|14 June 1988, 18 Aug 1996, 17 June 1999, 24 Nov 2003, 29 Nov 2003, 3 Dec 2003, 25 Dec 2003
||[Oct. 26th, 2006|09:32 am]
|[||Tags|||||1988, 1996, 1999, 2003||]|
|||||Dream Life of Rand McNally, by Jason Mraz||]|
This one jumps all over the timeline, and it would definitely be helpful to be familiar with the events surrounding the times the sections take place. I know without referring to the timeline, I would have been lost myself.
Anyway, since Beth Ann needs to jump on the Babysitting fic, I don't feel I can write Matt until that's posted, here's another pre-Matt fic.
24 November 2003
From across the room, David saw the change come over Jack. The telephone still pressed to his ear, Jack sat heavily.
“No, I understand.” Jack’s voice was inexplicably scratchy, “No, thanks for calling. Love you, too.”
There was a beep as Jack hung up the phone. David crossed the room, kneeling before him slowly. He settled a hand on his boyfriend’s knee, careful yet warm. “Jack?”
“It’s Topper,” David recognized the name of the horse Jack had owned since childhood. “He’s been injured. They have to–” there was a long pause, during which David watched Jack’s face closely. “They have to put him down.”
14 June 1988
The summer after his sixth birthday, Jack’s grandparents gave him an unexpected gift. His grandmother woke him at four in the morning, bundled him in one of his grandfather’s robes, and herded him out towards the stables.
Yawning, Jack stumbled into the smallest stable. It contained two stalls, and Jack didn’t normally venture into it. For most of the summer it stood empty, but sometimes, just after he arrived, there would still be a mare or two housed inside. But they were always pregnant, and never fun.
Now, his grandfather stood at the door to one of the stalls, and he beckoned Jack forward. When the little boy was close enough, his grandfather scooped him up, holding him against his hip so he could see over the half door.
“Jack, my lad,” Jack could feel his Grandpa Alan’s voice rumble through him. “Do you know what that is?”
Peering forward into the gray light, Jack spotted it. “That’s a baby horse!”
“Shhh, yes,” Grandpa Alan smiled, “baby horses are called foals. And this one is yours.”
Jack’s eyes went wide. “Mine?”
“Yes. You’ve been riding for long enough. This little lad is going to need someone to look after him. As he grows up, you’re going to have to train him, and groom him, and take care of him. And when the both of you are older, you’ll be rewarded with a dear friend, and your own horse to ride. Understand?”
Jack nodded, excited. Over the half door of the stall, Jack stared into a pair of brown eyes that matched own.
29 November 2003
David couldn’t pull Jack out of his daze all week. He wished he could help, but he knew he couldn’t possibly understand what Jack was feeling. David had lost pets before, but Topper was much more than that. Topper was Jack’s best friend – for a number of years, his only friend – and David had never lost anyone like that.
In the kitchen, Jack was sitting at the table, nursing his favorite mug. David sat beside him, running his fingers through Jack’s longish hair. It needed a trim. David would see to that later.
“Want to talk?” he offered.
“Nothing to say.”
“Jack it’s okay. You just–”
“He was just a horse.” Jaw set, Jack jerked to his feet, poured the remainder of his drink down his sink, and left.
18 August 1996
Jack didn’t want to go back to New York. It was always difficult, leaving the ranch, but for the first time, Jack’s mind was coming up with as many schemes as possible to keep him off of that plane.
His aunt was nice enough, but Jack was sick of the way she tiptoed around him. He was sick of being forced to visit his father after school every Friday, and peer at the cold man behind the glass. He was sick of the way the other kids looked at him, not even bothering to hide their gossip as he passed.
He much preferred it here, where his grandparents didn’t mind if he took Topper and disappeared all day. Where they could share stories about his mother over hot chocolate, and if Jack wiped his eyes on his sleeve (just because of allergies, of course) his grandmother didn’t smother him.
Today was one of those days. He grabbed his backpack and some provisions from the kitchen, saddled Topper, and headed out, not caring where he ended up.
Hours later, as the shadows were just beginning to lengthen, Jack realized if he didn’t turn back soon he’d miss supper. He patted Topper, toying with his reins as he led him along a fence. “What do you think? Should we head in?”
Snorting, Topper stamped impatiently, tossing his head.
“I didn’t think so.” Effortlessly, Jack slid into the saddle, taking off at a run, steering them away from the ranch house.
After nearly half an hour of riding, Jack slowed Topper. The area was starting to look frighteningly familiar. Dismounting, he secured Topper about three quarters of the way up the muted hill currently evoking Jack’s déjà vu.
As Jack reached the top, his breath caught. The top of the hill sloped steeply eastward, and below, in the belly of the unexpected valley, wended a stream framed by gnarled trees. From behind, the evening sun set the basin aglow.
Jack sat heavily, the memory ripping through him like a fresh wound. His mother, just last year, brought him to this hill. She had even made them a picnic lunch.
“This is my favorite spot on the ranch,” she had told him. “I used to come up here as a kid, when I needed to think.”
“I like it here,” he had told her, strawberry juice staining their fingers a dark pink.
“Then at least once every summer, we’ll come up here and have lunch together.”
Now, her unfulfilled promise making the air thick in his lungs, Jack couldn’t help it. Curling his knees up towards his chest, he let himself cry for the death of his beautiful mother.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been there, his hair sticking to his face and neck, eyes puffy, when he was disturbed by a well-known sound. Turning, he saw Topper trotting up the hill, a branch dragging next to him, tangled in his reins.
Jack sprang to his feet, ridding his horse of the branch. “Let’s go home, okay?”
