Jacob and I have started spending more time together at the stables. I do not feel too bad taking Jacob with me, since Marcus is not interested in being there at all and I would spent a great deal of time with the horses anyway. Jacob’s initial reservation towards the large animals seems to dissolve more and more with every day at the stables and he gets along well with Chardonnay.
Today I have something planned for him. I have prepared it in my mind since we first met, to be honest.
“Are we turning around?” Jacob’s wheelchair glides effortlessly on the paved country road.
I look down at him from the horse’s back. “Mmm… I want to show you something.” I steer Chardonnay into a road forking from the one we have been on. It will lead us directly back to the stable. Usually I do not use paved roads much since it is in general better for the sake of the horse’s joints and hooves to ride on soil and grass. But the wheelchair does not do well on uneven ground. Jacob follows me, pulling the handle on his hand bike.
I wait standing nearby with Chardonnay while Jacob dismantles the hand bike and loads it into the trunk of his Jeep.
“So, what is it?” He asks, still sitting on the edge of the trunk.
“It’s a surprise. We’ve got to go to the riding hall.”
Jacob looks at me, amused, one eyebrow cocked. “Okay…”
We walk side by side, me leading Chardonnay on my right and Jacob with his cane on my left. The walkway to that part of the stables is much more even and less challenging for him than the grassy path leading to Chardonnay’s box. I am used to Jacob’s presence by now, but I still find myself sneaking side glances when he walks next to me, my curiosity of the detailed mechanics of his gait insatiable. When we have reached the large building with the riding hall, we pass the entrance that leads to the stands, walk around the corner and directly enter the hall through a large gate.
I watch Jacob from the corners of my eyes, checking how he copes with the wood chips that cover the floor. “Do you want to--?”
Jacob takes a few tentative steps, the tip of his cane sinking into the lose ground, before he nods curtly and stores his cane under his left arm. He takes my offered underarm with his right hand in a firm grip and slowly we make our way further inside the empty hall.
“Huh…” I can tell Jacob has been concentrating on the ground in front of him because he realizes the construction only when we are already standing in front of it. “What's that for?”
I wait until he has switched back to his cane and lead Chardonnay around the ramp that is standing in the middle of the riding hall, ending in a platform some distance above the ground, leading seemingly nowhere. I have asked them to leave it here after the last riding class.
“It’s for getting onto the horse’s backs,” I explain. Chardonnay stops aligned with the end of the ramp and I let go of the reins. I have trained with her to get her used to the ramp, to make her stand still in front of it and to expect people to climb on her back from the side of the ramp. Unsurprisingly, she has mastered all of it in a rather short time, being naturally of a stoic nature.
Jacob is still standing on the other side where the ramp begins, frowning. “Yeah… but… what do you have in mind?”
“What do you think?” I tease him, suppressing a grin.
Jacob shifts his weight. “Huh… you think she is up for that?”
I pat Chardonnay’s side. “I’m pretty sure she is.” I bite on my lip. Have I been going too fast? How foolish of me to think Jacob could have changed his mind about horses and how pretentious to believe he could trust me enough for this. God, what had I been thinking-
“If you say so…”
“You don’t need to, if you don’t want-“ I hurry to say. “Really. I don't want to force you, it's probably a stupid idea anyway--”
“No…” Jacob drives the tip of his cane deeper into the ground without looking at me. “I want to.”
These are the exact same words that he said to me in the lift before we entered the opera building. I choose my next words carefully. “I promise we can stop whenever you want to stop. It’s only us three in here.”
To my surprise, and relief, Jacob finally leans the cane against the side of the ramp and grabs the railing with his right hand instead. Slowly he makes his way up and towards the edge of the platform. I stand in front of Chardonnay and take the reins again, in case she decides she is bored and likes to wander off.
“So… how do I do this?” Jacob asks, standing still a few steps away from Chardonnay.
I try to make my voice calm and my instructions clear. “Get closer… yes, like this. Turn around?”
Jacob shuffles his feet, slowly turning, and grabs the opposite rail with his hand for balance. He twists his upper body to look back down at me and the horse.
“Now sit down on the saddle like you would on a bench. Sideways. Understand?” I have discussed with Evelyn how to best get Jacob on a horse and she has recommended this approach. Still, when I see Jacob’s obvious reluctance I am not so sure anymore. Maybe this is all a very bad idea.
“Huh… okay…” Jacob slowly lets go of the rail, bents down a little and puts first his right hand on the saddle, testing the waters. Chardonnay peaks up her ears and shifts her weight at that, standing straight. Jacob flinches and pulls back, clutching the rail again, his breath loud enough for me to hear.
