening.”
The main reason Jenna had accepted the invitation was because Jordan had been standing there, hanging on every word.
Dressed in her favorite jeans, a plain white top and her new yellow sweater, sprinkled with little pink flowers, Jenna and Ian went to the little pizzeria in the middle of town. It was a popular hangout for young people.
Seeing how crowded it was, Ian said, “Let’s go someplace else.”
“Because we can’t be alone here.”
“Okay.” He grabbed Jenna by the hand and pulled her through the middle of the restaurant to a booth in the back corner.
“You nearly pulled my arm out of the socket.”
“I just want a little privacy for us, okay?” Ian replied. He leaned in and gave Jenna kiss on the cheek and whispered, “It sure is good to see you again.”
“So what can I get you kids tonight?” the waiter cut right through the privacy issue.
“A cherry soda, please,” Jenna replied.
“And you, sir?”
“Oh I’m not real hungry. Just give me a large mushroom, pepperoni with extra onions and a cherry float.”
“Oohh,” said Jenna. “That sounds good. I’ll have the same.”
“The same?” Ian commented after waiter left to place the order. “You can eat a lot.”
“I want something different,” Jenna replied. Since the day after the funeral, she and Jordan had been eating leftover barbequed chicken and meatballs every night. They were getting kind of sick of it. “Besides Jordan loves pizza. If I didn’t bring home some I would never hear the end of it.”
“How did you wind up taking care of a horse as famous as Orb?”
“Just lucky I guess.”
You must feel privileged.”
“The only thing about a privilege is, it gets taken away,” muttered Jenna.
“You’re upset about what might happen to him.”
“You’re very perceptive. It’s like he’s heading down a dead end road. He’s going down the wrong path and lost his way. He doesn’t know he’s never coming back.”
It was Ian’s own fault for bringing up the subject of Orb. It was all Jenna could talk about. Whenever Ian could get a word in edgewise, he tried to change the subject.
“The broker assured me within three years the painting will be worth five times what I paid. I would have hesitated as the artist is young and unknown, but the show was a great success.”
“Who are you?” Jenna asked.
“I just thought you might like to talk about something else. Have an adult conversation. Get your mind off Orb.”
“Like that’s ever going to happen.”
Ian gave an exasperated sigh.
“Fine,” Jenna said. “What do you want to talk about?”
At this point, Ian was willing to talk about organic chemistry with a side of neurobiology as long as it got Jenna’s mind off that horse.
After they left the restaurant, they went across the street to a little candy store that sold chocolate covered strawberries. They order one box to split between the two of them. Back in his truck, Ian dangled a strawberry in front of Jenna enticing her to take a bite. The feeling of Jenna’s lips pressed against his fingers made his heart pound. After she had devoured the strawberry, she reciprocated the action.
Three strawberries later, they were in the back of Ian’s pick up making out in an open field underneath the stars. He slipped his hands into her silky hair and drew her forward.
“Are you sure about this?” Ian asked as his hands slipped underneath Jenna’s sweater and unhooked her bra.
“You wanted me to get my mind off Orb.” There was a glimmer of desire in her eyes. Was she really supporting the idea of having sex? “Do you trust me?”
“Do you want me?”
This time Ian answered her with a hungry kiss and the slight brush of his tongue.
“Then shut up and distract me.”
He nibbled at her lips until they parted for him. She opened, willing, wanting to be touched, tasted and taken. Slowly he led her through the layers of sensations. His fingertips and palms grazed over her lingering at some secret place that had her breath catching in her throat. His mouth cruised lazily over her skin. She raised herself to him wrapping herself around him. When he slipped off her sweater, the breeze and his fingertips brushed over her. She never shied as he undressed her. Her hands slid over him undressing him in turn. Her heart hammered under his mouth.
“I won’t break, you know,” Jenna whispered as she nibbled on his ear.
He took just a little more and she began to move underneath him. His mouth was on hers again, hotter now, giving her no chance to catch her breath. Everything inside her was tangled and straining as if she was a caged animal trying to break free.
Flesh dampened until it was slick. Hearts pounded until the beat of them seemed to slap the air. But she rolled right with him, taking in everything he offered. She arched against his busy mouth. He drove harder. She wanted it hot and fast, by God he was going to give it to her. He gripped her hips and jerked them high. Suddenly, her body was flooded with sensation and her flesh was quivering from them. She could hear her own moans, her own ragged breaths, but couldn’t do anything to control them. She cried out from the shock of it all; all the pulsing, pumping pleasure, the sheer heat of it as it crashed over her, inside her and left her shuddering. He felt her muscles tighten holding him like a vice. Then he let himself go.
“Where have you been?” Jordan jumped up when Jenna came through the back door around 7:00am looking quite disheveled.
