I have one word: Christmas. Mine was great; hope your holidays were good too! It's funny, really, how I seem to have more time for fanfiction when I'm in shcool vs. when I'm on break. Your long wait has been rewarded...I hope!
Please review on this chapter, if you never leave another review for me, let this be the one-this chapter gave me some trouble in the writing, which is partly why it took me so long to post it...so I'd really value your opinions. Thanks!
As I walk Tempest home, my thoughts are consumed by one thing. The sigh I heard as I left the barn. Can I even call it a sigh? It was the barest exhalation of breath. But it means more to me than any words Sean could have said. Sean rarely speaks, but even rarer are the tiny glimpses of emotion that he keeps under tight reign. Today, in Malvern's stables, I think I witnessed one.
I only wish I knew what it meant. For less frequent than the glimpses are their explanations.
By the time I get back home, I still haven't answered my question but I'm much calmer than when I stormed into the Yard and lost it with Sean. I lead Tempest into the barn. He balks slightly when we reach his stall and for a second my heart leaps into my throat as I think of Prince. I shake my head to steady my nerves. This is Tempest. I trust Tempest as much as Sean trusts Corr—which means I think I know him well enough to be almost certain he won't kill me. Which means there is a logical explanation for Tempest's behavior.
Looking around, I notice the sprig of holly has fallen from where I usually keep it tucked into the lock of his stall door. It now lies across the threshold of Tempest's stall. With a smile I pick it up and slip it into the pocket of my sweatshirt.
"Silly capail," I laugh at Tempest. "I wouldn't hurt you."
He snorts indignantly as he walks into his stall. My father's words come to mind, haunting me: What if he tries? Can you stop him, Bay? I finger the holly in my pocket. I know, without a doubt, that if it ever came to that, I would use the deadly berries on Tempest. It would be the hardest decision I'd ever have to make. I pull the holly from my pocket and turn it over in my fingers, letting it rest in the middle of my palm. So small, so red. Like blood. Like life.
Life. When it comes down to it, the question really is, who's life do I value more—Tempest's or the man he finally goes for? Tears spring to my eyes as I realize that yes, even for Mutt Malvern, I'd use the berries that rest in my hand. Admittedly, only after every other possible solution had been exhausted, but I would use them. Such a big animal and so destructive, brought down by something so small and inconsequential. I look up to see Tempest staring at my intently, black sea-storm eyes looking into my very soul. I stuff the berries back into my pocket, telling myself that I'll never have to use them.
I take my time brushing Tempest and getting him settled. Prince is still forefront in my mind and I watch Tempest's every reaction carefully, trying to get a better feel for him. Every twitch of his muscles, every turn of his ear, flare of his nostril, shift of his stance. I question what each move holds. I suddenly realize that I'm making Tempest jumpy and that I'm worrying unnecessarily. I've already tested Tempest many times in uncertain situations, whether consciously or not—handing Tempest over to Tommy, intervening between Tempest and Dad, taking Tempest into the stormy sea to save Mutt, leaving him alone on the beach today amid excitement and blood. If these events are anything to gauge by, I can rest a fair amount of confidence in Tempest. The real concern is how much confidence do I have in myself? I don't have an answer to that.
As I walk back to the house, I realize that the dead capall uisce is gone now. So is Dad's truck, which means he is either at work or in town. I wonder if I will see him tonight, or even for the next couple of days. But it's early in the week yet, so I am reasonably certain he'll return tonight. I let myself in and rummage through the kitchen for something to eat. Most of my morning was taken up on the beach and then talking to Sean and I realize now that I'm ravenous. I find some leftover soup in the fridge and put it in a pot on the stove to warm up. As I wait for it to warm, thoughts run rampant in my head. Especially thoughts of Sean.
I realize that this is the second time in just a few short weeks that I owe him an apology. It wasn't Sean's fault that Prince was killed. It wasn't his fault that I was so shaken. But there is no doubt in my mind that it is his fault he quit working for Malvern. I only wonder who finally pushed him far enough to tell Malvern so.
That American, Holly, perhaps? Sean's gotten real friendly with him lately, which, for Sean, is very unusual. Sean pays more attention to Corr's tack than to tourists. So there must be something special about Holly. Not to say he isn't friendly, but he's so friendly I'm amazed Sean even deems it worth his time to look at him.
Or was it Puck Connolly? I could see that too. She's getting ever closer to Sean as well and I know she carries no love for Malvern. But what about for Sean? Does she love Sean? I shake my head. Don't be silly, I chide myself. Even if she does, surely he doesn't return it. But that's not the point. Did she tell Sean to quit? And, if so, why?
