25. The Barn

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When it rained, it poured

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When it rained, it poured.

Soaked to the bone, Jake and I climbed the porch steps to the farmhouse and knocked on the bright blue door. Unfortunately, the owners were out of town and the house sitter didn't feel comfortable offering us shelter in the house. But Jake convinced her to let us stable the horses and spend the night in the barn. He'd also charmed the older woman into giving us some cokes, bread, and a jar of peanut butter.

Stepping back into the pouring rain was miserable. The sky was tar black and the rain was coming down in sheets, so thick and heavy that I could barely keep my eyes open. Jake walked ahead, leading both horses by their reins. I hugged my arms around myself and trudged along several feet behind them, a sense of dread building with each step.

Out of nowhere, Grandma Danner's image appeared in my head, her homely, pinched face so real that she may as well have been standing in front of me with her withered hand upon her ever-present bible.

"What the wicked fears will come upon him..."

My face crumbled when I saw the barn, a low, strangled moan catching in my throat.

It was a picturesque barn, complete with a gabled roof and silo, painted in the storybook fashion – red with white accents. But every atom of my being recoiled. I couldn't go in there. It looked just like the barn where daddy –

Jake shouted my name across the yard.

"Go on, Layla-girl, what don't kill you will only make you stronger."

But I didn't want to be strong, I wanted to be safe.

Jake called out for me again.

I took a deep breath. Tomorrow would be here early enough. There was no point in getting a head start on my day of self-torture. I guess I had a little more Brandy in me than I liked to think because I put everything that didn't benefit my current situation in a box in my head, taped that sucker shut, and refused to acknowledge it.

Even daddy.

***

The barn doors were unwieldy but Jake managed to slide them open with his one free hand. The tired hinges gave way to the familiar odor of musty straw and animal musk. Jake switched on the lights.

A dozen or so goats roamed freely in the barn, along with a pair of ewes, a handful of hens and a donkey. There were six stalls, three on each side of the center isle. The stalls on the left were occupied.

Cursing softly under his breath, Jake handed me the reins. "Wait here."

He checked each of the stalls before returning back to me. "Two geldings and a mare."

Not wanting to be the one holding the reins when the stallions got a whiff of the mare, I quickly shoved them back to Jake. "Is she in heat?"

"Hell if I know," he said. "Guess we're about to find out."

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