Thirteen

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Dear Diary,

I haven’t exactly fessed up in full to Ryan, but he knows about my problem, hasn’t judged me and is even doting on me. He warms the magic bag in the microwave, tucks the blanket under my feet, and even watches Brad Pitt movies. Side note: Seeing my boyfriend, yes I said it, my boyfriend, in the same room with a televised Brad Pitt proves to me that I’m right. Ryan is way hotter. I should marry him.

Signed,

The future Mrs. Maxwell

It’s day eight before I feel normal enough to resume my farming duties with anything other than the least amount of effort required. I never thought I’d say those two words together. Farming and duties is as unnatural to say as instant and coffee. Neither should be a part of my vocabulary but alas, somehow they are.

I can admit it now. I have fallen head over heels for Ryan. I don’t even know how that is possible or how it happened, but it’s true. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted and as I sit here in his kitchen at ten a.m. on a Sunday while he showers, I know that although moving here turned my life upside down, it was also one of the best things I’ve ever done.

He’s made me a latte in his fancy espresso machine and I take a moment to be grateful to the Universe for once instead of angry with it. The shower turns off and Ryan comes out wrapped in a white towel, exposing his abdomen. I almost choke on my drink. Having never actually seen abs like that in real life, the fact that they’re attached to my boyfriend is alarming and giggle-inducing all at the same time.

He grins. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that you look more like a model than a doctor.”

“A what?”

“Most people in real life,” I say, waving my hand in front of his stomach, “don’t actually look like that.”

His smile stretches wider. “Look like what?”

“Like that. They don’t have glistening six packs.”

He leans down and plants a kiss on the top of my head. “That’s because, before you came along, I had nothing better to do than work out.”

“I’m so glad you did. You should go get changed. You’re distracting.”

“Fair enough.” When he emerges from his bedroom, although the view isn’t as lovely as towel clad Ryan, he still looks amazing in dark denim and a black button up top. “Ready, sweetheart?”

As long as he looks like that and keeps calling me sweetheart, I’m ready for anything, even Damon. In my fanatical race to come and see him this morning, I forgot to feed the horses. Ryan told me not to worry about it, that whatever he had planned could wait an extra thirty minutes while we go by to feed them.

I finish my latte, deposit the glass in the dishwasher, and we head to my mother’s farm. It takes only a few minutes to recognize that, as refined and charming as Ryan is, he is no stranger to hard work. We head into the barn and in seconds, he’s rolling up his sleeves, slinging feed over his shoulder.

“You’ve done this before.”

“Once or twice,” he says. “Do you want me to deal with Damon?”

“No,” I say. “Damon and I have reached a silent understanding.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” I say, even though I’m not.

I get some of the feed, along with fresh fruits and head into Damon’s stall. Miraculously, he allows me to deliver the food, so I pet his forehead. “Thanks for not trying to kill me.”

Damon the demon, takes that as a dare.

I’m near the door when I notice a nail in the bottom of his stall. The last thing Damon needs is to have Dr. Ryan Maxwell Senior back to administer some kind of tetanus shot (if horses get those) so I make a critical mistake of bending over to retrieve it. That’s when he kicks me. He sends me sailing across the barn and I close my eyes in time to block the image of the edge of the wheelbarrow barreling closer at mach speed right before it makes contact with my head.

***

When I come to, Ryan’s blurry face begins to focus and a sterile smell assaults me. We aren’t in the barn anymore. We’re at Ryan’s clinic. He smiles. “We have to stop meeting this way.”  

I try to move but a horrific pain shoots up my spine and into the back of my neck.

“Don’t move,” he warns. “He kicked you in the back, sent you a good five feet across the barn. You hit your head on the edge of the wheelbarrow when you fell. Your back is bruised but fine.”

“That horse hates me.”

“I’m inclined to agree. I think it may be in your best medical interest to stay away from him. You’ll be taking it easy for a while.”

I frown. “So no date?”

He brushes a piece of wayward hair from my face, tucks it behind my ear and says, “There will be plenty of dates, but how about we take a rain check for the one we had planned today?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Okay.”

“Ashley, I want to ask you some questions and I want you to answer them, okay?”

Not this again. “I’m not talking about my period with you.”

“I was afraid you’d say that. In that case, I’m calling a friend of mine.”

“What? Wait. That’s worse. No.” I shake my head but the movement creates such a sharp tinge of pain in my neck that I grab it with the back of my hand and grimace.

“He’s a hematologist and if you’re not going to talk to me about this, you’re going to talk to him.”

“I don’t want to talk to him.”

“I don’t want to worry about you all the time, sweetheart. So you can answer my questions directly or you can talk to him. In fact, if my suspicions are right, you’ll be speaking to him anyway, but we can avoid some of the awkwardness if you will just answer a few questions for me.”

I search his face for any sign that he will let me opt out of his diabolical round of questions but I can tell he’s not going to budge. “Fine,” I say, resigned. “I’ll answer the stupid questions and, for the record, you’re creating awkwardness, not avoiding it.”

He offers me a smile like it’s some kind of reward for being interrogated. “I knew you’d see things my way.”

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