Five

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Dear Diary,

Fairview is like the Bermuda Triangle for happiness. Poof! It vanishes right before your eyes. Even worse, the devil resides here. We've met. He's taken the form of a horse named Damon who is as miserable as I am. Rather than realize we are kindred spirits, he hates my guts.

Signed,

Ashley

Every Ryan I've ever known was beautiful. Ryan Walker, the boy who lived four houses down from my childhood home had these remarkable blue eyes that Becky and I fell in love with at the same time. That is until Ryan told everyone those eyes were reserved for his best friend, John. The constant rivalry between my sister and I fizzled in an instant.

Then there was Ryan Thompson, the boy I was going to marry in high school. The only problem with that plan was making him aware that I existed. I failed. Point is, the Ryan’s in my life had a reputation for being as good-looking as they were unavailable.

It goes without saying when I step out onto the porch and see a silver pick up truck, I hope Dr. Ryan Maxwell breaks the curse of the forever untouchable Ryan’s while meeting the same standard in the looks department set by the Ryan’s who came before him.

Billy stands near the barn door, chewing something, his mouth moving in a circular motion.

“What's up, Bill? Is the hot doctor in there?”

He makes a strange sound and continues to chew.

I smooth my hair and straighten my shoulders. “Do I look okay?”

Bill looks away. I hope that's not a sign about how this is going to go.

I step inside and even though Mom is casting a shadow on him, the person she's speaking with is exceptionally tall. I like tall. His voice is deep and controlled as he tells Mom about a sick foal at the Bakers’ farm.

I want to see him up close and personal so I clear my throat. Adrenaline surges inside me as I wait to be acknowledged, giddy with the anticipation of laying eyes on Dr. Ryan Maxwell. Mom steps aside and my hopes deflate faster than a balloon made into a pin-cushion.

He's gorgeous... for ninety. Okay, so maybe he's not quite that old but he could be my dad. No question. I step closer to make sure my eyes are not deceiving me. They are not. He's incredibly handsome, but aged like fine wine. Think Cary Grant and old Hollywood. His hair is salt and pepper and his skin is papery and stained dark from too much sun. He smiles and I want to curse the Universe for making him too old for me because his teeth align in a perfect row and his eyes are brown, soft and kind. In his youth, I suspect the doctor was quite the catch. Must be something in the water in Fairview because Edna is certifiable if she thinks the good doctor and I could be a match.

“Hello, there,” he says. “You must be Ashley.”

“Yes.” I step forward and extend my hand. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Maxwell.”

“You, too. How do you feel about helping me out with Damon?”

“I'd rather brush my teeth with steel wool,” I say. He asked how I felt. If I'm anything, it's honest.

He laughs, but my mother is appalled. “She'll be happy to help, Ryan.”

“That horse is a jerk, Mom.”

“He's got a free soul,” she replies.

“More like a bad attitude.”

She glares at me, so I turn to Dr. Maxwell. “What do you need me to do?”

“Keep him calm while I inspect his laceration.”

“You do realize that's impossible, don't you?” 

Dr. Maxwell smiles. “Ah, have faith young Ashley. I inspect lacerations for a living. I've gotten rather adequate through the years.”

“I meant keeping Damon calm is impossible.”

He swings open the door to Damon's stall. “It's said that animals can smell fear. They can sense when a person is apprehensive or reserved toward them.” Damon doesn't move a muscle as the doctor continues, brushing his hand across the horse's side. “He just needs to know you're calm and assertive.” Grabbing the harness, he motions for me to join him in the stall.

“I was calm and assertive earlier, right before he tried to kill me.” 

Mom rolls her eyes. “For goodness sakes, I'll do it.” She steps forward but I immediately block the stall with my arms folded across my chest as I had seen her do so many times before when she was serious about something.

“You will do no such thing,” I tell her before I look back at the doctor. “How's that for calm and assertive?”

“That's a great start.”

There are at least a hundred things I can think of that I would rather do than share space with Damon. Like the steel wool tooth brushing, perhaps flossing with an ice pick.

I take a calming breath and try to reason with an impressive inner monologue about not being afraid and being in control. I grab Damon's harness in my shaky grasp. “Hi, Damon,” I say sweetly. “How are you?”

Dr. Maxwell grabs Damon's back leg and raises it off the ground. I hadn't noticed the gauze wrapped around it until now, but as he starts to unravel it, a nasty, scabbed over gash becomes evident.

For one split second, Damon has my sympathy but that only lasts until something snaps inside him and he surges forward, swinging his head around at the same time. The force knocks me into the wall and stuns me.

Dr. Maxwell is alarmed. “Ashley! Are you alright?”

Mom's face falls as I come stumbling out of the stall. “Ashley, darling.”

Damon truly is a demon. That’s all I can think of before I black out.

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