Author’s Note: Well, last night’s post may have created a monster. Or ressurected it, I suppose. This is actually a plot that I worked on before, but already I see myself expanding it and filling in a lot of what I skipped when I first did it, and the characters have already changed a lot since the first version of this got envisioned, but I think I’m already more attached to this version.
You can tell because I’m stretching the definition of mayhem to let this piece go in. The horse is a bit destructive here, so… it almost counts?
“Quit looking at me like that,” Dillon muttered, shaking his head. He swore they all thought he was a horse that would spook at any second, jump over the nearest fence and break a leg or something else in a fall. He wasn’t. He was fine. He was a lot better than they thought.
“I’m just waiting for the drunk to reemerge.”
“That was two months ago,” Dillon said, and he had known even before he got half into the bottle that he would never be able to keep it up, not with his childhood. The smell of alcohol had burned its way into some of those old bad memories that he didn’t want to remember—didn’t need to remember. “And it was only for the one night. You know that, Burditt. I’m fine.”
“Any man who thinks he’s fine when his wife left him the way yours did is fooling himself.”
“No, I’d be fooling myself if I believed that any of you actually thought I wasn’t better off without her,” Dillon corrected. He knew no one thought much of her before he married her, and they thought even less of her now that she’d left him, and he didn’t entirely disagree. He mostly felt numb, as he had before. Maybe he’d feel it later.
Maybe he’d never feel it at all.
“I’m just glad I got you off the ranch,” Burditt said, and Dillon shrugged. He didn’t care what they did. He hadn’t cared about much since Meghan left.
“I’m not that bad.”
Burditt gave him another look, and Dillon shook his head, wishing the old man would stop trying to father him. He knew that Burditt meant well, and he did consider Dillon the son he never had the way that Larina and Thyda were the daughters he never had, but Dillon had gone through enough father figures over the years, and he didn’t want another just because his wife proved to be anything but what he’d thought she was when he married her.
“I think you—”
Burditt’s words were cut off by a shrill neigh and the sound of hooves pounding against wood. The stable shook with the bombardment, and both men frowned at the sight of the gate nearest them trying to shake loose from its lock. Somewhere down the row, wood splintered, and men cried out in pain. Dillon could hear the ground being trampled, thought it was impossible to see through the crowd that was gathered by the other end of the stable.
“Get back! That horse is insane!”
“He bit me!”
“Bit you?” A louder voice demanded. “Look what he did to Harry. He’s a killer! He’s got to be put down. Someone get the vet, now!”
Dillon exchanged a glance with Burditt. The older man shook his head. “Sorina would be over there telling them there’s no such thing. No such thing as a bad horse.”
“Just bad owners,” Dillon agreed, well aware of the woman’s mantra when it came to animals. He had heard that so many times before, first on his visits to the ranch with Morely when one of the horses was sick, and then later on his own when he worked for Sorina. He pushed his way through the crowd, forcing his way through the men driving the horse wild.
His eyes locked with the dark orbs of a panicked gelding. The horse panted, a bit of foam coming out around its mouth, and Dillon grimaced, taking a step closer.
“Son, you don’t want to do that.”
Dillon ignored the man that spoke, never having liked being anyone’s ‘son,’ even if it was common term around ranchers. He held a hand out to the gelding, eyes still on the horse.
“You know you don’t even have food, right? He’s not going to be fooled by that.” The horse turned toward the man who’d spoken, snorting, and Dillon moved between them before the gelding decided to charge. “You’ll get yourself killed like that.”
“Stop talking,” Burditt ordered, using the same tone he would when someone told Sorina she didn’t know anything about horses. Dillon forced all of the other noise out of his mind, listening only to the horse and what he was telling him in actions and body language.
He opened his mouth and spoke in a low, soothing tone as he refocused the horse’s attention on him. The fire in the eyes shifted, and Dillon reached for the rope attached to the halter, taking it with a loose hold, continuing his words as he edged forward.
The gelding threw up his head, jerking, and Dillon caught him, turning his fingers through the hair along the white patch that split the horse’s face down the middle. “Poor thing. You’re in pain, aren’t you?”
Another jerk of the horse’s head seemed to be an answer, and Dillon moved his fingers in small circles, taking a path down the horse’s head and along his neck, losing himself in the work. Sorina was the one that was truly gifted at this, but he tried to imitate her technique as he always had, even when he was still a kid.
“Damn,” the man behind him said, and the gelding tried to lift his head to react to the man’s voice, but Dillon calmed him again.
“Told you to shut up,” Burditt said, shaking his head. “What are you thinking, Dillon?”
“I think Morely would say he needs x-rays,” Dillon said, watching the horse’s reaction when he touched the creature’s back. “Your wife would be loading him in the trailer right now.”
“And you?” Burditt laughed. “Never mind. I know what you’re going to do.”