You watched the tow truck motor out of view and sighed to yourself. The house suddenly seemed bigger, quieter, and less alive. “Fuck.” you muttered under your breath, turning inside and closing the door. You had no intentions of developing feelings for some random stranger and yet you could taste them like salt in the air miles from the ocean. You clenched your eyes tight and shook your head insisting on continuing your day as planned. What was the plan though? You stood in the front hallway and looked around, trying to recall what it was you needed to do. The walls were sparsely decorated with paintings and photos. Other than the few you received from Leon, none of these were selected by you. This house was your home for almost your entire life, and yet in this moment you felt like a stranger in it.

You wandered from room to room, recalling old memories of growing up with your brother and sister; chasing each other down the hallway and out the door as your mom shouted from the kitchen, “No running in the house!” You walked down to the end of the hallway to the room you now called yours. The master bedroom still haunted by the fresh hurt of your departed parents. Your eyes closed tightly as you watched your younger self bounding onto the bed to serve your mom breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. Your dad just behind you encouraging you to explain the odd concoctions you had created in her honor. “This is a mash potato omelette!” you excitedly blurted, pointing to the mass of yellow and whitish grey in the center of the plate. “I know you like potatoes and eggs so I put them together! Do you like it?” Your mom, ever the diplomat never said a bad word about it as your sister and brother came in with their own dishes of mystery food why your dad laughed hysterically from just outside the room.

You missed them. The ache in your chest burst as the memories locked away became fresh once more. Tears streamed down your face as you turned to walk away from their room. Your room, though it didn’t feel like it was yours anymore. The lump in your throat stung and you sniffled to yourself. WIthout a second thought you slid on a pair of high winter boots and your warm winter parka. Wiping your tears away with a thick woolen mit you stepped outside into the cold biting air. You trudged down the steps and off to the barn. This time there was no one to chase, and no one following. There was no intriguing conversation. No company to keep. You sludged your way through the drifted snow and with great effort managed to pull the large barn door open. Thunder and Lightning swung their heads up and down snorting as horses do to greet a friendly familiar person. You sniffled again whether it was from the cold or your tears was hard to say. You walked up to the two big beasts and gave each a big hug around each of their large muscular necks. Thunder snorted after sniffing your hair, and Lightning just stood and waited. As much as it was comforting to hug the four legged monsters, they never hugged back.

You retrieved the brushes and picks from their spot and went about preparing both horses for a morning ride. Each beast needed their hooves cleaned and you did the job methodically just as you were taught by your dad so many years before. “See pumpkin you’ve got to do each hoof in the same order.” you recalled him telling you, “Horses are skitterish, they spook easily. Routine makes them feel safe, and if they feel safe then you’ll be safe.” He clicked his tongue and tapped on the front leg of a much younger Thunder. As he had so many times before, Thunder lifted his leg and bent his hoof up so your dad could snag it between his legs and pick the dirt out. “You hold his leg like this so he feels secure. It’s more stable.” Thunder took a big breath and snorted. “See, that means he’s content. This feels good for him. Like I’m scratching an itch he can never reach.” You nodded and held the bag of brushes and picks in your small 8 year old hands. “Sometimes you might feel them lean towards you but don’t worry, they’re not going to fall on you they’re just showing they trust you.” He let the hoof go, patting Thunder on the shoulder and saying, “Good boy.” to another grateful snort. Your dad moved around and did each hoof in turn as you looked on. “Your turn now pumpkin.” he said passing you the pick and motioning to Lightning. “Daddy I miss you so much.” you muttered to yourself as you returned to the present, crying as you cleaned off Lightning’s last hoof. “I wish you were here…..I…I don’t know what I’m doing anymore!” You sobbed openly, the barn unresponsive to your cries.

“Hello?” The query came from outside the barn. You quickly dried your eyes as best as you could and made your way to the door. There in the doorway stood your closest neighbor, Mr. Pearson. His gruff demeanor and grisly scraggly beard had always scared you as a child, but your adult eyes now saw him for what he was, a nice old man.

Mr. Pearson had been there for you on multiple occasions after your parents funeral. Your brother and sister had lives to go back to, so the farm was left to you to handle. Without Mr. Pearson’s help those first few months a disaster would have certainly fallen the farm. He had helped you find buyers for the livestock, and homes for the goats and chickens. It was his suggestion that you hold onto the horses to keep a piece of the old farm while you found your way. Mr. Pearson was just as devastated by the loss of your parents as you were. He had known your parents for years and all three had grown up, and grown older together. It’s the kind of tie between people that only time can forge. Mr. Pearson was the man that discovered the accident scene, and had taken it upon himself to let you know what had happened. You don’t know if you could have been as strong as him. Maybe this is just something that happens as you age, but he seemed to know just what to say to soothe your agony.

