A/N Hey everyone! Gosh i'm sooo sorry its been such a LONG time! I don't even know if anyone will care about this story anymore... but i've written almost all of it and i've been sitting on it because i got bored with it. I'm on a mission to complete all or most o my stories on here so i can feel comfortable to start other ones.
I started writing this story years ago... and i hope i can finally wrap it up within the month.
If you are still out there.. THANK YOU!
Well here goes.
Next chapter will be more exciting... i'll move thing's along faster and questions and explanations will be revealed.
Nichole's first thought was of the bright morning sun coming through the east windows. The ray's rested on her blinking eyelids as she slowly pulled herself awake. Her mind was still groggy, sticking with the fuzz of sleep and it took her a few minutes to come to her senses, realizing she wasn't in her own bed! She wasn't even in her own room!
Nichole sat up quicker then her stiff limbs would have wanted and gave the room a fast once over.
She put her head in her hands and shook it in disbelief. She was in Alec's bed… in Alec's spare room. She hadn't planned on this! She only came in to be near him for a little while but after cuddling close to him at his insistence her body couldn't resist falling into a deep slumber.
Her eyes darted fast to the last place she had seen Alec… But it was empty. The whole room was empty and the bedroom door sat open for the whole house to see where she had snuck off to in the night.
"Wonderful" She said out loud, letting herself collapse back into the pillows. Well there was nothing she could do about it now. She was sure someone saw her sleeping in the bed with Alec. Hoping it was only Nate was too much to ask for. Not with Henry playing overprotective mother hen now that Alec was awake.
'Alec's awake…' she thought again.
The day before seemed like a dream. It was like no such thing could ever have happened. When they brought Alec home she had hoped it would help in some way but she didn't expect such a quick and miraculous recovery. Granted he still had many more miles to go but just to be able to talk to him… hold him… see him walk on his own… it was just something she hadn't imagined.
Finally Nichole pulled herself from the warm blankets and made her way slowly into the quiet hallway to the stairs. She didn't hear any sounds… no one moving around the house, no other footsteps but that of her own bare feet.
She was alone.
Once the young jockey entered the kitchen, she caught sight of the little wall clock. It read 12:35.
'Wow' She must have really been tired. She stood there for a spell, her eyes wandering aimlessly around the room. Finally they landed on a small blue post-it note stuck to the refrigerator door handle. Nichole padded closer to read the chicken scratch. It was without a doubt Henry's writing and it said, "Went to doc's… Be back in a couple hours."
Ok… That answered the question of where they had gone… but there was no indication of when they left.
The jockey let out a large sigh and started occupying herself with making a pot of coffee. She figured she might as well try and start the day off on a good note. She wasn't sure when they'd be back but she wanted to be ready for it.
The big blue pickup truck came to a slow stop in front of the large farmhouse. It had been a long morning and he couldn't wait to get inside and relax. But before he could think of himself he had to make sure the boy next to him was taken care of first.
Alec had awoken when the car turned into the farm and was now working on pulling the seatbelt off. Henry wanted nothing more then to reach over and grab the button for the boy he considered a son. But his doctor was clear that doing things for himself would speed up his recovery. Even if it hurt to watch, the older man would have to take a step back… maybe even two steps.
Alec reached up for the doorknob and took a deep breath.
"You ready kid?"
The young jockey turned to the old trainer and forced a light smile that he didn't know he had the energy for. "Yea Henry… Just slow."
"It's alright, take your time. The house isn't going anywhere."
Alec didn't respond and Henry winced a bit. Alec had been eerily quiet this morning. He had a rough time at the doctor's office but things were different with him. He shouldn't have expected things to go right back to normal but there were a few time this morning that Henry wondered if all of Alec actually came back… that a part of him was still in a coma.
Before Henry could order it, Nate was by the car door encase Alec needed a quick hand. He was impressed with his nephew. After giving them all a hard time about bringing Alec home, He hadn't left his side it seems since he woke up. Nate had told him the story last night after they got Alec settled in bed. He apologized profusely for not telling them but insisted it was Alec's idea to wait. The sincerity sparkled in the youngsters' eyes and Henry couldn't be mad. He would however have to scold Alec for it once things were looking better for him. He most certainly wouldn't be mad especially by then but that wasn't the point. Henry had to take his shots when he could to keep everyone on their toes. It was his job!
By the time the trainer shook from his thoughts and pulled himself from the pickup, Alec had already made it to the steps.
"Need help?" Nate asked cautiously, remembering how hard it was for him to get up and down the stairs in the house.
