Basha’s stall smelled the way it always had: comfort and dust, soiled straw and the particular low-grade dread of a daily chore. Trina let her gaze wander the barn, letting each familiar stall and tool settle her. She noticed, with some satisfaction, that though the barn had been recently repainted, the painter had skipped the spot on the stall door that marked a succession of years and heights. Some people measured their kids in the house. Trina’s parents marked the passing of ages and inches in the place she felt most at home.
Basha was out in the paddock, enjoying the last of the autumn afternoon sun. Trina had ostensibly come out to bring him into the barn for the night, and felt guilty about leaving Gwen to face her parents alone, but she needed a minute. What others found at First United Methodist, she found here, in the steady quiet of the barn: beams above, and boards beneath, with just enough light coming through the cracks to make the place seem holy.
She allowed herself another moment of leaning against the stall door before she trekked out to the paddock, clicking her tongue as loud as she could. Basha looked up from the far corner of the paddock and slowly trotted towards her. Trina climbed up a rung of the fence, leaned forward, and held her arms out. He remembered their old game, sliding his nose over her shoulder to search for wherever she’d hidden the carrot. Trina smiled and rubbed his neck as he tugged his prize from her back pocket.
“I should’ve brought her here first,” she told him. “You’d like Gwen. Not sure she’d like you, but maybe she’ll come around after ten minutes with Mom.” Maybe that was unfair - Gwen had, after all, already violated two of her personal cardinal sins without complaint on this trip - thou shalt not get dirt on thy kicks, and thou shalt not listen to more than one Melissa Ferrick song at a time. Still. There was no way she could reconcile the clean, coconut scent of Gwen’s hair, and a barn full of mice, bats, and horse manure. She’d admitted to Trina that she’d never seen a horse or a cow up close, and found the prospect a little terrifying.
Trina kept talking in a low gentle voice as she led Basha back into the barn, filled his water bucket, and tossed in an armload of fresh hay before heading to the house.
Gwen was waiting for her on the back steps, holding the neck of her beer bottle loosely between her fingers in a fashion so casually and perfectly butch that Trina almost purred at the sight. She sat down beside Gwen and accepted her offer of the bottle, taking a long swallow before handing it back and tugging her boots off.
“How bad?” Trina asked, fearing the answer.
Gwen sighed. “They’re not as bad as you think they are.”
“That’s because your hair’s not pink anymore.”
“Or maybe it’s because you’re not fifteen and flipping off the pastor.”
Trina gave Gwen a wry sidelong glance before leaning in and kissing her cheek. Gwen raised an eyebrow and took a drink of her beer.
“Thought we weren’t doing that here,” she said quietly. “Unless you like to go around kissing every ‘friend’ you bring home.”
Trina exhaled through pursed lips - 14 months since her last cigarette, but some things never changed - and looked off toward the barn. From the outside, it looked beaten, neglected, ill-cared for. Her mother had always prioritized the inside over the out. “I know,” she mumbled. She offered a conciliatory smirk. “I just can’t help myself. You know what it does to me when you wear boots and Carhartts.”
Gwen gave a short snort of a sigh, not unlike Basha did when dinner was late. “I told you I could do this once. Once, Tree. I’ll give them a chance to get to know me first, let them see who I am. But I’m not going to let you sabotage it because you’re panicking.”
“I’m not panicking,” Trina said indignantly. It only took a second of Gwen’s single raised eyebrow before she wilted. “Fine. I’m panicking a little.”
“Don’t,” Gwen said. “We’re doing okay. I promise. I already fixed her sink.”
Trina chuckled. “What?”
“The sink was leaking and I asked if she had a wrench, and I just tightened up a few things. She told me I could stay as long as I liked and the farm would,” she raised her voice and eyebrows in an imitation of Trina’s mother, “offer me no shortage of opportunities to employ my handy skills.”
“I’ll show you handy skills,” Trina muttered, unable to resist hooking her finger through one of Gwen’s belt loops..
“Anyway,” Gwen said, ignoring her, “we got off to a great start. If we go in now, we’ll have time to help her with the biscuits and get on her good side before dinner. She told me you probably won’t be back for hours.”
“I said five minutes!” Trina protested.
“So clearly, the woman knows a thing or two about you.”
Trina scowled, but there was a grin beneath it. “I resemble that remark.”
Gwen huffed again, then paused before asking, “Are you going to take me there?”
“Where? The barn?”
“Yeah.” Gwen’s voice rose just a little. “I mean, it’s clearly -” she broke off, searching for words. “Your mom said it’s your special place,” she finished.
“It’s filthy,” Trina said. “You’d get dirt on your perfect cargo pants.”
Gwen shrugged, looking down into her beer bottle. “I’d like to see you in it,” she said quietly.
“I think we should go help with dinner, like you said,” Trina answered, standing up abruptly and opening the screen door. “Mom? Do you want help with anything?”
Gwen bit her thumbnail, got up, and followed, the damnit she’d have liked to whisper dying in her throat. Trina wasn’t entirely wrong about her. Gwen had grown up with the particular feel of asphalt sticking to her sneakers on hot days, living for the piragua cart, and thinking (for far longer than she cared to admit) that chocolate milk must come from brown cows. Trina’s parents’ farm DID feel like a foreign country.