I stand a little more sideways, still holding the reins but now also guarding Chardonnay’s other side. “She is not going to go away. I am standing here and she will not be able to make a step, okay? Keep your feet on the ramp, think of her back as a bench and be careful to not overbalance backwards. I am standing here to catch you but you already know I am no good landing ground.” I hear myself talking and I am surprised about how calm I sound.
Jacob chuckles nervously at that but seems to relax again. Good, finally. Carefully, very carefully, he lowers himself down in the saddle, his back stiff as a rod, his left leg twitching a little when he is sitting. I hear him exhale slowly.
“Are you good? Sitting stably? Get all your weight on your butt.”
“Yeah…” Jacob adjusts his right leg a little. His left hand is pressed to his chest, his right hand is gripping the side of the saddle so hard, his knuckles stand out white.
“You are doing well. Everything is fine,” I whisper, patting Chardonnay absentmindedly.
We stay like this for a while. Chardonnay has not moved anything else than her ears, listening for the low sound of Jacob’s breathing and my rambling. She seems to know that this is a sensible moment.
“How are you?”
“Um… good, I guess?” Jacob has lifted his head. It is a little strange talking to him since he is looking in the other direction and has his back turned to me.
“Do you want to leave it at that or go on?”
“I… I guess we can go on.” His voice sounds steady enough for me.
“Good. We will get your right leg over to the other side of the horse’s back. First, try to turn until you look towards Chardonnay’s head.”
Jacob shifts a little, swaying once and I step closer and put a hand on the small of his back. It is all I can reach from down here. Crap, probably I should have gotten help for this. I feel panic rise in my throat.
“Now, lift your right leg slowly over her neck and to the other side.” My voice does not betray me.
It is probably the most precarious moment when Jacob’s good leg hovers somewhere above Chardonnay’s neck and he has to let go of the saddle to bring it all the way to the other side. I tense and hold my breath but he manages without problems. We are both sighing relieved when he finally sits correctly. I have thrown the stirrups over the horse’s neck. He will not need them for now.
“So… you can grab the front of the saddle for balance. You don’t need to do anything. Try to sit deep and heavy... picture a sack of potatoes. Let the weight of your legs fix you in the saddle. All okay?”
“Yep… I’m good.” Jacob grimaces at me warily, still unsure, and I step in front of the horse.
I lead Chardonnay in slow circles around the hall, first watching Jacob intently for any signs of sliding out of the saddle but he has apparently good balance sitting down. His left arm remains pressed to his side, he seems to completely have forgotten about it. After some time we both relax. I cannot believe he did it, that he is on my horse’s back and that it is working out fine, that he might even be enjoying it a little. Chardonnay trots well-behaved next to me, but I did not expect anything less from her.
After a few rounds I declare the end of this riding session and Jacob climbs off Chardonnay’s back by repeating the procedure from before in reversed order. He pulls himself on his feet using the railing to his right and slowly walks back down.
I wait for him at the end of the ramp, his cane in my hand and Chardonnay behind me. “That was great, Jacob.”
I offer my arm again but Jacob slings his right arm over my shoulder and pulls me into a hug. “Thanks,” he murmurs into my hair. My heart is beating wildly. I smell Jacob, grass and horse and dust. The moment is over too soon and we make our way outside slowly, Jacob with his arm still over my shoulder. He seems freed, laughs and jokes around the whole afternoon, more than I have ever seen him do.
When the sun is already hanging low over the horizon I join Jacob on the bench outside the stable. It has developed into some kind of routine for him to sit there while I clean the stable and feed the horses. He is no real use to me during these tasks anyway, since holding a regular pitchfork, pushing our wheelbarrows or hauling around hay requires four working limbs.
Although he had time to relax, the exhaustion is palpable on his face.
“How are you?”
Jacob opens his eyes and turns his face away from the last sun beams to look at me. A smile, free of pain, turns the edges of his lips up. “Tired. But okay. Thanks.”
I reflect his smile. “I’m proud of you. I guess it was not easy,” I add carefully.
Jacob releases the fingers of his left hand that he has been extending gently. “Nope, it wasn’t. I’m not sure I would even have done that before- I mean, Chardonnay is huge, damn it!”
I laugh. “You did really well. To be honest, I did not expect you to go all the way through with it, actually.”
Jacob looks at me. “Yeah, me neither. Somehow you made me think I could do it.”
That makes me smile and blush at the same time, and I say nothing.
“I guess I don’t always know what I can do.”
“No one does before they try,” I say mildly.
“That’s right. It’s just… people don’t seem to expect anything of me anymore. It’s nice, for a change, to be challenged by someone. Thanks.”
I snuggle closer to him, leaning my head on his shoulder. He winces and stiffens and I realize that it is his left.
“Am I hurting you?”
“No. No…” Jacob swallows and after some time I feel his body sink into the bench again, his curled left arm pressing lightly into my side. “It’s just strange.”