“Who are you? My mother?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just your brother.” Since he was older, he always felt it was his duty to watch out for Jenna and protect her.
“You’re the one who told me to get out,” she reminded him.
“I meant go out for pizza or a movie. Not sleep with the guy.”
“You are not the only one in this family who’s having sex,” she replied bluntly.
If Sawyer was fixed on selling Orb, maybe Jenna could find a buyer, one who would be investing in the horse. The Frontier Club would be her best bet. She had been here a few times with her father. Some people just hung around this little country arena. Others were training for amateur rodeos. Even though they did have some swell horses here.
A tall man on a spotted pony was in the ring practicing calf roping. Even though the horse was doing his best to keep the rope tight by backing away, the calf was able to free itself and fled to the pen. The tall man turned to his horse jerking the rope savagely as if the horse was to blame for him losing the calf. When the horse squealed it was all Jenna could do not to jump in the ring. The spotted pony was rearing on his hind legs and trying to strike back with his forefeet. His master punished the horse mercilessly with a quirt. It was then one of the officials jumped in the ring. The tall man’s hand was raised ready for another cruel blow, when the official grabbed the quirt out of his hand. That man had no business owning a horse; any animal for that matter.
A gray sedan hauling a horse trailer pulled in. A light complexioned young man with a round, smooth face got out. He went around to the back and opened the trailer doors. The horse he led out was a large paint stallion. He was coarse boned and not distinguished looking in any way except for pair of intelligent eyes. Jenna saw the horse wasn’t wearing a saddle. This must be Kip Daly and his trick horse. There had been a flier up on the door announcing Kip would be here doing a show for charity. It gave Jenna a thrill to see this horse.
When Kip entered the ring, the crowd went silent. A signal from his mater’s hand the paint sat down, bent his forelegs and rolled over. Kip curled against the horse’s belly, pulled his hat over his eyes and began to snore. The horse jerked back his heavy foreleg and bumped Kip. Pretending to be annoyed, Kip roused himself and pushed the leg away. He settled himself down for another nap only to be disturbed a second time in the same way. The crowd chuckled. Kip put his horse through one trick after another. The horse bent back a foreleg at the same time dipping his head and swinging it toward the audience. He stood on his hind legs and pawed the air while Kip pretended they were boxing. The horse picked up Kip’s handkerchief and presented it to him.
“How old are you, Mack?” Kip asked.
Mack solemnly stamped his front right hoof five times. Mack had performed at many of the small rodeos around the country. Jenna followed every movement of Kip and Mack intently. The response of Mack to commands was uncanny. Each time Kip was particularly pleased with a trick he would reach in his pocket for a morsel of food the horse would seize from his out stretched palm. Near the end, Kip took a small harmonica from his shirt pocket. Mack was so eager to perform this trick he could hardly stand still. When the music started, Mack tossed his head happily and danced. He lifted his forefeet high, giving a quaint little hop at intervals and swaying slightly all the time. He tossed his head from side to side making his mane ripple. At end of the piece he bowed his head.
Finally, Kip had Mack conclude the performance with his signature trick. He wheeled Mack carefully until his full length was turned to the audience and Kip gave his forelegs a light touch. Mack moved them forward, bracing his hind legs firmly. His head arched higher with a bold tilt. Mack held himself motionless each muscle under perfect control. He stayed that way until Kip snapped his fingers and said, “Let go.” The applause was long and loud.
“Orb is definitely smart enough to learn,” Jenna whispered to herself. “At least he would still be performing. It seems like Kip genuinely cares for his horses.”
She jumped up from her seat and elbowed her way through the crowd. A line was forming of people who wanted to meet Kip and have their pictures taken. Finally, it was Jenna’s turn.
“Is it hard to teach a horse tricks?” she asked.
“It takes patience mostly,” Kip answered. “And a liking for horses. Some horses take to it easier than others. This fellow has always been quick to catch on. Show him a piece of bread and he’d try to stand on his head to get it.”
“They like to be rewarded,” Jenna said knowingly.
“How do they know what you want them to do?”
“Well when you first start teaching them, always use some kind of signal. Mack has gotten so he can usually tell what to do by the tone of my voice.”
“Look, the reason I ask…” Jenna was being jostled and pushed out of the way by other eager fans.
“Call me and I’ll take a look at your horse after you train him,” Kip called while she was still within earshot.
Kip had misunderstood. He thought she was the one training a trick horse. She knew Kip would not consider Orb unless he could do the tricks right now. Jenna shook her head. How could she have been so stupid? Why would someone as famous as Kip want to help her? She had blown the one best chance she had of finding a suitable buyer for Orb.
