Six months pass almost overnight. We have so much work between the two of us that the time passes like nothing. I found a dappled sire for Candy, so I know when she foals in November or December, it will be beautiful. Once the spring thaw hits, I immediately stake and break ground where I want to build the stable. I want that done as soon as possible.
Eric may know how to do many things, but architecture is not one of them. He can build, but he can’t make plans. My buddy JB from high school, however, is trained and sketches up some blueprints fairly quickly. He comes over many nights and spreads them out over my kitchen table. I want Eric’s input on these, since he had the benefit of having worked on some of the most impressive breeding farms this side of the Mississippi. I have a vague idea of what I want, but I want to know what is most efficient and what I need to be set up for.
I never fail to notice the smirk Eric has when JB puts his plans away each evening and goes to say good night to me. I’ve known him for more than ten years, so it’s usually a friendly hug or a kiss on the cheek. I know that JB wants more, and by the twist on his lips, Eric is aware of the fact also. But the simple truth is that I don’t, not with him. I think back and realize with a start that the last time I pulled by photo album out was at Christmas, and that thought saddens me.
The next morning at breakfast, I tell Eric that JB’s crew is going to be pouring the foundation for the stable today, so we will be working getting the far field mowed and fenced. He nods silently and resumes eating. After a few bites, he mentions that he heard on the weather that there was a chance for rain and that we might want to hold off on the mowing. I agree and think about what else needs to be done.
Gran’s old vegetable garden in the back yard is terribly overgrown and I want to put it to use again. I remember summers of my child hood picking beans, shucking corn, and shelling peas. Daddy never failed to put me to use. Gran always had the pressure cooker going at the end of summer, canning tomatoes and green beans and there were always huge freezer bags of broccoli, peas, and corn. Thinking about the fresh cucumbers in vinegar that used to be served with dinner makes my mouth water a little. I clap my hands, suddenly excited. “Alright, we won’t do the mowing today. We’ll make a quick lap through the fields, and then get started on the garden in back.”
Eric smiles and I can almost see his enthusiasm. Something tells me that he didn’t want to be in the fields today, but I don’t question. I grab a couple of apples as treats for my babies to munch on while they are saddled. I want to exercise Candy a bit before her pregnancy makes the saddle too uncomfortable. Eric goes to change and meets me in the barn, grabbing Blaze’s saddle on the way in.
I can’t help but notice how attractive he is. The Wranglers he’s wearing are tight almost to the point of distraction… my distraction. How have I never, ever noticed that denim clad ass before? I shake the dirty thoughts out of my head (no harm in looking, remember?) and mount Candy for our lap around the fields.
We ride a loop around the farm; the path we take already well worn over the past nine months. I see a few fences that look like they may need some repairs in the future, but nothing pressing for now. We put the horses in one of the fields that we fenced in over the summer and unsaddle them, letting them graze and rest. Each of us carrying our saddle and reins; we head back to the barn to store the tack before tackling the garden.
For a few minutes, we stare at the muddy patch the takes up most of the back yard, trying to decide where to start. Eric walks off silently, but returns a few minutes later with two big garden rakes. “Before we can do anything, we need to get rid of the weeds.” The rakes are heavy, with giant, thick teeth. He swings it over his head, driving it deep into the ground. He twists it back and forth a few times and pulls up hard. A whole clump of weeds and roots come up in a tangle, which he tosses to the side. I smile and nod and we head to different ends, working to meet in the middle.
I say the middle, figuratively. When we split the work this way, inevitably, Eric ends up doing more than me. He’s just stronger and faster than I am. He’s mentioned to me in the past that he liked the fact that I’m always right there with him when we work. When he came to apply for the job, he had expected a little old lady that sat reading quilting magazines while he worked himself to the bone for a meager paycheck. Just the thought of me quilting anything made me giggle and I told him that the farm wouldn’t mean nearly as much to me if I didn’t have a hand in the work it takes to restore it.
By lunch time, about three quarters of the garden is weed-free. We head in and cool off with glasses of sweet tea while I make some chicken salad from the leftover pieces of grilled chicken. Eric, knowing my routine well by now, starts slicing bread for sandwiches. I mix and chop and taste until I think everything is blended right. Eric confirms in his role as taste-tester and we sit down for lunch. I talk to him about some of the things I want to plant once the garden is ready and feel glad that we’re getting this done before the planting season is done.
He’s pretty quiet while I babble my head off. Once the plates are clean, I start loading the dishwasher. Eric, still at the table, asks me, “So what’s the deal with this JB guy?”
Ok, color me confused. “What deal? He’s planning my stable. He’s an old friend from years back.”
“Come on, Sookie. At least be honest with me. He was more than a friend at one point, wasn’t he?” he smirks.
I shake my head. “Really, he has always been just a friend. We went on a few innocent dates and he escorted me to some of the school dances, but he never tried anything and I was never interested in getting him to. He always seemed more interested in my friend Tara, but she never gave him the time of day.” I don’t feel the need to tell him I’ve turned down his date requests at least three times since we’ve started working together. I’ve just never felt that way about him.
Sookie is lying to herself if she really believes that. I’m not the most experienced guy in the world, but anyone can see that when he looks at her, he’s imagining her naked. I don’t like him. Especially the way he disregards my suggestions like I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Over the past few months, I’ve gone on a few dates. None of them were as bad as Pam, but there was just something about these girls that didn’t appeal to me at all besides their outer packaging. Every single time, I’ve come home to Sookie waiting up for me, letting me vent about the apparent shallowness of the females in my age group.