I do not ask what exactly is strange. We listen to the horses munch on their food in our backs.
“You like horses a lot, don’t you?” Jacob asks.
“Mm… yeah. I was a lonely child. When I was younger there was this horse I used to take for a ride twice a week… It was a great friend. You know… horses get you when people don’t. I used to go to the stable when I was angry or sad and it always helped sort of.”
I can tell he does not fully understand and I chuckle. “Once I ran away from home and I went to the stable in the middle of the night. Just laid down on the ground next to the horse, with my back touching theirs. It was warm and I fell asleep at once.”
“Didn’t it… I don’t know… squeeze you to death when it turned?”
I chuckle. “No, it didn’t. I guess it sensed the presence of another living being. My parents knew where I was of course but they let me sleep there nevertheless. They only came in the morning to bring me breakfast.”
Jacob’s low laugh vibrates in his chest. “Must be nice,” he says. “Having a place to go to.”
“Hm… Where did you go when you were angry?”
“I don’t know…” Jacob tries to evade.
“There must be something…” I usually do not poke around, Jacob rarely talks about personal matters and I respect that. He never talks about the time before his stroke, especially not the years leading right up to it, and he also never speaks about his childhood. But with my head on his shoulder, feeling the warmth seeping from him, I give in to the desire to know him, all of him.
Jacob muses. “There was this house in our village that belonged to an uncle of mine. He was already very old, living in a nursing home and the house was slowly rotting away. He did not want anyone to tear it down or renovate it. It did not take a long time until some punks moved in there. I went there once, when I could not take staying home any longer. They were friendly, and generous and they had funny cigarettes that made you forget you were angry quite efficiently” He chuckles. “It took me no longer than two days to miss my bug-free feather bed, though.”
Jacob adjusts his position. “My father didn’t really care a lot.”
“And... your mother?”
“She wasn’t always... there.” His voice has that edge to it that I came to know by now and I do not dare to ask what he means by that. We sit for some more time in silence and watch the sun disappear behind the horizon.
“Are you cold?”
I pull my jacket tighter around me. “A little,” I confess.
Jacob turns a fraction and captures my hands between his right hand and his left thigh, rubbing warmth into them. “Better?”
I nod, my throat tight.
We both look at our hands on his leg. Jacob sighs. “It’s funny,” he says, his thumb slowly tracing the back of my hand. “I can feel your hands are warm here.” He lifts his hand a little, hovering over mine. “But not here.” He slips his hand beneath mine, warming my palms.
“You don’t feel my hands on your leg?”
“I do. The sensation is just a little fuzzy. And warmth… no, not really. Could be ice blocks for all I can tell.”
“Mmm…” I feel strangely moved as I notice that he is trying to give me a detail about his condition when there is no need even, letting me have a glimpse into his world when instead he usually leaves it to me to piece it together from observation, internet research and the one or other mumbled remark.
“Anyway… drinks?” Jacob moves forward to the edge of the bench to grab his cane and my hands slide from his leg.
“Um…” I blink at the sudden change of topic. “Yes, sure.”
I try to ignore the tingling between my legs that has been building throughout the end of our conversation. Instead I get up, wrench the heavy door to the stable close and follow after Jacob who is slowly tackling the way back to the car.
I return home later than Marcus. He is already lying in bed, reading. I have had a little alcohol, not too much, but enough to help me push through what I had wanted to do for a long time now. Being with Jacob all evening, trying to quell the urge to just grab him and kiss him senseless has only strengthened my determination.
“I think I might be attracted to disabled guys,” I say, brushing my hair sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Hm?” Marcus looks up from the motor magazine he usually reads before going to bed.
I stare at him. Honestly? “I said: I might be attracted to disabled guys.”
Marcus places the magazine aside. “So… would it be a turn on for you if I got crutches and hopped around the bed? I didn’t know you liked role playing, but I can do that.”
I feel my face grow hot. “Uh… I don’t think it works that way.”
Marcus sits upright in bed, frowning at me now. “So you mean… you like really disabled men? Like… in reality?”
“But…” Marcus crunches up his nose. I guess he is just now realizing what I have said. “We have sex. It is hot for you, too, isn’t it?”
I get up from bed, turning to him. “We have great sex, Marcus. I like you, too.” As he continues to frown at me I go on. “But… It’s more like, you turn me on despite…” I bite on my lip.
“Despite not being disabled?”
I shrug helplessly. “Kind of… yes?”
Marcus exhales slowly. “So… what does that mean now?”
“I don’t know.”
He looks so lost, I nearly kiss him right away. Instead I grab my pillow. “I think I’ll better sleep on the couch.”
--> Chapter 13
--> Chapter 13