Gary played with the little wrapped box in his pocket as they pulled into the parking lot at the stables. The smell of nature met their noses as they stepped out of the car.
“Familiar smell,” Jay said, taking in a deep breath and letting it out as if he smelled something horrendous. “Smells like Gary’s feet.”
“Leave my feet out of this,” Gary said, punching him on the arm.
“Not my fault your feet are funky,” Jay said, pinching his nose and fanning himself.
Gary swung to hit his arm but Jay dodged. Joe Don shook his head and Calla laughed. Her laughs were like ripples in a pond. It radiant outward through the stables as they met with the staff to choose their horse.
“You can tell who the mature one is right?” Joe Don asked Calla as Jay and Gary continued to try to hit each other on the arm.
Calla nodded. “They’re great. You all are.”
“Welcome everyone,” the staff manager greeted them, looking at Gary and Jay funny. “Ya’ll can pick the horse you want to ride.”
Jay and Joe Don already had their horses picked out. Gary greeted a brown horse with a white diamond on its forehead. Calla stood there just watching, suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable with everything that was going on.
“Do you know which horse you want?” Joe Don asked her as he noticed her just standing there.
She shook her head. “I can’t do this… I’ve never ridden a horse before.”
“You can tag along with me if you want,” Gary threw in quickly.
Jay and Joe Don made eye contact and winked at each other. Calla slowly nodded and patted the horse on the head. When the horse made a noise, she jumped and stepped back bumping into Gary. He chuckled, took her hand and led it down the horses neck and to the horn of the saddle.
“He won’t hurt you, I promise,” Gary said. “Let me get on first and I’ll pull you up.”
He got on the horse gracefully and reached his hand down for her to grab. She stood there analyzing how she would do this. Calla grabbed his hand and the horn on the saddle, she felt someone behind her give her a boost and she was finally up.
“I have a feeling I did this wrong,” she said, looking around.
Calla had indeed mounted wrong. She was in front of Gary, both her legs hanging over one side of the horse. She thought maybe she could turn around and face forwards but it would make it more awkward than it already was.
Jay and Joe Don sat on their horse chuckling. Calla’s face turned red. Her face was close to Gary’s to where she could feel his warm breath on her chilled cheek. She gazed up at him and smiled awkwardly.
“This is awkward, I’m sorry,” she said, her face burning even though it was cold outside.
“It’s not a problem at all,” he laughed, maneuvering his horse towards the exit.
He tightened his grip on the reins and flexed his muscles so Calla wouldn’t move around so much and fall off. Gary felt her wrap an arm behind him then one in front of him. She buried her face in his shoulder as the horse ran towards a lake.
“Can you slow down a little?” she said, her voice shaky from the movement.
He pulled the reins back to slow the horse, her body leaning in the pull. The horse came to a sudden stop, startling Calla a bit and causing her to grip his tightly around the waist. Out of instinct, Gary let go of the rein with one hand and placed it on her back to keep her from falling off.
“Sorry,” Gary said, letting out a huff.
She gazed up at him, her eyes a different shade of brown. He held his breath as their gazes lingered, their eyes locked on each other. He roamed her face, slowly inching forward as he closed his eyes. Calla had her eyes closed as well, taking in the moment. A flash of her ex crossed her mind as he struck her. She gasped and jumped, causing Gary to open his eyes to look at her.
“I’m sorry… My mind flashed with images of my ex,” she apologized, feeling bad for ruining the moment. “Can I tell you something that’s been bothering me and the reasoning for me having enough of him?
Gary nodded, leading the horse on the bank of the lake. Joe Don and Jay were off in the distant riding freely.
Calla took a moment and sighed, her body beginning to shake as she thought of the very thing she tried to forget. “It was the day before I had left and he and I were sitting at the table eating dinner. I don’t know what really happened since it all happened so fast. But it’s like he was a totally different person. It was a quiet dinner until he yelled what did you say just now? I just looked at him confused, but he didn’t like the look in my eyes so he threw everything on the floor and stood up. Next thing I know I’m laying on my back with him hovering over me with a knife to my throat…”
She paused, tears started rolling down her cheek as her body shook. Gary had stopped the horse and he was looking at her with concern.
“Look, you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want,” he said, moving a strand of loose hair from her face.
“No, you need to know this,” she sniffed. “I begged him to let me go. The person I thought I knew didn’t seem to be there anymore. He put the knife in the wall above me and told me to watch what I said to him.”
She paused, thinking about that moment very hard. The look of fear and sadness that she had went away the more she thought. Gary rubbed her back and held her hand with his other hand. The horse did not move an inch.
“I feared him so much. I think he has a personality disorder or something. I still fear him because I don’t know what he would do to me if he found me,” she said, looking into his eyes as if a silent cry for help. “I wanted to turn down your offer before when you wanted to help me because I didn’t want to get you or your friends involved. I fear he would harm all of you and I couldn’t live with myself if something happened.”
“Why haven’t you gone to the police?” Gary asked, roaming her face with his blue eyes.
She shrugged. “The only proof I have is mental. They wouldn’t believe me. I’m not even sure if running was a good idea.”
“If I were you, I would’ve ran too. I’d rather run away then stay there and take the chance of him doing something worse than holding a knife to my throat,” Gary said with a far away look in his eyes.
“Can we talk about something else?” she asked, looking at the lake.
Gary nodded, but the horse ride was quiet as he caught up with Joe Don and Jay. Her story was fresh in his mind and he couldn’t picture her being in danger like that. He had to think of a way to put her ex away before he caused harm.