To be fair, she knew Trina’s experience of the city felt just as alien. Shortly after they’d met, Trina confessed that she’d never taken a bus in her life and was afraid she wouldn’t know how to navigate the stops. Gwen hadn’t laughed, then, just taken her on a public transit tour of the city, whispering instructions in her ear about when to pull the cord and how to swipe her pass. The feel of Trina’s hand in hers had made her feel so protective that day, so trusted. Why Trina would let her see her so vulnerable, only to clam up the minute she got back home was a mystery.
Gwen had never met someone’s parents before, not as a girlfriend. Most of the women she’d dated didn’t talk about home like it held any reason for them to go back. Trina complained about rural life, but her stories were so exquisitely detailed that Gwen’s mental picture of the farmhouse nearly matched the real version. She’d caught Trina’s look as they rounded the bend and her childhood home came into view, a mix of tension, longing, and a sliver of joy playing across her face. Gwen understood that look. The day they’d walked by her childhood home - the Brooklyn brownstone that held the last memories of her parents’ life together - Trina pulled her close as they peered up into the curtained windows and murmured, “Home is complicated. I get it, boo.”
Trina wasn’t out to her parents. They’d reached a don’t-ask-don’t-tell détente some years ago, in which her parents stopped telling her whose sons were single and Trina stopped casually referencing “women’s music” concerts. Trina’s mom watched Ellen most afternoons, and hadn’t yet mentioned church. As far as Gwen was concerned, the situation was more than tolerable.
She followed Trina into the kitchen and automatically went to the sink to rinse her bottle clean. Trina silently pointed to the recycling bin under the sink without turning her head; the gesture filled Gwen with flickers of warmth. She loved the easy way of their bodies, how she and Trina seemed to intuit things about each other without speaking.
“The barn looks good,” Trina was saying as she pulled forks and napkins out of a drawer. “Who did the paint?”
Trina’s mother paused from rolling biscuit dough to tuck a lock of silver-and-ginger hair behind her ear. “I did,” she said, throwing her daughter a quick smile. “Left the most important part, though. You show it to Gwen?”
Trina rolled her eyes. “Oh Mom, c’mon. This isn’t show and tell.”
Gwen grabbed a fistful of spoons - she didn’t even know if the meal called for spoons - and started to methodically place each one on the table, willing herself not to look up.
“Who says it isn’t?” Trina’s mother said. “I don’t see why you bring a person here if you don’t want them to see where you grew up.”
“I didn’t mean that literally,” Trina muttered. Gwen couldn’t see her, but she could hear the way Trina always ducked her head when she was being called on something.
“You didn’t even take her to see Basha,” her mother continued, her voice riding the edge between incredulity and scolding. “I’d have thought that’s the first place you’d take someone -” her voice trailed off.
Silence squeezed the room. Gwen was sure they could hear her pulse.
“Gwen’s not really a horse person,” Trina finally said.
“Oh?” Trina’s mother turned toward Gwen. “Is that true?” Her voice held a challenge - but not to Gwen.
Gwen swallowed and tried to find the right answer among the spoons. “Um,” she said. “I haven’t really been around any.” That, and I saw The Lion King too many times to want to get near any four-legged creature with the capacity to trample, she added silently.
“Well, you can’t do better for an introduction than old Basha. He’s harmless. Unless he thinks you’re after his one true love, here,” Trina’s mother said. She said it like a joke, but the words carried weight.
“Okay, you know what? Fine,” Trina said. She crossed the kitchen and tugged at Gwen’s elbow. “Come, see the barn and the horse. Let’s go.”
“It’s really okay -” Gwen started to say at the same time Trina’s mother said, “There’s no rush -” but Trina cut them both off.
“No, he should meet Gwen,” she said, her voice rising by several pitches. “She’s -” she faltered. Gwen locked eyes with her and saw the fear rise in her whole body.
“Oh, for the love of all that’s holy,” Trina’s mother snapped. “Take her! Go already!
Trina turned and shoved the screen door open. Gwen followed apologetically, glancing back at Trina’s mother, who wore an expression she couldn’t name. Just before she stepped outside, Trina’s mother opened the fridge and told her to wait, then handed her a carrot.
“Keep your fingers stiff and your palm flat when you give it to him,” she instructed. “This’ll work. You’ll see.”
Gwen looked up at her. This time, Trina’s mother’s eyes were bright. “Go,” she said gently. “Follow her. If you don’t love this part of her, you can’t love all of her. You have to show her otherwise if you want to stick around. Go, give the horse a treat.”
Gwen closed her fingers around the carrot. Trina’s mother turned toward the stove, grabbing a drinking glass with which to cut the biscuits. Gwen headed for the barn with something like wonder, breaking into a trot when she saw Trina in the doorway, ready to show her in.
About the Creator
By day, I'm a cog in the nonprofit machine, and poet. By night, I'm a creature of the internet. My soul is a grumpy cat who'd rather be sleeping.
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