At Last

Part 4

By: Girl Bard

For disclaimers see Part 1.

June 20, 2001

Lying back on the bed, I close my eyes wearily. I never want to get up again, and I honestly think I could be content to lie here forever. Jaden's tall form is stretched out, and each second her breathing grows heavier.

"Are you as worn out as I am?" I ask tiredly and she chuckles in return.

"How can one little person have so much energy? It's not like we fed her sugar all weekend or anything, but she just never gets tired!" Jaden responds, her voice tinged with disbelief.

"I know. I kept waiting for her battery pack to wear out. I don't know how Joe and Di do it, especially now with little Jay." I mutter as I massage my aching temples.

We've never had Kasey for an entire weekend before, and it sure took its toll on the both of us. Don't get me wrong, we had a blast, but the little girl can't get enough excitement.

"I think she's going to be a stuntwoman when she grows up." Jaden mentions, causing me to giggle at the thought of Kasey jumping off roofs.

"Did you see when she tried to leap from horse to horse on the carousel? I thought we were going to get kicked out of Six Flags." I laugh, remembering how much fun she had. We went on all the rides she was tall enough for, and had a great time.

"She's a nut. Speaking of horses, you feel like a trail ride?" She questions and all thoughts of my exhaustion fade away.

"I'd love it." I answer immediately, pecking Jaden on the cheek as I spring out of bed and pull on my riding clothes.

The driveway crunches under our tires as we pull down the long driveway of the barn. As soon as the car is stopped, we unhook Bean and Bella from their doggie seat belts and they spring eagerly from the car.

They love running around here, and Jaden was very careful and took lots of time teaching them proper behavior around the horses. Bean pretty much left the large animals alone, but Bella; being part Border Collie, couldn't resist trying to herd them in the pasture. Jaden must have spent hours out here with the two dogs; working with them until the horses are the last things on their minds when they're here. There are other fun things like the pond and acres of rolling pastures for them to explore.

I haven't spent as much time out here as I would have liked. Since our wedding, Jaden has tried to make it out every few days after work. She's also been visiting her grandmother quite regularly, and I'm really proud of her. I know it's difficult for her to do.

College kept me really busy this last semester, and it almost seems like a relief to be working with Dr. Dodes four days a week. I like my job, and I think the patients feel comfortable around me. The Doctor is fair to work for and Kim and I are able to have lunch together a few times a week since she is working for another psychiatrist in the same building.

I hope to be able to visit the barn a lot more this summer. Jaden doesn't ride much, since all the horses are aged, but she makes sure they get the right amount of exercise.

By the time I make it into the barn, the four horses are at the gate to the paddock, their necks craned over the fence as Jaden feeds them treats. They love her; as soon as they see her approach they come running.

"Hiya Lucy." I greet the big Draft-type mare. She's the horse I usually ride; she and Studley have the least physical problems. Jaden slips through the rails of the fence and distracts the other two horses as I open the gate for Studley and Lucy.

They obediently trot to their stalls as trained. The first time I saw Jaden do this I almost had a heart attack. My experience with horses is that you never, ever let them loose unless they are in a safe and enclosed area. So to see Jaden just let them out of the paddock with free rein of the entire property, I almost swallowed my tongue. I soon realized that she has a knack for animals, an innate knowledge that allows her to train them easily to do just about anything she wants.

It still freaks me out though, and one of these days I expect them to go trotting off. Jaden says she trusts these two, and they are so old that if they did decide to get loose, they wouldn't go far.

I easily tack Lucy up; at first it was a challenge to me because of her huge size. My horse, Annie, was really small and better suited to my height. I'm not used to having a 17-hand horse, that's for sure. But Lucy and I have become fast friends. She's gentle and sweet, and appreciates the treats I slip her during my visit.

I still miss Annie though, everyday.

"Ready?" Jaden questions from Studley's stall and I lead Lucy out into the bright sunlight. It's a rather warm day, but the breeze makes it perfect for riding.

Giving me a boost onto Lucy's broad back, Jaden then effortlessly swings onto Studley. I take in her completely relaxed form with bemusement.

"No saddle today, huh?" I ask as she gathers the reins in her hands.

She shrugs self-depreciatingly. "Nah, I sit in a saddle all week. Besides, he's not going anywhere."