I spent Christmas with my aunt and uncle, but I felt bad about leaving Sookie alone. She declined the invitation they extended to her. She gave me a really nice Christmas bonus, something I had never had before, and it gave me an extra nice cushion financially. When I came home that night after dinner, I know I heard crying coming from her bedroom, but it wasn’t my place to intrude.
We go back out to the garden and pick up with the weeding again. After the weeding, we have to get the rocks out so the tiller won’t chip a blade. It’s a shame that this land has been neglected for so long, but the soil will be rich after so much time has passed. While Sookie finishes weeding her row, I grab a wheelbarrow from the barn and start pulling up rocks from my end of the garden. A short while later, Sookie joins me, rather than start working from her end, so we can share the wheelbarrow.
She’s busy looking at the ground, so I take the time to look at her. Her hair has grown over the past nine months and is halfway down her back. She usually pulls it back in a ponytail because she says it bugs her when it gets in her face. Thanks to the amount of time we spend outside her skin has a gorgeous golden tan right now, but she’ll be solid bronze by the end of the summer. Her cheeks are flushed with exertion and despite the dirt streaked across the face, she looks beautiful.
I knew I was in trouble the night I came home from my date with Pam and saw her in those tight little pajamas laying on the couch. She told me more thoroughly about her motivations in restoring the ranch and about her husband. I knew by that time that he had been in the military and that he had been killed overseas. I also knew that Sookie came here right after his funeral, not able to stand being around the base without him. When she left after talking, I watched her go to her room, wanting more than anything in that moment to follow her and just hold her, give her some comfort.
Now this utter tool is getting her spare time at night to go over her stable plans. I get it, I really do, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. That was time I had gotten used to having with her, even if we did nothing more than talk about our plans for the next day. I miss that time with her.
We move down the rows and continue pulling out rocks. I’ve dumped the wheelbarrow twice since we’ve started and we’re only halfway through. I go to dump the third load and see black clouds on the horizon. The wind picks up a little and I point the clouds out to Sookie. She shrugs. “We might as well get done what we can. A little water never hurt anyone.”
We work a little faster, but the storm surprises us with it’s speed. When the heavy rain drops first fall, she yelps in surprise and laughs at herself. She doesn’t run for cover under the back porch, like I have. She stands with her eyes closed and her face to the sky, just letting the rain wash away the mud streaks.
I can’t take my eyes off her.
I don’t know what possesses me. I know acting on this may very well get me fired, but I can’t help it. I walk out into the rain and pull her to me. By now she is completely soaking wet, but I don’t care. She’s right; a little water never hurt anyone. I wrap my arms around her and lower my face to hers. I kiss her closed eyes before letting my lips brush hers. I pull back and release her, not really believing what I’m doing.
Her eyes pop open and she stares up at me for a long, silent moment. I’m about to apologize or turn and run inside when she throws herself at me and grabs my shoulders pulling me down to her. At this point, I’m oblivious to the rain, the thunder, and the lightning and can only feel her warm mouth on mine. I grip the back of her neck, holding her head, scared she’s going to bolt the moment I let go.
That fear leaves as she runs the tip of her tongue over the seam of my lips. I open my mouth and her tongue pushes in, running over mine. She tastes so damn sweet, a little like the tea we had at lunch. The rain runs down our faces, but neither of us care.
Oh holy hell, can this boy kiss! Common sense says I should have run for cover like he did when the rain started, but at the moment I just didn’t care. Something about standing in the open with the rain falling, the lightning flashing and the thunder crashing all around is completely exhilarating. I love feeling the water run down my face, rinsing off the mud I know I have on my cheeks and forehead.
I know it takes courage for him to grab me like he does; I’ve felt something brewing between us for months. It has always been the little things; a lingering stare here or an “accidental” touch there. Things that could be explained away. There is no denying what I feel in this kiss.
I get lost in the feeling of his full lips on mine and I sink into his arms, not giving a fuck that I’m getting soaked. The whole world ceases to exist until, “Hey Sook, we’re packing up for the… what the hell?”
Shit. I hear JB come up behind us. He is almost as surprised as I am to find myself kissing Eric in the middle of a thunderstorm. Reluctantly I pull away from Eric and walk over to JB. “Thanks for coming out and getting that foundation poured today. It’s covered up, right?”
He eyes narrow. “Sookie, I know how to do my Goddamn job. Of course it’s covered.” He pulls me off to the side and growls, “So it’s too damn soon for you to go out with me, but it’s okay for you to be making out with your Farmboy?”
He’s not wrong. I told him that I wasn’t over Remy’s death as an excuse. I still love Remy and always will. But I know that life goes on and it would be wrong for me not to live it. I refuse to let him make me feel ashamed. “You’re right, JB. You’re a friend, and that’s all there can ever be between us. I’m sorry if you thought there was more. I’m only interested in a purely professional relationship with you.”
He sneers at me. “And the kid over there? He have any part in you only wanting just a ‘professional’ relationship?”
I look over my shoulder and see Eric, still standing in the rain, arms crossed and a decidedly unhappy expression on his face. “I don’t know, JB. I just don’t know yet.”
I turn away from him, shoot Eric a look out of the corner of my eye, and walk straight into the house. I have a few things I need to work out in my own head before I can think straight about anything happening with Eric.