It had been a decade since Reese had been back to Northern California. So long, too long, and now it was too late. Her eyes teared as she thought about her Aunt Abbie and the loss. She’d been such a strong woman, a force of nature really. They’d talked all the time, on the phone and online. She’d been her only surviving relative and now instead of the vacation she’d always promised to take, she was going home to the funeral no one ever wanted to make

The flight from New Orleans to San Francisco was blessedly a direct one, her brain was so scattered and emotions overwhelmed that she wasn’t sure she could have navigated a change or layover with any skill or accuracy. Her heart was lead in her chest. Abbie hadn’t even been that old. She’d been ageless. Her mother’s older sister, and the woman who had raised Reese after her parents had passed in an accident when she was just a toddler, had been her rock. She felt adrift.

“If you look out the window on the left side of the plane you’ll see the Golden Gate Bridge” came the captain’s voice right before the fasten seatbelt sign came on. The attendants went along the aisles to be sure everyone was upright, awake, and ready for landing. She looked out the window and while her eyes saw the bridge, her brain did not register it. She’d stuck the grief in a box to be dealt with later and put on her game face. 

She had put all that she’d need for the funeral and the four days she’d allowed herself to deal with lawyers and the real estate agent, in a carry-all that she’d stowed. She hated to check baggage. Not that she had much opportunity to fly. These days the only traveling she did was in the aged pickup that hauled her trailer back and forth to shows. These days she moved constantly, and it was that peak level of busyness that had kept her away from Aunt Abbie until it was too late. She was too late; tears threatened again.

The lady at the Hertz desk got her the keys to her compact car with little fuss and she was on the road to Paradise. She found a radio station and rolled the windows down to help her stay awake. She thought she’d forgotten the way, but she hadn’t. She let herself cry as she realized this was probably the last time she’d make the trip.

Sweetwater Farm
Home of Barnabas
World Champion Knabstrupper

The sign was faded, surrounded by marigolds and the skinny green leaves that would produce lilies later in the year. Barnabas was gone now, but his memorial was still there in faded green letters. 

She’d never met her Aunt’s rider, but she knew that Abbie’d been very fond of him. She’d said she was going to make sure he was set when she passed, and Reese could respect that. Being an up-and-coming horseperson was hard. God knew she was aware of that on a visceral level. She gave lessons three hours a day 4 days a week, campaigned and trained her own 5 horses, and did it with very little help. She had a maintenance guy, Nick Miller, who traded work for lodging and worked as a bartender in the Big Easy three nights a week, and her high school muckers who traded work for lessons. One girl, Adrielle, rode for her sometimes, at shows, but she was going to college in the fall and Reese would be on her own again.

Most days she fell into an exhausted sleep at night, every night between 9 and 10 after all the paperwork was finished. She got by, barely. She hoped there was a little left from her Aunt’s estate that she could throw a coat of paint on her own farm and get some boarders in to help defray costs. Cherry Creek wasn’t a bad farm, it was just a little run down. Paint and some maintenance and it would be perfect for a mid priced boarding facility.

The farm, just under 25 acres, only used about five for the actual farm. The rest was put to fields that a neighboring farmer harvested the alfalfa orchard mix from. She owned the land, Max did the harvesting and they split the hay. She almost always bought his share at a very good price. He was a nice guy and his wife, Rhiannon was her best friend. Rhiannon had her own farm to mind and they often shared space at shows and caravanned back and forth. 

Abbie had given her the money to start her farm and had encouraged her to step out on her own. She’d given her the experience, the love of Knabstruppers and Danish Warmbloods and knowledge of horses in general, and the motivation to chase her Olympic dreams. She’d started with one horse and now she had five. They’d all been young and now they were going over fences, and several showed big promise and had huge scope. The future had looked bright, and she was sure it would look bright again. But today was not that day.

A bone-deep sigh shook her as she exited the vehicle and looked at her Aunt’s house. She got her bag and headed in, to face the past and a lonely future filled with uncertainty.

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