I take in Studley's almost snoozing form and bite back a laugh. "No, he's not exactly a wild steed." I answer as we head off to the trails.

Jaden gives a shrill whistle and I can hear the dogs running toward us from the stream at the bottom of the pasture.

By the time we enter the cool forest, they are bounding happily ahead of us, water dripping off of their fur. I glance at Jaden, her face bathed in shadow and light and smile. Life doesn't get any better than this.


We've been riding in comfortable silence for about a half an hour. Stretching my long legs down Studley's side, I glance to Grace and find her looking ahead with a gentle smile on her face.

"I've been thinking about something." I tell her, and she turns toward me and raises her eyebrows.

"My horse Robbie, he's probably going to be ready to retire in a few years. He's getting older and stiffer, you know? That's what happened to Studley, and I ended up buying him from the force. I want to do the same with Robbie, he's been a great horse for the past few years and I want to make sure he's taken care of in his later years." I start and Grace nods.

"That's a great idea." She says, smiling.

"Well, I thought maybe by that time, cause you'd be finished at Pressman, that maybe we could buy a little place like this farm, you know? With a barn and lots of property to keep him and Studley on. We could get a few horses for ourselves if you'd want." I continue, wondering what her reaction would be.

Her eyes light up. "Would you really want that? A farm would be a lot of work, and we're both so busy now with everything." Gracie says, her voice concerned, but I know the idea is exciting her.

Now is the time to break the news. Unsure as to how she's going to react, I carefully begin my speech I've been rehearsing in my head for months.

"Um, I know it would be a lot of work, but I've been doing a lot of thinking." I begin, looking to her for a reaction. She looks encouraging, so I continue. "I think by then, I'd want to quit the force." I say quickly.

Grace gently pulls back on the reins, causing Lucy to come to a halt. "What?" She questions in disbelief.

I lean back and Studley immediately stops. Patting his side for reassurance, I try to explain my point.

"I don't know, Gracie, I just haven't been happy there recently. I don't know if I'm tired or burnt out, but my work doesn't give me any kind of satisfaction anymore. Maybe it's because I resent the long hours and unpredictable shifts now, before I didn't care how much I worked because I didn't have anything else. Now, I want to be with you and the dogs. I want to start a family with you in a few years, and I want to be there when our children are born and start to walk and crawl. Not on some cold Boston street freezing my ass off and wondering if the next time I go into action I won't come home. I don't want you or our children to live with that fear. I've seen guys get hurt or killed and leave their wives and children, and I don't think that's fair." I say, the words coming out of my mouth in a rush.

"Whoa, slow down!" Grace begins, reaching her hand out to lightly grasp my arm. "Where is this all coming from? Suddenly we have children?" She begins, the corners of her mouth curling into a smile.

"This isn't funny." I tell her and her smile fades.

"I'm sorry, Spots, I wasn't making fun of you." She replies honestly. "I'm just surprised that you're thinking this far into the future. It doesn't seem like you, that's all." Grace pauses, pursing her lips. "Listen sweetheart, I'm behind you, 100% in whatever you want to do. I do worry about you every day and I'm fully aware your job is dangerous. But most importantly, I want you to be happy. I know your job has made you happy in the past and that you love working with the horses. I just want you to think things through and make the best decision for you."

I work out what she's said in my head. It all seems to make sense, I really didn't think Grace would care if I quit the force, but I wanted her honest opinion. "Thank you. I'm just going over ideas for the future, like I said, it wouldn't be for a few years. There's a possibility for me to work just as someone who trains horses for the force, and not actually go into the field." Swallowing, I admit what really has been bothering me. "It's strange, Gracie, I'm not really sure what's wrong with me. I'm not afraid to do my job, but the parts of it I used to find so exciting and thrilling now just make me hate it even more. I feel like such a wuss." I tell her, my voice low.

Her warm hand tilts my chin up until we are looking eye to eye. "You are not a wuss." She tells me vehemently. "You are the bravest person I know. Jaden, everyone in your line of work goes through this, you know? You're growing up and realizing how fragile life is." She continues, tilting her head. "Remember how when you were a teenager and it was fun to do exciting and dangerous things? You're coming out of that phase in your life and realizing that you're not invincible. It's perfectly normal and there's nothing wrong with you." She finishes.

