Authors: Kim Ablon Whitney
We started kissing. Before much longer, our hands were all over each other’s back and chest. Then, I took the lead and pulled him by the hand into his bedroom. He removed his own shirt in that sexy way guys do—one hand over the back, pulling it over his head. He lay back on the bed and I crawled on top of him. I kissed him for a while and then sat up, moving my weight a little bit further down his thighs, so I could undo his jeans. I had to move to the side so he could pull them off and his boxers too. He told me once that since so much of his time was spent in constricting breeches and in the saddle, he liked to wear boxers at other times. I loved his boxers. They seemed to represent a different side of Chris—a more relaxed, playful side.
I took off my shirt, pants, and underwear too. When I had first started having sex with Chris, it had seemed like such a big deal to be naked in front of him and now here I was taking off my own clothes. We did it with me on top for the first part. We’d never done that before. In fact, we’d only done it missionary. I felt a little self-conscious but I liked watching him look up at me. Toward the end, though, he rolled on top of me again and I realized how much I’d missed the weight of his body against mine. So much time was spent talking about a man’s dick and it being inside of you. But for me, a good part of sex was also about the rest of his body and the rest of mine. It was about how good it felt to have his weight thrown against mine. It was about our skin touching. It was about his breath on my neck as he came.
“Was that good for you?” I asked after we were done.
He answered, “It was totally, completely, undeniably, thoroughly, utterly, unconditionally, unreservedly good.”
Then she had two jumpers. Again, one was a been-there-done-that old pro. In fact, in another life Tizmo had been to the World Cup with an Argentinian rider. The other, Sonny, wasn’t as green as the eq horse but was still on the younger side. Dakota would be able to show that one, though. Finally, she had two small junior hunters. Neither of the hunters were big winners that cost a fortune. They probably weren’t cheap—still a buck-fifty at least. But they weren’t the top-in-the-country junior hunters that cost upwards of half a million. Linda and Dakota’s parents had decided that she wouldn’t concentrate on the hunters but that doing the hunters would still be good for her overall development. They didn’t care if she won; they just wanted her to have the extra rides and get the experience of learning to put in smooth rounds.
The first week, Linda had me ride the hunters most of the time. I think she was trying to scope out whether I could ride. I had learned a lot from Chris in Vermont and I’d never been terrible so I did a fine job of flatting them. I wasn’t improving them or schooling them but I was doing what I was supposed to be doing—exercising them. She took me out along the canals, pointing out different amazing farms. Stork-like birds whose names Mom would have known stood near the canals and flapped their wings occasionally. The horses took little notice, used to them already. One time she also had me flat the old pro eq horse. Oh my Lord. I swear on that horse I felt like I could have won the finals. He was that amazing.
Besides riding, I got to know the set-up of the barn and the grooms. The most senior groom was Fernando, whom I’d seen the first day. His English was amazing so communicating with him was no problem. His dog, Rudi, was the best-trained dog I’d ever known. Rudi not only sat and stayed, but did things like fetch polo wraps or brushes on command.
Linda had me run a bunch of errands, picking up supplies for the barn and for Dakota. I didn’t mind going to Publix to stock the fridge, hitting Farm Vet for supplies, or picking up numbers at the horse show office.
One day she sent me over to the show grounds to pick up a new saddle that had come in for Dakota. Linda told me it had been ordered exclusively for the old pro eq horse—he had a sensitive back and needed the proper fitting saddle to keep him sound.
I drove the golf cart over to the show grounds. I was getting better at knowing my way around. Unless I had to go out into the real world and go to the drug store or supermarket, or drive over to Chris’s condo, I could have lived for weeks with just the golf cart to get me around. Golf carts were a regular sight on the actual car roads around Grand Prix Village and then there was a whole network of smaller routes along the canals that traversed between all the farms and the horse show. I passed a groom leading a fully tacked up horse to the show with a scrim sheet on it and a number tied around its neck. It was a long walk on foot and I’d noticed that many of the grooms led horses back and forth multiple times a day. Sometimes I’d see a groom, who clearly wasn’t a rider, on a horse. I guess it depended on the owner, whether they were comfortable with their groom riding the horse.
Arouet Sellier was set up in a tent by the International Ring schooling area. Beautiful saddles in soft, deep brown leather were arranged in rows on each side of the store. The store reminded me of a museum with its uncluttered space. Honestly, the Arouet saddles looked like works of art, especially without stirrups on them. They were so perfectly, simply designed. I was a bit mesmerized by the beauty of the saddles and startled when I heard someone ask, with a slight European accent, “Can I help you?”
I turned to see a somewhat grungy but good-looking guy in his twenties. He was medium height and had dark hair that fell past his ears. He also had a few days’ stubble. He was wearing jeans and a white V-neck shirt that showed a little dark chest hair at the V. In some ways he was the totally wrong guy to be working at Arouet. The beautiful saddles probably deserved a perfectly styled and outfitted person. But then again, there was something sexy and natural about him that fit with the sensual beauty of the saddles.
He introduced himself as Étienne. Even his French name fit. I told him I was here to pick up a saddle for Dakota Pearce.
He went in the back to get it and I turned again to admire the saddles. My saddle was fine—it was a Butet. But a Butet was nothing like an Arouet, which cost thousands.
“Here it is,” I heard Étienne say.
I turned to find not just Étienne, but Zoe. I took a short breath, the air catching in my throat.
I knew I would see Zoe at some point. In fact, I knew I’d cross paths with her at times. But since we hadn’t started showing yet, I hadn’t prepared myself for running into her. I guess that was stupid since all of Wellington was filled with horse people. Whether you were at Publix or the dry cleaner, you were bound to run into someone from the horse show.
