Four

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Dear Diary,

I met a small glimmer of sunshine in my otherwise dreary world. His name is Bill. Maybe I can see clearly now. Maybe the rain is gone.

Signed,

Ashley

I walk with my eyes fixed on my boots when something grabs the sleeve of my shirt. Instinctively I try to yank it away but the sleeve disappears into the mouth of a baby goat. He's the colour of sand with a white tuft of hair on his forehead. His feet and his ears are too big for his body and he's as cute as any puppy I've ever seen.

“Hey, little guy. What's your name?”

He drops my sleeve and tilts his head skyward. If I didn't know better, I'd say he's smiling. Mom probably saddled him with the name Billy. Makes sense, right? Billy Goat. I decide I don't care what she's named him. I'm going to call him Billy, Bill for short. I smile back at him and give him a playful pat on the head before leaving him behind in favour of shoveling horse stalls.

The stench hits me the second I swing the door open and I curse my mother’s breakfast of scrambled eggs which are now very close to making a second appearance. It’s revolting. My eyes water as flies buzz around the horses. There are three of them in total, each with an aged wooden plaque above their stalls to display their names.

Garry, Jebb and Damon.

Really? It’s official; my mother is bonkers.

A stall sits empty at the end with a cross instead of a plaque. I take a moment of silence for the former occupant, because even though a horse is not a pet, it is still a living, breathing thing.

A pitchfork and shovel rest against a wheelbarrow situated next to the door. No sense in wasting time. I grab all three and open Garry's stall. I speak low and soft to him while I clean his mess and find him to be most agreeable. He shifts his weight from side to side, trying to get out of my way. I offer apples and carrots, thank him for the hospitality and move on. Jebb is next. He's a lot like Garry and probably grateful to have someone clean his living space. Even so, by the time I get to Damon, I'm wary. Mom called him spirited. She used to say the same thing about my cousin, Andrew, who was hell on wheels.

“Damon,” I practically sing his name, my voice as sweet as sugar. His head whips to the side and his eyes burn into me. He looks evil. “Hi. I'm Ashley. Here to clean your stall.” Why am I talking to the horse? I haven't even been on the farm for twenty-four hours and I'm already a lunatic like my mom.

Damon turns away to stare at the wooden planks of the wall in front of him. I wrongly take this as his permission to enter but as soon as I swing the gate open, he backs his gigantic body toward the exit—the same exit that happens to be my point of entry. Things go downhill when I rest my hand on his backside and push him forward into the stall. He neighs, hoisting himself up in the air on his back legs.

My heart wedges itself in my throat and I swallow hard to breathe. Damon is colossal when he's on two feet; he could crush me like an ant. I drop the pitchfork and throw my hands in the air. “Whoa! Relax.” This stupid horse should be Demon, not Damon. He doesn't listen. In fact, it is as if my voice encourages him to continue his meltdown.

I slam the stall door and lean against the wall, waiting for my heart rate to return to normal. The door creaks. I see the end of a crutch first, followed by the heart-shaped face of my mother peering in. “How's it going?”

“This horse is vile, mom!”

“Damon?”

“Yes,” I say, “Demon.”

“Damon,” she corrects me.

“Whatever.”

“I forgot to mention he hurt himself last week. Got a laceration. Ryan treated him but he's returning today to follow up so he might be extra grumpy.”

Ha! I straighten my shoulders. “Then he can wait until he's feeling better to have his stall cleaned. He almost killed me. Wait? Who is Ryan?”

“Dr. Maxwell,” she answers like it should be obvious.

I stare at her, dumbfounded. Dr. Maxwell is a veterinarian? Not what I expected but a doctor is a doctor, right? I manage an “oh, okay,” and stare down at my boots that are caked in dirt. “I'm going to go and change.” I cannot meet the town's most eligible bachelor in rubber boots, even if they are fashion forward.

The shower has the water pressure of a broken garden hose. Considering that I pulled muscles in my back I never knew existed, this is nearly as devastating as my coffee. Lotions and potions line the counter in attempt to feel feminine. Ginger root shampoo, coconut exfoliating scrub, my grapefruit body wash, they’re all here, small pieces of home that can at least temporarily wash away the smell of Garry, Jebb and Damon.

When I'm done, my hair falls in smooth, controlled waves and I pull on shorts and a plain white tee shirt that I hope says 'reliable and low maintenance.' I admire my reflection in the mirror and head back outside in hopes of running into Dr. Ryan Maxwell.

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