Jenna had thought until her brains were dry. She had relatives in Colorado. It was only her great-aunt and uncle and her aunt was allergic to horses. They had a couple of horses at one time, but had to get rid of them. Maybe she could board Orb in someone else’s barn. Then she could get out to him once in a while. She would give anything to see him shining in the sunshine. To feel and run her hands over his smooth coat; the way he came flying across the field. But what kind of life would that be?
Jenna popped in one of the tapes of Sawyer and Orb’s performances. She must have watched it a hundred times. This time she saw something she hadn’t noticed before. Sawyer was doing a trick which had her hanging off the side of her horse. Her body was limp and flopping around like a rag doll. To do this trick the rider needs to keep her body rigid the whole time. And Sawyer knew this. All the other little mistakes she made were things any trick rider would know how and what to do to execute them successfully. Was Jenna seeing it correctly? Was Sawyer actually sabotaging her own performance? Why would she do that? Or was she doing it on purpose and then trying to blame it on Orb?
Jenna was confused. She kicked around all night trying to make something seem right that wasn’t. Or maybe it was right and she wasn’t sure.
Finally, on the day Sawyer came back Jenna knew what she had to do. She was going to lay it on the line. She was going to tell it like it was whether Sawyer wanted to hear it or not.
“Some horses are whipped bloody as a way to show them whose boss. They have big, beautiful hearts, but some people beat them just because they could. Lots of horses have been left stabled and neglected. And some aren’t that lucky.”
“What are you babbling about, Jennifer?” Sawyer asked as she was collecting her things together. Jenna knew Sawyer had heard her.
“There was a five year old thoroughbred whose people drugged him before a race. They had damaged the horse’s heart and kidneys. He didn’t make it. Horses have been known to develop colic especially when they are put in a new environment. Sure it’s treatable if you have the right kind of veterinary care, but some horses still die from it. I have seen what can happen. I am sure you don’t want it to happen to Orb”.
Sawyer was starting to get uncomfortable. Jenna knew she was getting to her.
“You can’t honestly tell me you don’t care what happens to him. There is no good reason for you to sell him.”
“You’re just using that as an excuse. I know if I were lucky enough to be a trick rider, I would perform for as long as I could. If I had a horse like Orb, I would die before I would give him up.” She wasn’t about to back down now. She had Sawyer right where she wanted her.
“Well you’re not and he’s not,” Sawyer answered simply.
“Look I couldn’t care less if you want to retire or not, but don’t punish your horse. Find someone who can let him live the life he was born to live.”
“You don’t know how much pressure and stress comes with being a trick rider.”
“Maybe I don’t, but I’ve seen the tapes. Orb was getting it done,” Jenna blurted out “You can’t deny it anymore. You always talked about finding that go to horse. Well maybe you should have started with a go to rider!” Jenna had hit the nail right on the head. She had finally found the truth.
“We worked so hard for so long. And I went and threw it all away,” Sawyer confessed. “It wasn’t fun anymore. I went through all the motions, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t want to do it anymore. Retiring was a safe cover up. Then no one would ever have to know.”
“There’s still time.”
“It was just too much. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed… so alone.”
“But you’re not. Orb had always been there for you. He’s been there in the past, he’s here right now in the present and he will be there in the future. Give him a chance. Give yourself a chance.”
“I guess I owe it to him.”
“You also have something else.”
“A horse that loves you. You know what I think would be wonderful? If you would go out there and ride for yourself. Ride for Orb. Ride the way you know you can ride. The way I have seen you ride.”
The next day Sawyer gave Jordan and Jenna a private show, with tricks ranging from the hippodrome to the under the belly, ending with her famous Ted Elder Suicide Drag. Then Sawyer guided Orb over to the rail.
“For what?” Jenna asked.
“For giving me a swift kick in the pants when I needed one. I had made it all about me. You helped me see past my own feelings and do what’s best for my horse.”
Jenna would never be a trick rider, but she had helped one to get her confidence back. She has also saved Orb from a life without meaning. And that meant more to her than all the trick riding classes she never took and all the trophies she never won.
Plus after many months of sweat and hard work, she reopened Spotted Hill, although she had renamed it Moonbeams and Mistletoe…Moonbeam after her own horse and Mistletoe in honor of the first horse to be born into the program. By doing this Jenna had made it her own while still carrying on Flo’s legacy. She found she was more like her mother than she had realized. Jenna had used the extra money Flo had left her to convert the house into a bunkhouse so the kids would have a safe place to stay and hang out. All the horses used were rescues. The kids needed someone to take care of them just like the horses. They needed each other. Jenna made sure the kids and the horses knew they didn’t have to live in fear or pain. They would always have a place to come back to, a place to call home. Just like Jenna had always had, but had taken for granite. By coming home and then helping Sawyer and Orb, Jenna had found her true calling.