"Nope…" Alec gripped the railing with white knuckles and successfully got up the three steps on his own slowly. The energy it took to get up them however, depleted his reserve and Nate reached for the jockey just in time as his weak knees buckled.
"Ok. Easy… Easy. You can't do everything yet Alec. Even if you think you can." Nate put Alec's right arm around his shoulders but to the other mans credit he still kept most of his weight to himself.
Nate turned to see if Alec had meant that in a lighthearted way but the jockeys' features held no sign. No other words were said and they all made their way into the house.
Nichole had turned on the radio in the kitchen a long time ago. She had a few moments where she was glad she was alone, jamming out to the current Top 40's and being foolish. She hadn't felt like dancing and singing in a long time and now… well now she was beginning to feel like her old self.
Nichole had busied herself chopping vegetables in the kitchen. The chopping, her deep thoughts and the music were enough to distract her. She didn't notice anyone around her until a voice brought her out of her trance, causing her to drop the knife to the cutting board with a large clatter and a half a cucumber to the floor.
"You must have been really tired. I fumbled around that room for 20 minutes before we left."
She spun around on her heels to find Alec leaning hard on the doorframe. His voice was one of amusement as he shifted his weight slowly to the other leg.
"Yea I must have…" A wide grin lit up her face at seeing him standing there. "You should have woken me!"
"Wake you? Never. You looked way too peaceful." Alec's smile was a beautiful site but Nichole couldn't help noticing the strain in his expression.
"So about me in your bed… Henry… he… did he… umm…"
There was a long awkward pause before Alec let out a light chuckle. "Did he say anything? Na… He kinda frightened me actually. Had an odd sort of grin on his face when he came in to wake me up."
"Oh…" Nichole looked down sheepishly and then proceeded to pick up the dropped cucumber. She wasn't sure what else to say at the moment. All the time he was in a coma she had spoken to him about a lot of different things, wishing that he would actually hear and acknowledge her. She had wanted the old days back so much just to talk to her friend. But now they stood in the same room and words escaped her. She fumbled with the cucumber in her hand a moment, trying to think of something worthwhile to say. Thank fully Alec did it for her.
"I can't believe how much I've missed… The music out… the movies… TV shows I've never even heard of… Its all kind of twilight zone." Nichole looked up to Alec and saw his eyes on the Radio next to her. She had forgotten all about it being on. She tuned it out when her mind started taking over.
"Yea I guess it is. I never thought of that."
"Yea well… its not new to you… just me" Alec had said it with a smile that never touched his eyes. Nichole could tell he was exhausted and off… but Alec didn't move from the doorframe. She was beginning to wonder if he had the energy to take the two steps to the chair.
"Alec? What did the doctor say? I should have gone. You really should have woken me."
"Oh… don't worry…" Alec tore his eyes away from hers and looked down at his hands. Clearly the topic was not something he wanted to discuss. "It was sort of in and out. You didn't miss much."
"You fibber…" Nichole tossed a dishtowel at his head to lighten the mood and Alec let it fall to the floor.
"Yea I'm lying… I walked through the door and I stunned her so bad she dropped her coffee on her desk."
"Sorry I missed it."
"Yea it was kind of amusing. Henry actually had a chuckle."
"Well what did she say?"
Alec looked up at her with a side-glance. The old Alec shown through with an impish smirk. "That it was too early to have gone riding."
"Crazy isn't it?"
"Alec just be serious a couple minutes here. I really want to know."
"Fine… She said everything looked fine. I just have to get back into solid foods slowly and let my strength come back to me." Nichole could see that Alec's patience was starting to wear thin. But he'd just have to get over it. She was concerned and wanted to know.
"That's pretty much it. I can already move around on my own so she didn't feel I needed any therapy."
"But… what about your head?"
Alec let out a deep exasperated breath. "I'm fine Nichole."
"I… just wanted to check. I worry."
There was an awkward pause and Nichole tried to fill it by picking up the knife again and reached for another tomato, turning her back on Alec as she did so. It was hard to look at him when he was so hard, cold, and tired.
"So… Can you eat a pasta salad?"
Nichole turned her head to look at Alec when she didn't receive an answer and found the doorway empty.
Her heart sank. This was a lot more awkward then she had anticipated. Things weren't the same. Alec wasn't the same. He was covering up a great many things. His pain, his confusion, his fear. She didn't know what to do.
She felt helpless.
"You ok young lady?"
Henry's voice startled her. It was the second time today she was snuck up on. She wasn't on her game.
"No… No Henry I'm not." Her voice was nothing more then a whisper and she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"I'm not either."
His words took her by surprise and she turned to face him. He wasn't looking at her though and he made his way back out of the kitchen, leaving her to contemplate his words.