By now the soup is more than warm. In fact, it's practically boiling. Laughing at myself for getting so lost in thought, I turn the heat down and get out a bowl and spoon.
"So, you're back to work now?" I ask as I watch Sean wrap Corr's legs with seaweed. I'm holding Corr's head to keep him still. Even so, Sean spits on his fingers and rubs Corr's flanks every once in a while.
"In theory," he says. He just finished telling me about his meeting with Malvern in the hotel yesterday. There isn't much fear of any of the grooms overhearing us this far back in the stables. The other Malvern hands tend to avoid Corr. In fact, that's why I'm holding the stallion's head, because none of the grooms will.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask. Our argument from yesterday seems forgotten. When I tried to bring it up, Sean stubbornly refused to speak. So I assume that he wants it left alone.
"I'm Malvern's until I win the races," Sean explains.
"Until you win?" I prompt him.
Sean shrugs in a "why not" gesture as he focuses on Corr's legs, methodically wrapping the seaweed in straight, even lines.
"There are new racers this year, you know," I say casually.
He looks up at me as if he'd almost forgotten I'd be racing. He doesn't say anything, but I can see the determination in his eyes and the furrow of his brow as he almost frowns at me.
I take a deep breath and look away, down the row of stalls opposite me. "Complicates matters, doesn't it?" I ask, looking back at Sean, whose entire focus is back on Corr.
"Never really thought about it," he says casually, but I wonder if that is the truth.
"There's only one winner," I remind both of us, as if it is a thought that has just occurred to me. In truth, I've been thinking about it since the night my name was put on the blackboard underneath Sean's.
"But there are multiple survivors," Sean says.
I look down sharply at him, but he's not looking at me. Does he just enjoy speaking in riddles today? He looks up over his shoulder when I don't respond in any way.
"There's more to the race than winning," he says.
"Are you trying to make me feel better about losing?" I joke, but the false laughter in my voice falls flat.
"Who says I'll win?"
"You seem pretty confident."
"The odds are stacked in my favor," he points out. He's not bragging. He's just telling the truth. Corr is the fastest capall on the island and Sean is the four time champion of the races. I'm a rookie, racing on a capall that's never seen the races before, much less won them. I know from experience that Tempest is fast and strong. The only question is, is he faster than Corr?
A commotion at the front of the barn suddenly draws my attention. Someone has come into the barn, someone small, a girl. Puck Connolly?
"I need Sean Kendrick," she says, her voice just loud enough that it echoes back to me in an odd acoustic trick of the ancient stables. "I've got his jacket."
I lean out of the stall just enough that I can see her silhouetted against the bright light that streams through the stable doorway. She's standing next to a groom at the front of the barn. The groom barely pauses in his work, stopping just long enough to gesture towards the back of the barn with his curry comb before going back to work.
Puck glances down the rows of stables and I draw back, hoping she didn't see me. I'm not sure why, but I want it to come as a nasty surprise to her that I'm already here with Sean. Sean seems oblivious to the conversation—if he heard any of it, he hasn't acknowledged it. He continues wrapping Corr's legs, finishing with one and moving to another.
"Sean?" the voice is closer now. Puck comes abreast of the stall door and peers in.
"Hey, Puck," I say.
She draws back fractionally as if I startled her. Which could be the case; her eyes are still adjusting to the dim light this far back in the stables.
"Um, I've got Sean's jacket…"she begins uncertainly, holding the familiar blue coat up so I can see.
"Just leave it somewhere, Kate," Sean says from the floor.
"Oh," Puck says, finally catching sight of Sean. "Uh, okay," she mumbles, searching around for somewhere to hang the jacket. I point out a small hook on the outside of the stall. She smiles her thanks and hangs the coat.
"Leaving already?" Sean asks as Puck hovers awkwardly at the door for a moment, then turns as if to walk away. Puck looks somewhat startled and even I'm surprised. How does Sean know these things when he's barely glanced up this entire time?
"No," Puck replies as if it were her intention all along to stay.
"Do you want to see him up close?" Sean asks. It's obvious he's speaking of Corr.
Puck looks the stallion up and down with an apprehensive glance, but beneath that, I can see her good eye for horses, assessing the stallion's every line and feature. "Yes," she breathes.
Sean nods at me, gesturing to the stall door with his head. I know what he means, so I open the door and let Puck in. She slides into the stall with room to spare. The Malvern stables are ancient, straight out of Thisby's past, built in a long forgotten age. Everything about them is huge. The high ceiling, the long columns down the central walkway, even the stalls. The three of us and Corr fit without crowding each other a bit. I swing the door shut behind Puck, all the while keeping a casual hold on Corr.