Topper turned obediently. Wiping his eyes, Jack mounted him placidly. Like any good friend, Topper took him home.
3 December 2003
“Do you like going to the ranch?”
The question was unexpected, and David shut his book immediately. Jack had yet to talk about Topper’s death, and if that was where the conversation was headed, David would let it run its course. “You know I do. I enjoy it very much.”
Jack settled himself on the foot of the bed, silent. From his place against the headboard, David waited.
“It won’t be the same.”
David knew Jack was right, but couldn’t voice it. His back still to David, Jack began to run a hand over David’s calf through the blanket.
After a long moment, David spoke. “But that’s okay.” Jack turned at the sound of his voice. “Different doesn’t mean bad.”
Nodding, Jack wiggled up the bedspread until his head rested on David’s chest.
“It’ll still be a place you love. Your grandparents will be there, and the wide-open spaces. The sunlight, the nature.”
Jack smiled sadly. “I’ll be alright.”
17 June 1999
At seventeen, Jack taught David how to ride. It was during what his mind would later dub as The Day, capitalization and all. It was the day Jack realized what the nature of his feelings for David really were. He probably already loved him, but at seventeen he balked at the idea of being in love.
He took David out to the sables late in the morning, and harnessed the gentlest mare on the ranch. Clipping her in the hallway, he walked a nervous David through grooming and saddling her.
“There you go,” Jack cooed once they’d finished, half to the horse and half to David. Leaving the mare clipped where she was, he used Topper to test what David had learned, tossing out hints and occasionally stepping in with a correction. He was surprised by how quickly David was catching on.
Jack led them to a small, adjacent paddock, where he taught David the basics of horse riding. Once they were walking a slow circle, Jack pulled Topper up beside the mare.
“So, why did you pick these two horses?” David asked, looking slightly uncomfortable as the animal below him swayed.
“Simple, Maria’s the most calm mare here, and Topper is mine.”
David’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “He’s yours?”
“Yeah. Grandma and Grandpa gave him to me when I was younger. I trained him myself and everything.”
David looked both impressed and amused. “And you named him Topper?”
Suddenly defensive, Jack shot David a sidelong glace. “Yeah, after Hopalong’s horse.”
“You know, Hopalong Cassidy? The cowboy?”
“Whatever you say.”
Just for that, Jack urged Topper into a trot. Beside him, taken by Topper’s energy, Maria sped to keep up. David let out an undignified squawk.
“ Just sway with her,” Jack recommended over his shoulder. “Feel the way she’s moving, and continue that.” He smiled as he watched David slowly relax.
After about an hour, Jack thought about calling it quits. David had the fundamentals well mastered, and Jack didn’t want him to feel too sore afterwards. He led David through the routine once more, until both horses were turned out in one of the pastures. Topper took off immediately, relishing in a good run. For a moment it looked like Maria would follow, but she seemed to think better of it.
“Shouldn’t we give them treats of something?” David asked.
Jack chuckled. “If you want to, yeah.”
His grandfather’s office was at the end of the row of stalls, and when Jack returned, carrots in hand, he smiled to see David perched on the fence, scratching Maria’s nose.
It was then that Jack knew. He stopped, taking in the curve of David’s boyish waist beneath his t-shirt, the way his shoulder blades pressed outward. He felt it now, that warmth spreading from beneath his rib cage. This was what it was supposed to feel like.
As if sensing Jack’s eyes, David turned and smiled. Jack returned the smile easily, and closed the distance between them, pressing a carrot into David’s palm.
“Do I just…”
“Just hold out your hand. She’ll take it from you.”
David was tentative, but Maria was gentle, and the small, private smile that spread over David’s face warmed Jack more than he could explain.
“What about you?” David turned that smile on Jack and his knees disappeared.
“Me what?” Jack couldn’t look away from him.
“That carrot.” David pointed obliviously, “Isn’t it for Topper?”
Jacked started. “Oh, yeah.” He took a small step back, mentally shaking himself. “Hey, Topper!”
His horse looked up from across the pasture, and began trotting his merry way over.
25 December 2003
David’s stomach was turning in knots. The package sat at Jack’s left, and if he didn’t open it soon, David didn’t know if he’d be able to stand it. There were so many possible reactions – he hoped Jack would love it, but there was also the real possibility he would laugh at it, or even hate it.
“Aren’t you going to open your present, Dave?”
Startled, David glanced down at the box in his hands. He slid it open gingerly. Inside glistened a silver pocket watch and chain. David recognized it, and he gasped.
“It was my grandfather’s. He gave it to me when I turned eighteen. But I’m not really dignified enough for it.”
David’s first instinct was to protest, but found his voice getting stuck. “Does Grandpa Alan know?”
“He likes the idea. Besides, now you can’t escape the family, no matter how hard you try.”
Smiling, David kissed him. “I don’t want to try. Now, are you going to open yours?”
Jack pulled the box onto his lap, grinning, and began tearing at the paper. David bit his lip. The lid came off. Jack’s face remained blank. David looked away.
“I’m sorry, I know it can’t replace anything, and it’s not like I could afford to buy you a real one, so I thought maybe you’d like a least a reminder of Santa Fe in New York. It’s stupid, I’m sorry.”
Still, Jack didn’t respond. Very tentatively, David turned back. Beside him, Jack’s eyes were wide and tear-filled. Clutched to his chest was the gift, a large, squashy, fluffy, stuffed horse. Sniffing, Jack let himself topple into David, who reflexively circled him with his arms.
“I love it,” Jack whispered. It took a moment for David to realize Jack was crying. “Thank you.”
Relaxing, David slumped back against the couch, bringing Jack with him.
“Merry Christmas, Jack.”
“Happy Hanukkah, David.”