When your brother and sister flew back home, Mr. Pearson drove you there and returned you home so you could see them off. He popped in every day to check in on you. Sometimes with left overs from Mrs. Pearson’s cooking the prior night. You always accepted the generosity with a smile if only to hide the tears. It was only Mr. and Mrs. Pearson at their farm, and despite having cooked for two for nearly a decade, Mrs. Pearson suddenly forgot how to portion out the food properly. It was their way of taking care of you without you feeling like you were a burden on them.

Without a thought you burst into tears and wrapped your arms around the old man. “There there honey, what’s wrong?” he asked gently as he held you close and patted you on the back like fathers instinctively know how to do.

You looked at him through blurry tear soaked eyes, “I don’t…..I don’t know.” you sniffled and buried your head into his chest as he tightened his grip around you.

“Oh honey, it’s ok.” he cooed, “everything will be ok.” He gripped your shoulders and held you back from him so he could look into your eyes, “Come on little one, let’s go inside. We need to have a chat.” You nodded slowly and followed him out of the barn and up the narrow path through the snow up to the old farmhouse.

After removing your winter gear you motioned Mr. Pearson to join you in the kitchen, putting a pot of coffee on and leaning against the counter.

“Alcina, honey, how old are Thunder and Lightning now?” he asked softly leaning up against the adjacent counter.

You looked up and around the kitchen trying to recall how old they were, and sheepishly you looked back at Mr. Pearson and replied, “Actually……I’m….I’m not sure.”

He nodded and smiled, “Well honey, they’re getting old, at least as horses go. Thunder is about 29 years old, and Lightning is 27.”

“Oh.” you replied, unsure of what to say or where this conversation was leading. In truth you hadn’t realized their age nor had you given it a second thought. Pets always seem to be ageless until the point where it becomes impossible to notice their health slipping away. “I didn’t realize that.”

“Now, Mrs. Pearson and I were talking,” you smiled as he spoke. There was something endearing about couples that referred to their partner as Mr. or Mrs. suchandsuch. It just seemed so down to earth. “and we thought that maybe it would be a good idea if we looked after Thunder and Lightning.” he continued.

You stood for a moment in silence, not sure what to say.

“It’s just that you know Mr. Friesen is always out at our place looking after our stock, and it would be easier for him to check in on Thunder and Lightning then and there.” Mr. Friesen was the area vet and would often make rounds to the larger farms. He and Mr. Pearson were good friends and he always made a point of making the Pearson’s the last stop on the circuit. He would sit and chat for hours, often staying for supper after he had looked after the foals from that season. Mr. Friesen also had eyes for Mrs. Pearson, but was good enough to keep those lusty thoughts to himself.

“I…..I guess that makes sense.” you manage to reply.

“Now they’re still your horses, we’re not taking them from you.” Mr. Pearson clarified, extending his hand out reassuringly as he spoke. “You can come and visit any time, but me and Mrs. Pearson will take care of them like they were our own. We’ll make sure they’re safe and well fed. You have nothing to worry about…”

“Oh I know you will Mr. Pearson.” you interrupted. These Pearson’s had bred horses for nearly three decades, just as his father had before him. Almost all of the horses in the area were Pearson farm horses. If there was anyone that was qualified to look after horses it was Mr. and Mrs. Pearson. You didn’t want him to think you felt otherwise. “I know you will Mr. Pearson,” you repeated, “I….I guess…it’s…just a surprise that’s all.” you said honestly.

He strode across the kitchen and put his large thick calloused hand on your shoulder, “They’ll be in good hands, I promise you that.”

“I know….I know…” you started to blubber and once more collapsed into the old man’s embrace.

“There there honey, don’t cry.” he murmured softly, holding you tight in his arms for the second time.

“It’s just…..oh Mr. Pearson I have no idea what I’m doing anymore.” you sobbed openly and he patted your back gently.

“It’ll be ok honey, you’ll figure it out. I know you will. Mrs. Pearson and I both know you’ve got a great life ahead of you.”

You managed to smile at him through your tears, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek, “You’re such a sweet man, Mrs. Pearson is lucky to have you.”

“Who’d you think I learned this from.” he winked, “Now pour me a cup of that delicious smelling coffee and tell me all about this visitor you had.”

You cocked your head to the side and furrowed your brow at his nonchalant question. How did he know? You wondered.

Answering your inquisitive look he continued, “Mrs. Pearson heard about him from the Penner’s. Their boy had been working on your visitor’s car.”

Of course their “boy” was hardly a boy at all, but the same large odour impaired driver that took me in his tow truck to the service station. You smirked and blushed involuntarily. Turning away from Mr. Pearson you quickly retrieved to coffee cups and filled them averting your gaze from the old man while you regained your composure. “What did you hear?” you finally managed to ask.

