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Saturday, August 7, 2010
Kerry's Help by Katie Winkler
“I really appreciate your help, Bob. Dad had a great friend in you.” Kerry hung up the phone. Ever since her father’s death six months before, the only thing that kept Kerry going were the weekly calls to Bob Johnson, her father's good friend in Virginia. But Kerry still struggled to keep her dad's business, a 20-stall riding stable, afloat.
After a few months of struggle, Kerry was about to give up hope when up rode the cavalry—blue-eyed, dark-haired Jason Connoley. Wealthy, charming and witty, Jason had boarded five hunters at the barn, hiring Kerry as trainer.
When people found that Jason’s horses were at Kerry’s, the barn quickly started filling up. Jason soon made it clear that he was interested in Kerry for more than her equestrian skills. Tonight he’d be taking her out for yet another dinner in the city.
Kerry whistled as she left the caretaker's house and headed to the barn, stopping short when she saw a strange car parked in the lot and a tall, lanky man, wearing a heavy leather jacket and western boots, leaning against her barn door. He looked up when she got closer and grinned. “Starting kind of late, aren’t you?” he yelled.
“Late,” he yelled again, “feeding the horses.”
“Actually, I have been running late a lot. Need to hire some more hands.”
“Yep, that’s what I thought.” He held out a hand. “Name’s Sam.”
“You must have seen the ad. What are your qualifications?”
“I like horses, better than most people, actually. Been around ‘em all my life."
"That means something. I suppose you know how to clean a stall then,” she said, handing him a shovel.
In the next few hours, Sam proved himself. Feeding the horses and cleaning out stalls, he was swift and thorough. While working the horses, he was gentle but firm. Kerry kept trying to think what her dad would do and finally decided he would have hired Sam without thinking about it too long. So would she.
She was on her way to tell Sam he had a job when she saw Jason's sports car come down the drive, a cloud of dust trailing behind. She waved and walked toward the car. "I guess we should have met at the house,” he said, wiping the dust from his jacket and pants. "I forgot how dusty it is out here."
“Sorry," Kerry responded, forcing a smile. “Uh, I'm almost finished. I thought you might want to talk to the new groom while I'm getting ready."
"The new groom? Who said anything about hiring a groom?"
Kerry was confused. "Well nobody. I figure I don't have to ask anybody's opinion. It's my barn and I really need help."
Jason took Kerry's hand. "I know you've been overworked, Kerry. I was going to talk to you about hiring somebody tonight, as a matter of fact. I just thought, well, you might have wanted to get my advice first." He put his arm around her and pulled her close. "Listen, I'm not saying this guy won't work out. What's he like?"
Kerry leaned on Jason's shoulder, feeling the tension leave her. "He's real nice, has 'a way with horses' as he puts it. I've been watching him all day. I think he'll be just fine."
"All right, you go get ready and I'll talk to this guy. See what I can find out, okay?"
Thirty minutes later Kerry returned to find Jason gesturing wildly and shouting while Sam leaned against the barn and shook his head. It was Sam who first caught sight of Kerry. When he made eye contact with her, he stood away from the barn and pushed his hat away from his forehead. "Kerry," he said, "you look great."
Kerry laughed. “You sound surprised." She turned to Jason. "So what were you two, uh, talking about?" The men looked at each other, and Sam dropped his head.
Jason ran a hand through his shiny hair. "To tell you the truth, we were talking about the business."
Kerry frowned. "You mean about my business?"
“Look, baby,” said Jason, taking her hands. “We all know what’s going to happen. You know you can’t make it without my help.”
"I get it,” she said, pulling away. “The dinners, the gifts. All along you just wanted my barn.”
“It won’t be long before it’s mine, if my horses leave,” he said, coming close and showing her his white pearly teeth. “And if my, uh, friends’ horses leave too.”
“Well, if you’re not satisfied, Mr. Connoly, then you can leave anytime, after thirty days written notice,” she said, without stepping back, “as specified in your contract.”
Jason hesitated, then turned and moved to his car, shouting over his shoulder, "I'll move my horses out in a month. And everybody else will be leaving soon after that. You can bet on it."
As Jason drove off, Kerry turned to Sam. "He's right, you know. I'll probably have to shut down."
"Not if I can help it."
"You mean you still want the job?"
"Of course," he said, "that's why I came here all the way from Virginia."
Suddenly an incredibly wonderful suspicion crossed Kerry's mind. She had to ask, "You didn't happen to know my dad, did you? John Stacey?"
"No, no, I didn't know him." Sam sighed and Kerry's face fell. "But my father did."
“My father knew your dad. They were best friends in high school. My father is Bob Johnson. After he talked so much about you and how you seemed to be in trouble, I said I'd come check things out for him. Hadn't planned to stay."
He looked at Kerry and she saw something in his eyes that she'd never seen in Jason's. "But now I think you might could use my help," he said, dropping his voice. "Even though you seem to handle things on your own just fine."
About the Author: Katie Winkler teaches English composition, British literature and creative writing at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Also active as a novelist, playwright, actor and director, she lives happily in the mountains with her wonderful husband John and beautiful daughter Hannah.