The day was a gloomy gray. It was a perfect setting for the emotions and feelings at Manakua. Alec was sleeping on the couch and had been for a few hours. Nichole sat in the armchair closest to his head. She had to resist many urges to reach over and run her fingers through his brown locks. At this point she didn't care if anyone else knew about them. Alec apparently didn't. It seemed so trivial… such a small thing to worry herself over. That wasn't stopping her. She needed to talk to him about… them. But things were different now. Alec was different… THEY were different. Things were changed.
"Nichole?" Nate's soft voice brought her out of her blank stare and she looked up to find the young man standing over her.
"Yea Nate." She sat up slowly, stretching her sore limbs.
"Can I talk to you?"
"Sure." She slipped out of her chair, careful not to make too much noise. Not that it would have mattered. Nichole felt Alec at this point could probably sleep through a bomb.
Nichole followed Nate to the kitchen. Henry was in his study and it was obvious Nate didn't want the older man to hear them talking.
"Nichole… I know earlier Alec was sugar coating the doctors appointment. I also know you well enough to know you didn't buy it for a second that it was that easy.
"That doctor put him through hell. Blood tests and simple exercises weren't the half of it. Alec didn't want you to worry any more and promised us not to mention it. But I suppose I may have had my fingers crossed." A small smile graced his lips but if didn't last long. "I don't know if you want details but you needed to know that I had to half carry him in here and why his sense of humor has been off. It's also why he passed out so quickly."
Nichole ran a shaky hand over her face to steady herself. None of this surprised her but to hear it out loud stabbed deep into her heart. They had gotten Alec back… but was he truly back? And how much more of this recovery could he handle if he bottled himself up and tried to handle it alone.
"I don't think I want to know exactly what… but thank you Nate. He's always trying to protect someone. Its sweet but its unnecessary."
"I agree… so I told you. Don't let him on that I did but he's going to need help. It's going to take him a while to bounce back. Even if he thinks it wont." Nate dropped his head to stare at his fingers outlining flowers on the tablecloth. "I wasn't much help when you and Henry brought him home. I fought you all and disgraced anything he's ever done for me by acting like a child."
Nichole reached over and put a comforting hand on his. "You had your reasons… And you told him right? He didn't even blink at it. He loves you Nate. And you are here for him now."
"Right… I'm here for him now. And… Nichole… We can't give up on him. We wont." The young mans eyes glistened with unshed tears as he looked up at her for reassurance.
"No… we wont…" And with that she gathered him into her arms. "We're going to get through this. He's going to be fine… and soon we'll be laughing about this."
Nate laughed lightly and sniffed as he pulled away. "I know… you're right."
"I am. Now lets go feed those horses huh?"
Nichole pulled the kid up to his feet and steered him out the door and towards the barns. They'd all be fine… they just had to stick together.
Black stood by the bay windows to the living room. His big head hung low in sleep but his ears pricked up as a soft deep inhale came from just inside the windows.
Alec had slept through the night. Sadly Nichole hadn't. She stayed right in the chair, determined to be close if he needed something. Finally at about 5am she felt the call of sleep take her exhausted body.
Alec awoke to find Nichole in the chair next to him. His smile was as bright as the sun that had just come up. The Jockey stretched his sore aching limbs and worked on pulling himself up in a sitting position.
6AM… he couldn't believe he slept that long… wait… maybe he could. After all… he slept a whole year.
A soft whinny brought his attention to the windows where he found Black looking in anxiously.
"Hungry boy?" He whispered as to not wake Nichole or anyone else up.
Black shook his head up and down, his thick mane blew around his ears as he pawed the ground excitedly.
"Ok ok… Give me a second." His whisper was full of amusement.
Alec found his feet and, with the help of the furniture and walls, he made it to the back door. The old wood was surprisingly quiet and the young jockey slipped out slowly. His old friend greeted him and together they made their way slowly to the barn.
Nichole awoke with a start. She looked up with bloodshot eyes into Henry's weary one's.
"I'm sorry to wake you but do you know where the Alec went to?"
That was enough and Nichole leapt to her feet, forgetting all about her aching muscles. "He was here when I fell asleep! That was like 5 in the morning?" Nichole looked at the time on the cable box. "That was only 2 hours ago!"
"Well he couldn't have gone far. The trucks are still here."
Nate cleared his throat from behind them. His stance was relaxed as he leaned on the door jam. "Check the barn… Black is gone." He motioned towards the bay windows where the Black Stallion had become a lawn statue since yesterday. "They are probably in the barn."
Nate was right. Henry and Nichole looked to the window and then back at each other before heading out the door and off to the barn.
