“Hi, pretty girl.” I pet her nose, then run my hand down her long, soft neck. “Are you going to be gentle with me?”
Magic snorts softly. I smile at her and continue to pet her gently. Just when I’m beginning to relax, she steps to the left a bit, her heavy foot startling me, and I jump back in surprise.
“Easy, girl.” Josh steps up behind me, his chest pressed to my back, again covers my hand with his, and I don’t know if he’s talking to me or the horse, and frankly I don’t care. “Easy.” He guides my hand down her neck and then leads me to the side of the horse.
“She’s really tall.”
“This is one of the smaller horses,” Seth informs me as he rejoins us with an apple in his hand. He holds it out for Magic and she eagerly, and gently, takes it from him, munching happily.
“Okay, you’re going to put your left foot in the stirrup, and I’m going to boost you up into the saddle.”
“No.” I try to take a step back but crash into Josh’s hard chest.
“Why are you scared, honey?” Josh asks gently.
I swallow as I look up at the saddle. “It’s really high up and I don’t like heights.”
“Once you’re up there, you’ll see it’s not that far.” He’s running his hand up and down my back in a soothing, calming pattern and leans down to whisper in my ear, “I’m right here. I won’t let you get hurt.”
“What if she takes off running and I hit a tree branch?”
Josh laughs and shakes his head. “You watch too many movies. Trust me, Magic is a sweet girl. You’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” I take a deep breath as Josh places my foot in the stirrup.
“Just bounce up and I’ll boost you.”
“Cara, you’re gonna love it!” Seth tells me from Magic’s head, where he’s snuck her another apple. I’m floored at the difference in him from just a few moments ago. This ranch might be the best place for him.
I bounce twice and suddenly Josh grips me at my waist and boosts me into the saddle.
“Here, take the reins.” Josh hands me the soft leather straps and Seth helps me find the other stirrup with my right foot.
“I’m on a horse,” I breathe.
“You are.” Josh grins up at me, then looks at my legs with a frown. “The saddle might pinch your thighs a bit. From now on, when I tell you to wear jeans, wear the damn jeans.”
“And you call me pushy?” I smirk down at him and then take a deep breath, starting to feel comfortable up here on this horse.
Although the saddle isn’t terribly comfortable.
“My ass is going to hurt tomorrow,” I grumble.
“Probably,” Josh agrees. “Okay, we’re going to walk you around the field.”
“I’m fine just sitting here. No need to get fancy.”
“Don’t be such a wimp.” Josh laughs and guides Magic slowly along the fence line.
“Oh, God.” I bite my lip and white-knuckle the reins. I am being a monumental wimp.
Finally, my body falls into the rhythm of Magic’s gait and it almost starts to feel good.
“How are you doing, honey?” Josh tosses a smile at me, admiring me as he leads Magic through the pasture. “You look great up on my horse.”
“I’m good.” I smile down at him, my stomach clenching. He thinks I look great! “This isn’t so hard.”
“It’s only the company that sucks.” Seth is walking behind us, picking up rocks and throwing them, his scowl back on his face. And we’re back to the attitude.
“What’s wrong, Seth?” I ask, attempting to look back at him without falling off this horse.
“Nothing.” He tosses another rock into the pasture as he rolls his eyes. I have no idea if this sudden change in attitude is because he’s preadolescent or if he’s truly angry about something.
Before long we’re back where we started from. Josh helps me dismount, his hands again on my hips, lifting me. I plant my hands on his shoulders, and when my feet hit the ground, he doesn’t immediately let me go. His brown eyes are soft and smiling, and I just want to stay right here, all day.
So I pull gently away and turn my attention to the horse, rub my hand down her neck.
“Seth, you have chores to do.” Josh pats Magic’s neck as he moves to tie the reins to the fence.
“I don’t want to do them today,” Seth mutters.
“We do chores every day,” Josh reminds him.
Seth squares his shoulders, and I know Josh is in for a fight.
“I want to play video games.”
“After your chores are done.”
“I’m not doing it.” Seth turns and stomps off toward the house.
“Seth King, you will do what you’re told!”
I watch in awe, and in utter shock, as Seth turns around, flips his uncle off, and runs for his bike.
“Oh my God.”
“I’m gonna kill him.” Every muscle in Josh’s body is tight, the muscle in his jaw is flexing, and I can feel the frustration coming off him in waves.
“There are moments when he’s so happy and sweet, and I can tell he’s a good kid. What is going on, Josh?” I lean my hips on the top rail of the fence and cross my arms over my chest.
“I don’t know what to do with him, Cara.” He pushes his hands through his hair as he paces in front of me. “He talks like this to my mom, my dad, even the ranch hands. Punishing him doesn’t help.” Josh throws his hands in the air and keeps talking. “We’ve taken away all of his privileges: his video games, his music, he doesn’t get to ride the horses, he has to paint the fences. It doesn’t matter.”
Josh takes a deep breath and props his hands on his hips, shaking his head in frustration. “I know he’s had a rough time of it the last few years, and God only knows what that woman said to him and what he saw when he was still with her.” Josh swallows hard and swears under his breath. “Obviously, the way he talks about Zack, it isn’t good. But he won’t talk about it, and I don’t know what to do with his disrespectful attitude.”
“I have an idea.”
Josh snaps his head over to look at me and takes a deep breath, calming himself. “I’ll take all the ideas I can get right now.”
“I want to take him on a field trip tomorrow.”
“Absolutely not. We don’t reward that behavior with field trips.” Josh shakes his head, fisting his hands at his side.