Lucy stomps her massive foot in impatience. Smiling at Grace, I squeeze her hand. "Thanks." I tell her as I urge Studley forward into a brisk trot. Lucy follows, her lumbering gait, as usual, making it difficult for Grace to post.

"Anytime." She answers, her voice vibrating from her perch on the horse. "Remember what I told you, Spots? You can't get rid of me; where you go, I go. And if you want to quit the force and become a farmer, then I'll get a pair of overalls and you can just call me Ellie Mae." Grace smiles, her nose crinkling adorably.

"Come on, Ellie Mae." I call to her as Studley eases into a canter. "I'll race you!"

Lucy's hoof beats echo behind me as Studley lopes down the trail, his long black mane blowing into my face.

July 7, 2001

Humming under my breath, I finish cubing the cheese and pull the saran wrap over the platter. We're having the gang over for a post-fourth-of-July party on the beach this afternoon, and everyone should be arriving shortly.

Jaden is down at the beach, finishing assembling the lawn chairs and cleaning out the fire pit. We're going to roast hot dogs and Joe is bringing his portable gas grill to cook hamburgers and chicken.

I'm really excited, the weather is really nice and the last of the early summer seaweed is off the beach. It should be really fun. We bought a few large umbrellas to sit under so Kasey and JJ didn't have to be out in the sun all day.

"It's me!" Steele calls before opening our front door. He enters, his blondish hair made lighter by the sun and his skin bronzed into a deep tan.

"Hey!" I greet him with a quick hug. "How are you?" I ask, having not seen him in a few weeks. He and Jaden have been working completely opposite schedules and this is the first day they've both had off in awhile.

"Good!" He smiles, shrugging. "Val and I are kind of over." He offers, his smile quickly fading.

"Oh, Harold!" I say in despair. "What happened? I thought things were going okay?" He shrugs again, a gesture that looks foolish because of his massive size. "It's the distance thing, she's so far away and we never get to see each other. I guess it's for the best."

Clearing his throat, he looks around the apartment. "Where's Jaden? I promised I'd help her set up my volleyball net." He questions, holding the bulky box in his hand.

"Down at the beach." I tell him and he quickly excuses himself to go and tag along with her.

I'm sorry to hear about him and Val, they were really cute together and it was nice to see him happy with someone. I know that if it's meant to be, they will work it out.

"Hey, Grace!" Kim's booming voice calls from down the hall and I open the door for her. She looks cute, dressed in a pair of denim overall shorts and a gray tank top. Her unruly hair is pulled back in a few barrettes, but a few curly blond locks keep slipping free.

"Hi!" I smile at her; concerned, as I notice the circles under her eyes. Since Jay was born I can tell something's been bothering her, but she won't admit to anything. "Where's Stace?"

Kim frowns slightly. "She's not coming, something about having sleep to catch up on." Her hazel eyes meet mine. "But we'll have fun without her. How can I help?"

"Do you need to talk?" I ask her and she shakes her head quickly. I continue to press on. "Because if you do, I'm here for you. You know that?" I add and she looks up at me, faint tears visible in her expressive eyes.

I pull her into a hug. "Hey, what's going on? Kim, talk to me, something's been bothering you for months now."

She returns my embrace briefly before pulling away and rubbing her eyes. She waves her hand in the air and composes herself. "It's nothing, just the usual crap. I'm stressed out about finding a job after graduation, and Stace and I aren't really getting along right now. It's really no big deal." She says unconvincingly.

"Darling," I smile at her, "You are the last person who has to worry about finding a job in a YEAR from now." I tell her, stressing the last part. "Your stepfather knows everyone under the sun but you don't even need his help, you are the star of the department! Professors' place bets on how high your GPA will be and whatever or whenever you write anything they line up to read it. You're brilliant and gorgeous and everyone loves you." I continue, causing her to smile briefly. "I'm sorry if you and Stace are having problems right now." I tell her honestly. "But things will work out, I promise."

"Thanks." She responds almost shyly, a rarity for her. She eyes the platters of vegetables and other goodies I've been preparing. "Now, let's get these where they are supposed to go." Kim says as she swipes a carrot.

I smile at her, bumping her with my hip as we carry the spead of food down to the beach.

Part 5: Coming soon!

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