Nichole made it to the barn in record time finding Alec sitting on a stack of hay bales. He held a bucket in his hands and Black was nose deep in it enjoying his morning grain. Nichole's sudden arrival had Alec look up in surprise while Black was oblivious.
"Hey…" Alec gave her a small smile in her direction. "Black was hungry."
Nichole stopped a few feet away from the friends and crossed her arms. "Alec what are you doing?"
Alec's eyebrows fused together in confusion and slight annoyance. "What does it look like?" His eyes gestured down to the bucket in his lap and his horse still busy chowing the last bits of grain.
"Alec you can't just leave like that! We didn't know where you were!" Her hands uncrossed and went to rest on her hips. She was still close to crying from the shock of finding him gone just a few minutes ago. Now her anger at him for not waking someone up and just disappearing was sucking her composure,
"Well I can't go far." Alec suggested lightly. He didn't understand why she was yelling at him. All he did was come out and feed Black. But he didn't want to argue with her. "Calm down…"
"You can't just walk out Alec! You're still too weak! Not to mention those guys in your hut yesterday!"
Black finished eating his grain and he looked up at Nichole with big black eyes. He snorted loudly and grabbed a huge bite of hay from the bail Alec was sitting on.
Alec then did something Nichole was unprepared for…. He grinned. "I don't think Black likes your lack of faith in him."
"Alec he's a horse… He can help you if you fall. He can't protect you from those people!"
"Actually... he could… and HAS… But that's not the point here."
"Nope. Are you alright Nichole? Why are you yelling at me?"
"Why aren't you yelling back?"
"I don't have the energy to yell. I need as much as I can gather just to sit up here and hold this bucket." Alec's voice trailed off at the end of his sentence as he let the bucket slide from his fingers. "Besides… I don't want to yell at you."
Nichole watched as Alec's shoulders slumped and his energy seemed to drain right out of him. It was right then that she realized it wasn't physical. Sure… Alec was weak… but this sudden drop was psychological and Nichole remembered her conversation last night with Nate.
"Alec… can you make me a promise?"
Alec looked sideways up at Nichole. Her tone of voice didn't make him feel too confident that he was going to like what she said next. "Maybe…"
Nichole paused for a second to look at her friend. His weak frame and tired eyes almost made her change her mind. She closed her own eyes and took a deep breath.
"You're not going to like it." She added before continuing.
"I figured as much."
"Alec… you have to promise me you'll be ok. That you wont push us away while you get better. That you wont give up. I know this is terribly hard on you but its painful for us too." Nichole stopped to rub her face and wipe an escaped tear away, hoping Alec didn't catch it before finishing. "In other ways."
Alec turned his gaze away from her and watched Black pull mouthfuls out of the hay bale next to him. He didn't have an answer. He couldn't promise anything he didn't know for sure. He was so confused, lost and frustrated. He missed a whole year of his life! His body wasn't the same and probably never would be again. He was angry… not at Nichole… not at Henry or Nate… but at life and that stupid word 'fate'.
And to top it off, he had to deal with a fellow jockey that most likely had something to do with forever changing his life.
His mind was still on slow motion piecing things together and Nichole stood in front of him at this very moment asking too much of him way too soon.
But what if he told her no? What if he said to her face, "Sorry… no deal?"
Henry would get involved… They would be all over him more then normal. They might even force him to go to a shrink.
Alec reached up to rub his exhausted eyes and sighed. Nichole hadn't said a word… hadn't even breathed while he sunk deep into his mind to think all of this through.
"How about I promise that I'll try hard. It's all I can promise Nichole. That I'll try as hard as I can."
"I suppose I can take that…"
Alec smiled sadly and looked back at his horse. "Ok."
"Well enough of this. Just don't disappear… let's get inside. I'm sure Henry's still standing outside of the barn waiting in his slippers."
"Oh good… I need a good laugh."
Nichole extended a hand to help Alec to his feet but he waved it off. She didn't argue and pretended not to wince while he slid slowly off the stack of hay. If she expected him to try hard she would have to work on it too.
"You can help me cup up apples for a pie."
"Ooh joy." He said sarcastically but with a smile as he shuffled to the barn door. He didn't wanna mention to her that he couldn't actually eat the pie.
"Shush… your behind on your chores. Don't think I'm letting you off easy."
Alec actually chuckled and the sound caused her to beam.
"Go easy on me! I'm hurt remember?"
"Your not hurt! You're just slow. I can be patient."
"Fabulous… cause you'll be waiting a while!"
Nichole flicked him on the arm playfully since she couldn't shove him. She could wait. She'd already been waiting for him for a long long time.