“Oh nothing much,” the old man lied. “Just that he had ditched his car….” Mr. Pearson chuckled at his accidental pun, “…literally I guess, and taken refuge at your place while it was being worked on.”

You appreciated his soft handed approach to checking on you. The lack of eventful happenings in small towns had a tendency to cause the residents to titter any time anything out of the ordinary occurred. Gossip was almost as popular a pastime as fishing was. “Oh,” you finally responded having determined to sanitize the last few days for the sake of avoiding future awkwardness. “Yes, well he showed up at my doorstep…” you continued the story over the next half hour or so, leaving out the flirting, the nakedness, and most certainly the soul altering sex you had just last night. Somehow you felt that Mr. Pearson wouldn’t understand, or approve.

“So what did you talk about then?” he asked politely, sipping at his coffee and looking across the table at you with disturbingly perceptive eyes.

“Actually, I think I did most of the talking.” you laughed. Mr. Pearson smiled and nodded as if he expected nothing less. “He saw the picture in the hallway from when I was in Paris, and I guess I ended up talking about that the whole time.”

“You miss it don’t you?” the old man said, putting down his coffee so he could look at you directly.

Furrowing your brow you let out a sigh and slumped your shoulders, “Yah….I guess I do.” sighing once more to punctuate the small statement.

“Well you’re pretty far from Paris here.” he chuckled, gesturing out the kitchen window to the blustery snow and wide open fields beyond. “Do you think you belong here, or there?” he asked, cutting directly to the heart of the matter expertly.

“I……I….” you stammered, and stopped. Biting your lip you looked down at your now empty coffee cup and watched it begin to blur as more tears formed. “I’m not sure…”

Mr. Pearson reached over the table to hold your hand, “Yes you are, you’re just afraid to say it out loud.” He took his hand away and folded his arms like the surrogate father he was, “Look Alcina, if your dad was here I know what he would say. He would tell you that you need to follow what drives you. This farm, this life, this was his dream. Your mom’s dream. It’s not yours and it never was.”

You sobbed quietly and nodded, “It’s just….I feel like…if I leave I’ll lose them forever.”

The old man patted your hand reassuringly, “I know….I know honey, but this is just a house. These are just things. They will fade into dust, but no matter what happens to this house you will always have the memories of your parents and growing up here.” he sighed and looked away for a moment. “Mrs. Pearson and I were never blessed with children, that’s just the way life is, but I know that if you were my daughter, I wouldn’t want to hold you back from the life that you deserve.”

You sobbed again, the tears sliding down your cheeks and your throat ached with the truth of his words. You didn’t belong here. This wasn’t your life. You needed to forge your own path and you couldn’t do it while you held onto the past. You wiped the tears from your cheeks and your eyes and sniffled while looking back up at Mr. Pearson. He looked at you with his fatherly gaze, tears welling up but not yet cascading down his face. He maintained his composure far better than you could. “But what do I do?” you asked him, “I didn’t finish school. I don’t know what I’m going to do to even survive.” you whimpered.

“Mrs. Pearson and I will look after you, at least until you get on your feet.” You shook your head in protest but he simply raised his hand up to stop you, “We insist honey. I saw how happy you were when you came back from Paris and we want to see you that happy again. That’s that.” he waved his hands to the side as an umpire would indicate his statement was “safe”.

Once more you burst into tears, and while crying slid out from your side of the table and onto his, gripping him in a hug that would put any bear to shame. “I love you Mr. Pearson. I love you and Mrs. Pearson so much. If I could do anything for you….ever…..anything at all….I will….I ….you know…”

He interrupted your blubbering by kissing you on the cheek, “Sweety, all we want is to see you smile again. That would make us the happiest.”

“Ok,” you capitulated. “Ok…..I will….” hugging him roughly once more.

For the next few days you prepared for your new journey. Gathering what clothes you needed, and which ones you didn’t you stuffed into a large box for good will. You packed up pictures to take with you and sent the rest to your brother and sister. Mr. and Mrs. Pearson had already taken Thunder and Lightning so now the only thing keeping you at the house was the house itself.

You had long difficult conversations with both your siblings over what to do with the farm. Your brother thought it would be best to sell it and split the proceeds three ways, while your sister argued for holding onto the property incase one of her children wanted to become a farmer, however unlikely that would be. In the end, however, the decision as hard as it was fell to you, the youngest of you three. It was with a heavy heart that you decided to sell the farm, as your brother suggested. You put it on the market and purchased a ticket for Paris the next day. Mr. and Mrs. Pearson were going to look after the sale and contact all three of you when the lawyers were done with all the paperwork. Now with nothing holding you back any more, you flew back to the place where you first found yourself.

All of this was unknown to me as I sped down rough snow laden highways on my way back to the farm.

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