Of Life and Love

"Jack, tell me again what we're doing on a farm?"

Jack sighed and kissed the temple of his significant other. "We're here because these people have a horse who just won a very important race over at Saratoga, and my boss wants me to do a story on him."

"Yes, ok, fine. That's what you're supposed to be doing here. Now why on earth did you drag me out of my nice warm bed at half o'clock in the morning? You know how late I worked last night..." David's sentence tapered off into a jaw-cracking yawn and Jack's eyes crinkled in amusement.

"Dave, babe, we haven't gone anywhere together in ages. I thought this would be a nice way for us to spend some quality time together, out in the spring sunshine. And I get some work done too."

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," quoted David as he rubbed his bleary eyes and slid out of the passenger side door of their little blue Honda.

They were standing in a parking lot in front of a large white barn bearing the name Cherry Hill Stables written in burgundy paint over a set of open Dutch doors. From the darkness within came the occasional snort or nicker. The clean scents of freshly baled hay and wood shavings, with the underlying heady musk of large animal drifted past on the playful spring breeze. A country paradise.

Somewhere inside the barn, a door closed and a petite silver haired woman stepped out into the sunlight. Shielding her eyes against the brightness, she beckoned for the young men to come over.

Crossing the small strip of pavement that separated the parking lot from the barn, Jack pressed one large hand into the small of David's back and leaned over to whisper in his ear. "Smile, Dave, and be open minded. This will be fun, I promise.

" David grunted and attempted to look alert.

Upon closer inspection the woman, who introduced herself as Virginia, was dressed in a plaid button down shirt and ragged jeans that both looked like they had seen better days. Her boots were caked in mud and the gardening gloves that dangled from her pocket had more holes than the plot of The Matrix. On the contrary, the woman herself, though she could have easily been a grandmother, was vibrantly alive. A genuine smile never left her face and her eyes glittered with intelligence and excitement as she welcomed them to her home.

"The pleasure is ours, Ma'am," answered Jack.

The woman laughed and ran a calloused hand through her short hair, making it stand up at all angles. "Oh, please, just call me Virginia. Everything else just makes me feel old."

David found her spirit to be rather contagious and his mood lightened considerably.

After letting their eyes adjust to the dim lighting inside the barn, their first stop was the tack room. Crossing the threshold, Jack got the singularly peculiar impression that he was entering a museum. Every item of horse related equipment ever created was housed in that one room. Saddles, bridles, martingales and harnesses, bandages, leads, blankets, boots, brushes, helmets, and even what appeared to be a spare wagon wheel. Everything looked well used and well cared for. The crowning ornament, however, was not the ridiculous amount of colourful ribbons that adorned every inch of unoccupied wall space, but a wooden box resting in a place of honour on top of the hot water heater.

Inside the box lay a proud gray tabby and her six new kittens.

"They're almost two weeks old now," whispered Virginia, sounding almost as self-satisfied as the mother cat herself.

David placed an arm around Jack's waist as they peered down at the little balls of downy fluff and big blue eyes tumbling over each other and their mother.

All too soon it was time to move on, and the three companions left the tack room and started down the main aisle of the stable proper. Virginia stopped at every stall to give its occupant a pat and tell the boys a little bit about that particular horse, and horses in general. After about a dozen of such short visits, they reached a stall that was noticeably larger than the rest. A wooden plaque nailed to the door read 'Tangled Garden'. Inside was the horse that was to be the subject of Jack's article.

He listened politely to the interview for a few minutes, but David soon began to yawn again. Despite the noblest intentions, he simply could not focus on conversation.

Both Jack and Virginia chuckled as they caught David yawning for the bazillionth time.

"Please, David," said Virginia, still grinning. "You don't need to wait around for us. Feel free to explore for yourself. And," here her eyes took on a suspicious twinkling; "you might take interest in the occupant of the last stall on the right hand side. You can go right in, if you like."

David thanked her and wandered off down the aisle. He was so tired! He had paused to scratch behind the ears of a fat, jolly little pony when he noticed that the stall across the way held not one, but two horses, a mare and her foal. David left the pony and went to lean on the window ledge of the stall with the new baby. How comical the foal looked, with its long spindly legs and short little tuff of a tail. Curious, it turned to look straight at the young man, and David nearly melted at the sight of those large chocolate eyes, shining in eagerness and sheer joy of life.

He lost track of how long he stood there, watching the baby. The mare was nervous, and would not let her foal get close enough to David for him to touch, but that was just fine. The feeling was enough, the concept that this, right here, was the physical embodiment of springtime. New life, full of eagerness for a future of unimaginable possibilities, with someone to love you and watch out for you. He sneaked a glance over his shoulder to where Jack was still interviewing Virginia. As if sensing his lover's gaze on him, Jack looked up and their eyes met. David couldn't fight the shy, loving smile that spread across his lips. The big stallion, Tangled Garden, interrupted the moment when he gave Jack a rough bump with his nose, as if to say, You're here to see me, remember? You can get all lovey-dovey with your boyfriend later.

Yawning once again, David decided to check out the animal in the last stall on the right side before he actually collapsed of exhaustion.

"God, I need a nap," he muttered to himself. "That, and a more sympathetic boyfriend."

To David's delight, there was another foal in the last stall. But no mare; this one must be an orphan. 'Poor little guy,' he thought, before he remembered Virginia's invitation and let himself into the stall. Fresh pine shavings crunching underfoot, the baby cautiously approached David, finally stopping just close enough to sniff his outstretched fingertips.

"Aren't you just the tiniest little thing? Look, you don't even come up to my waist," cooed David, trying to earn the foal's trust. Slowly, he moved away from the stall door so that he could lean back against a sturdy wall. His knees buckled and he sank to the ground. "And look at your cute little blanket. No mama to keep you warm, huh?" The baby took a few wobbly steps closer, and David stretched out his legs. So tired.

The last thing David remembered before closing his eyes was the foal's quiet sigh as it lay down beside him, and the warmth of its round tummy pressed against his thigh.

It was a good twenty minutes later when Jack and Virginia discovered David and the nameless orphan foal, both fast asleep, the little horse's head resting in the young man's lap.

le fin