Corr watches Puck closely as she steps into the stall, whinnying inquisitively. Sean rubs him reassuringly and murmurs softly. Corr understands that Sean accepts Puck and he should too. The stallion thrusts his nose toward Puck, taking in her scent, as if to remember her for future reference.
Despite whatever else I might feel, I have to admire Puck. Most grown men would have been trembling in fear by now. Puck stands still, if a bit stiff, beneath Corr's scrutiny. She actually smiles as she slowly reaches a hand out towards the stallion's nose. Corr draws back with a haughty snort just before Puck's fingers touch his face, as if taunting her. But then, to everyone's surprise, he thrusts his nose into her palm. Puck jumps then relaxes, though not completely. No one ever relaxes completely around a capall uisce. Sean smiles from where he kneels at Corr's right hind leg and rubs Corr's flank approvingly. Corr rarely accepts anyone as quickly as Puck and I can see that Sean is pleased. Puck looks at Sean as if for a little reassurance and he nods at her so she strokes Corr's nose. Corr lets out a deep thrum of pleasure.
The scene is a bit too comfortable for my liking, so I decide to throw a wrench in it.
"Do you want to hold him?" I ask innocently.
Sean shoots me a sharp glance that clearly asks, What are you doing?
I ignore him.
Puck looks rather uncertainly at me for a moment then glances down at Sean. But whatever she sees on his face encourages her.
"Okay," she says.
I let go of Corr's head, so that, for a moment, all that keeps Corr in place is Sean's reassuring hand on his flank. Then Puck takes hold of his halter. I step back, a little unsure of what might happen. Sean is tense by Corr's back leg, but he holds perfectly still, knowing that if he is anxious, Corr will be too. He doesn't want Corr to make any sudden moves because he's so close to those heavy hooves.
The tension in the stall runs high and I realize just what an electric situation I've put us in. But more than half of me doesn't regret it. Then Puck reaches nervous fingers up to Corr's forehead and gently rubs his face between his eyes. Corr jumps back at first, then leans into her hand, humming in pleasure. From the floor, Sean visibly relaxes, fixing his attention on wrapping Corr's leg again. He finishes shortly and stands up, coming up to the other side of Corr's head, opposite Puck.
"He likes you," he says.
Puck grins like a silly little girl. She's obviously smitten, but with Corr or Sean, I can't tell. Probably both. I shift awkwardly in the background.
"Do you want to ride him?" Sean asks.
Puck looks up sharply and I can see the uncertainty behind her eyes. But it's obvious she wants to say yes.
"I'll ride with you," Sean prompts.
Puck just smiles and nods. I glare daggers at Sean from behind his back and I'm sure he knows it. Sean's never asked me if I want to ride Corr. He's never told me I can't either. For a moment I wonder what it would feel like to ride Corr with Sean's arms wrapped around me, the two of us a single rider astride Corr's broad, red back.
"I'd like that Sean Kendrick," Puck finally answers.
Sean smiles. At Puck Connolly.
"You never asked me if I wanted to ride Corr," I say later that night over dinner in Sean's apartment.
"You never asked," he says, putting a forkful of spaghetti in his mouth. I cooked for the two of us.
"Puck didn't either," I point out.
Sean shrugs. "But she wanted to."
I can't argue with that. I've never really wanted to ride Corr. I'm certainly not afraid of him, either. But there's a difference between just liking a horse and wanting to ride him.
"Why do you hate her, Bay?" Sean asks abruptly, looking me straight in the eye.
"Hate who?" I ask innocently.
"Puck Connolly," he answers even though it's obvious. It's the first time I've heard him call her Puck out loud.
"I don't hate her. Not really," I defer.
"Why'd you ask her to hold Corr?"
"I wanted to scare her," I mumbled into my water glass.
"Because she's in love, gosh-darn-it, Sean Kendrick!"
Sean actually spits some spaghetti out of his mouth.
"I guess you spend too much time with horses," I continue. "But that girl's head-over-heels in love with some boy, and you can bet it isn't dear old Matthew Malvern."
Sean blushes. I can't help but laugh at him. I've never seen Sean more out of sorts in my life.
"You're jealous." He hits the nail right over the head. My smile quickly disappears.
Sean rolls his eyes. "Has the fact that I love Corr ever stopped us from being friends?"
"Has…what? No," I admit.
Sean nods. "See?"
"So you do like her."
"I didn't say that."
I laugh and Sean smiles and I know that everything is back to normal between us.
That night we flip a coin to see who gets the loveseat, like we used to do when we were kids. I get the bed. Sean throws his pillow at me and takes the floor.