Ann managed to leave her cel phone in the ranch house. It was after feed time before she thought to check it. Funny how the ranch took over life so easily. She hadn’t thought about anything, except what was immediately in front of her for at least 10 hours. As she reached for the phone, images of Pete, the barn, of Johnny and Mark, her parents, owners and Enrique flooded her mind – her stomach clenched.
She was not surprised to find eight voicemail messages and several text messages on her phone.
With each message she listened to, the farther away she felt and the more panic returned to her body. There were messages from Enrique, who needed help finding a tool to fix the temperamental ice machine. Julie wanted to know if they could meet for drinks this evening. Johnny and Mark had a friend who had a horse and wanted to know if she could come and ride it and see ‘how fast it was.” Her mom called “just to say hi” and lastly, Jude left a text message R U back tomorrow?
Ann flopped on the bed in Dee’s room – her guts roiling. Today was a fantasy, and she hadn’t realized it. The peace of the ranch and of the trusted friend, the girls, the horses; until this moment, she didn’t realize what bliss this day had been. But there her life was, beckoning her back in the form of a blinking cel phone. She was deciding whom to call back first, planning when to pack her bags and begin the seven hour drive home when the aroma of herb roasted chicken and baking bread wafted into the room. Ann’s body reacted without her permission. Her mouth watered and a smile covered her face.
The simple kindness of a meal, a favorite meal, planned for you, prepared with love and then presented as a surprise shook Ann to the bottom of her dusty boots. She thought about the kind of friend she and Dee had been to each other over the years. Dee had been her anchor, her rock as she flitted hither and yon, working for this trainer or that chasing the next big win or nursing the latest broken bone or relationship.
Her musing was cut short as all three hounds burst through the doorway wagging and yawning and jumping on the bed. Ann giggled and tried to fend off their clumsy tongues and heavy feet as she rolled off the bed.
“I’m coming! Can you call these damn dogs off me?” Ann was laughing as she patted their solid backs and nudged her way to the kitchen.
“Can you get us both a beer from the fridge outside?” Dee asked as she placed a steaming basket of bread next to a vat full of chilled butter in the center of the kitchen table.
“Glad to.” Ann pushed through the last of the dogs and out the back door. She noticed over her shoulder when opening the fridge that Ivy had let herself out of her stall and was busy working the latch on the next stall in order to set her neighbor free as well. Ann put the beers down and went to the stable to return Ivy to her stall.
The mare followed quietly, not in the least embarrassed. Ann patted her on her furry neck before she closed the stall door and wrapped the halter around the latch to make it impossible for the mare to repeat the trick of setting herself free.
“What took you so long” Dee asked.
“Ivy let herself out and I put her back in.”
“I kinda like her” Ann laughed and regarded the chipped plate laden with roasted chicken, carrots and beets, hot bread and cold butter. She took a long frosty sip of her beer before digging into the meal in front of her.
“Mad Day Bread?” asked Ann.
“What else? I haven’t made it in a long time and it seemed like the right thing.”
Mad Day Bread was a recipe famous in Dee’s adopted family. Sela Phillip, Dee’s mentor, a woman celebrated for her prowess with young horses was notoriously kind and sweet. She was known never to cuss, instead, she had terms like “Shoot in a bucket” or “Dang-nabbit” or her favorite; “Holy Kittens!” to use In place of more colorful terms. Mad Day bread was a recipe that called for furious kneading of the simple dough and then on the last kneading round, you threw the dough onto the counter eight times in a row and then one final time as hard as you possibly could. The end result was an outlet for your anger or frustration transformed into a lovely warm food to feed your friends and family.
“Listen” said Ann “I need to head back tomorrow, but I want to thank you for everything. I don’t know if you have any idea how important this trip has been for me.”
“I still don’t know why you’re here. But really, I’m just glad you are. It’s been for me to see you too.”
“You’ve got something really special here you know.”
“Like what? Like a mortgage I can’t afford, a bunch of hay burning cripples in the barn, mangy dogs and bratty kids everywhere? I’m lonely and I’m getting old. How’s that for special? You’re the one getting on million dollar horses, hanging out in art museums and meeting new people all the time. You can grab your helmet and have a job with a top trainer at any track in the world right now. New York, Kentucky, Hong Kong, Dubai, the south of France. They would all kill to have you. You think I don’t envy you?”
“Is there anything better than a meal with friends after a full day’s work with horses?” Ann toasted.
“Nope” Dee agreed.