The Quicken Tree
At around two thirty the next afternoon, Eric pulled their two horse trailer through an antique brick gateway that bore the inlaid sign, Fox Den. He had been there a couple of times before, hauling horses for his father's clients.
He drove along the oak lined entrance way. Dark stained wooden fencing enclosed the pastures on either side of the black top drive. It was a huge facility with two twenty stall cinder block barns, indoor as well as outdoor arenas, and a fair sized cross country course. In the centre of all of this was a veterinary hospital, probably one of the largest on the east coast. But what had drawn his hungry eyes when he had been there before was the immaculately raked dressage court. Having ridden Max for the past two years on any large piece of empty, hard ground he could find, the sight of that sand footed arena was enough to haunt his dreams at night.
The black top drive turned into gravel as he pulled in front of the hospital. Smelling the strange horses, Rebel let out a loud bellow from the trailer and scrambled, shaking both the truck and trailer. That started up a loud outcry of whinnying from the horses in the barn.
"I hope he uses a dull knife, you bastard," he muttered under his breath.
He made the turn into the parking area, the gravel crunching loudly under the tires. He pulled in between two truck and trailers and cut the engine.
He got out, walking around the back of the trailer to get to the tack compartment on the other side. He stopped, seeing a boy around his youngest brother's age, maybe six or seven, standing up on the running board of the white pickup that was parked right next to him.
The boy had his arm slipped through the slightly cracked open window, trying to unlock the door. He wasn't having much success. His arm wasn't long enough.
"You want to watch it. I think that's called breaking and entering," Eric said to him, opening the tack compartment door. Rebel was shifting restlessly in the trailer making it rock.
The boy withdrew his arm from the window and looked at him solemnly. "It's my dad's truck."
"Oh," he said enlightenedly. "That makes it all right then." He reached inside the compartment, taking out a lead shank.
The boy's hazel eyes were studying him thoughtfully. He had a wild thatch of chestnut curls and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. He was dressed in a tee shirt and jeans and a pair of high top sneakers. "You think you could get it open for me?"
Eric moved closer to inspect the window. "Sorry, kid," he told him. "My arm won't fit through there."
He watched him stand up on tip toe on the running board again, slipping his hand through the window. He stretched his short fingers as much as he could trying to reach the button, teetering there precariously.
"I think you better get down before you slip and break your arm."
The boy glanced back at him a second before doing what he was told and hopped down of the running board. He looked up at him. "Why are you here?"
Eric smiled. He was a cute kid. Precocious as hell. "I'm here to see the vet about a horse."
"So's my dad."
"Is that a fact?" He started walking toward the hospital, the boy tagging along behind him. As he approached, he could see Morgan's blond head at the front of the barn where he stood holding a chestnut horse. There was another man with him, kneeling down, examining one of the horse's front legs.
"Aren't you going to unload your horse?" the boy asked him, half jogging to keep up with him.
"As soon as I find out where I need to take him."
"I'll ask my dad." He ran ahead of him toward the barn, slowing down as he got close to the two men with the horse. He was obviously used to being around horses enough not to startle them.
Eric watched him walk over to Morgan and reach up, laying his hand on his arm to get his attention.
Morgan looked down at him for a moment as the boy said something to him and then turned, looking across the gravel drive at him.
So that was the son he mentioned yesterday. Eric smiled. He should have known.
The other man stood up and went back inside the barn. Morgan watched him as he crossed the drive toward them.
"You're early," he said when he reached them.
"Yeah, I thought I'd give myself some time to get tacked up."
Morgan nodded. He'd obviously ridden earlier that day. He was wearing a blue and red polo shirt, rust breeches and a pair of brown Dehner field boots that must have set him back two hundred bucks. They were sweat stained on the inside of the calves. "How did he haul?"
"You didn't hear us drive in?"
Morgan smiled, small lines forming at the corners of his grey eyes. "I was actually hoping that wasn't you."
Eric shrugged. "He was okay." He looked down at the boy who was systematically going through his father's pockets, probably looking for the keys to the truck. Morgan was oblivious to the search. He obviously spent a lot of time with him. "What do you want me to do with him?"
The boy had found the keys. Morgan took them away from him, laying his hand on his shoulder to still him when he tried to take them back.
"There's an arena behind the barn with a couple of jumps set up. You can take him around there. I left my tack on the gate for you."
"Okay." He smiled at the boy who was squirming under Morgan's hand, trying to get away. He couldn't help thinking that the father would have the same mass of curly hair if he let it grow out.
"Do you need help unloading him?" Morgan asked.
"No, I'll be fine. Besides, it looks like you have your hands full already," he said, nodding at the boy.
Morgan looked down at his son and smiled affectionately. "That I do," he agreed. "What do you want with the keys, Chief?"
The boy had both of his hands wrapped around his father's one large one, trying to get him to let go. "I want to get my Superman comic out of the truck."
"I think it can wait."
Morgan looked back up at him. "I need to get this horse x-rayed, then I'll be right over. Just hack him around for a few minutes until I get there."
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