I should have planned out what I would say to her. She wouldn’t have known I was in Wellington unless she’d heard somehow through Linda, but I had no reason to think that Linda and Zoe knew each other.
Zoe was likely surprised to see me too but of course she wasn’t at a loss for words like I was. “Hannah,” she said, casually draping an arm around Étienne. “What are you doing here?”
“Here like in Wellington? Here like here at Arouet?” I said, sounding like a complete idiot.
“Either I guess,” Zoe said.
She and Étienne were standing close, indicating a shared intimacy. Zoe looked beautiful as always, her hair pulled back in a messy knot with tendrils whispering against her neck. She wore a pink scoop neck shirt that revealed her tanned shoulders and the top of her chest. The pink flattered her tremendously. Clearly they were sleeping together. Of course, Zoe was sleeping with Étienne, the gorgeous, foreign, slightly greasy guy. Zoe always went for the guy with the accent, sexy but with a slight slime factor.
“I’m here for the circuit. I’m working for Dakota Pearce and her family.”
“Wow,” Zoe said. “So you just couldn’t stay away from Chris? What, did you drop out of college?”
Étienne was standing there breezily, like he didn’t have a care in the world, holding Dakota’s beautiful saddle, with Zoe’s arm looped around him possessively. He didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with what was playing out in front of him. It seemed like he was the type of guy who could have sex in front of a roomful of people and feel totally at ease. His ease only made me feel more uncomfortable.
“No, I’m taking a semester off.”
“To be with Chris?” Zoe said. “Worried about Mary Beth?”
“No, that’s not it at all,” I said, probably too quickly.
Zoe raised her eyebrows. “Well, I would be if I was you.”
I reached into my pocket. I’d brought a receipt for the saddle but now I couldn’t find it. I checked my other pocket. Nothing. I must have left it in the golf cart. Flustered, I looked at Étienne. “Is there something I need to sign to take the saddle?”
“No.” He offered me the saddle, a slight grin forming on his lips. “It’s yours. All paid for.”
He handed me the saddle and I turned to go. “Have a good circuit,” Zoe said.
I made the mistake of looking back at her. I should have just kept going.
“And be careful you don’t get your little heart broken.” Her voice was singsong sweet, but then it fell a few octaves as she warned, “This isn’t Vermont. You are so in over your head.”
I put the saddle in the golf cart probably too hastily for a six thousand dollar custom saddle. I drove too fast back over to the Pearces’, bumping and lurching over the divots in the sand. Why did I let Zoe get under my skin? What the hell was wrong with me when it came to that girl? I told myself to put her out of my mind. I knew just what I was doing. I had a plan that was solid. If I had stayed home while Chris was here with Mary Beth, well, then I would have been worried. But I was here and there was no way MB was taking him away from me.
On a whim, I decided to go by Jamie’s barn and see Mike. I just hoped Jamie wasn’t around. It was the end of the day so chances were she’d gone home. She had never been one for logging long hours if it wasn’t necessary.
I found Mike sitting on a tack trunk having a beer.
“Hannah!” he bellowed as he saw me drive up.
I got out and gave him a big hug. He smelled like sweat and a little bit like B.O. Of course he did—he had worked hard all day. He was wearing a white tank-top and jean shorts that fell below his knees.
“Wanna beer?” he asked.
“No, thanks,” I told him.
He shifted over on the tack trunk to make room for me.
“Is Jamie here?”
“Are you kidding? It’s after four.”
I sat down next to him.
“How’s the job?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Good so far but Dakota’s not here yet. It’s just been me and Linda and the horses.”
“Nice horses, huh?”
“All for a thirteen-year-old.” I shook my head. In the horse world we were all privileged. Well, all of us riders. But within the ranks of us, there were clear levels. Those who had no horse of their own and were working students were nearly extinct. Those of us who had only one horse lined the bottom of the barrel. Then there were the riders with two or three good horses. They were the upper middle class of the show circuit. Lastly, there were the über-rich like Dakota who had upwards of five horses, private trainers, their own barns and grooms. They were the children of rock stars, software moguls, CEOs of country-wide chain stores. It was probably ridiculous that I was bemoaning Dakota’s wealth to Mike, who had no assets besides his Harley.
“Linda seems really nice,” I said, trying to change the subject. “Thanks again for getting me the job.”
“I didn’t get it for you, and don’t thank me till you’ve been there a little longer and Dakota’s been showing.”
“She’s a handful, huh?”
Mike elbowed me. “Nothing you can’t handle.”
“You have a lot of faith in me,” I told him. I thought about telling him that he seemed like one of the only people here who believed in me. Dale thought I was going to do nothing but harm Chris’s career; Zoe said I was in over my head and would lose Chris to MB. My dad was humoring me but he probably thought—or at least hoped—that Chris and I would break up, I’d run out of money, and go running back to college.
“I’ve seen you handle some hard things,” Mike said. “Most riders dropped at a horse show who’d never picked out a stall wouldn’t buckle down and learn how to take care of a horse.”
“You’re forgetting when I made Logan colic, or the time he got loose and ran around the show grounds.”
“Good times.” Mike chuckled and took a swig of his beer. “Good times.”
“I never told anyone this but the first time I got on Logan, that first day, I didn’t tighten my girth enough and when I went to get on my whole saddle swung around under his belly.”
Mike and I broke out in peals of laughter. It was a pretty funny image and now I could truly laugh about it. “Luckily only a few people saw me and no one that I knew or cared about.”
Mike had a deep, almost phlegmy laugh. His eyes were watering. It was probably even funnier if you were a groom and spent your life dealing with rich girls who didn’t know the first thing about horse care.
“I also couldn’t put on a running martingale. I knew it belonged on Logan somehow but I saw it in my trunk and it looked like some kind of Rubix-Cube-slash-spider-web.”