“I made a mistake with Frank. I know that now. I went for what I thought was practical, but there was never any passion between us. I’ve never felt like you do for horses or even for friends. Not until Isabelle came along.”
“And what is that feeling, exactly?”
Without hesitation, she answered, “Like you’d die for them.”
That about summed it up. The water was beginning to cool, and I was hungry, just like Dex. “Is this going somewhere?”
“Remember what I said to you last night about how you light up whenever you talk about Malcolm? I’ve never seen or heard you like that with a guy.”
It was true. “And?”
“Oh my God, you’re obstinate sometimes.”
“Takes one to know one.”
She snorted at that. “My point is, if you love him, don’t let him go just because you’re afraid to say how you feel or that he won’t love you back or you might get hurt or your relationship is only about work. You’ve never let fear keep you off a horse. Even after Wastrel.”
“I’m not afraid of horses. But this is my heart we’re talking about. Not my body. It’s different.”
I shut off the water, grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me, and sat on the edge of the tub, knee-to-knee with her. She took my hands.
“Not really,” she said. “Either way, it’s a risk. One you might never recover from. It always scared the crap out of me to see you jumping a half-ton animal over a five-foot jump.”
She paused to gather herself, looking up at the ceiling for several moments. She grabbed a tissue and blotted her eyes. I’d always wondered why she stopped coming to shows.
Penny squeezed my fingers. “But you loved it so much that you never considered it might not work out, you might get hurt. Or even…” A tear escaped. She swiped it away.
“Die?” I said.
She nodded and shook her head, then whispered, “The risk was worth it, right?”
I sniffed. “Always.”
“Gamble, Vi. On love. On yourself. You’re a good bet.” She pulled my phone out of her pocket. “At least send him a text message before you come out of here. Okay? Isn’t he worth taking a chance for?” She put the phone in my hand, closed my fingers around it. “Lay it all on the line like you do on a jump course.”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but left, a cloud of steam escaping into the hallway with her.
I took my phone and stared at the screen for a long moment, then brought up my last text convo with Malcolm. It had been about towing my dead truck back to the farm. He’d said I’d have a new one soon and punctuated it, not with silly faces, but with a truck symbol followed by dollar signs, exclamation marks, and a dog animoji because Noire would have a new ride.
The feeling I usually ignored surged, rolling inside my chest like rising dough. Was this what love felt like? Fear and joy in equal amounts so painful it might suffocate me?
I thought back a few months to the beginning of the year. It had been cold for weeks. No snow, but the ground froze. Not much riding. Lots of tack cleaning, organizing the feed room, grooming horses. In previous winters, Malcolm and both Dex One and Dex Two had fox hunted with the local club as often as they could. One of the tasks I’d been hired for was to keep their horses fit for the long hours of trekking cross-country after the hounds.
Dex One had taken on a case out of town, Dex Two’s environmental concerns kept him busy and convinced him fox hunting was bad. Malcolm’s clients requested extra work, and he rarely turned down extra work. There had been no hunting. Instead, there had been snuggling with Malcolm by the fire when he was home. When he wasn’t, I spent many days in the city helping my parents with the renovations on the house they rented from Malcolm.
One January night, on the way from the barn to the house, Malcolm said we should cut through the pasture instead of walking up the drive like we usually did. He tugged me through the gate, and I followed. The temperature had been below zero. It hurt my nose to breathe, but we wore our Gumby suits—thick insulated coveralls—and fur hats. No air moved. I could hear the horses chewing their hay. A thin slice of moon like a handleless sickle hovered above the trees.
We stopped in the middle of the field. When I looked up, the Milky Way spread above us from one side of the sky to the other like a sparkling cloud bank. For the span of a heartbeat, I was outside my body, part of the cosmos, a being of spirit with no physical limits.
The sensation was similar to the pressure I felt in my chest as I stared at my phone. Hollow as if my heart had escaped, and at the same time, swollen as if unable to contain so much feeling at one time.
“Look,” Malcolm had said that night. He pointed at the ground.
At first, I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to come back to Earth. Then, I saw it. Tiny pinpricks of light in the dry grass brilliant as a million diamonds.
“Is that it? Is that the winterlight?”
“That’s it.” He’d put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into a hug. “I’m glad you stayed here long enough to see it.”
I held tight to the memory and the good feels that went with it. Taking a few deep breaths, I moved my thumbs over the screen.
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