As she cleaned his stall, her mind went back to the old apartment and its terrifying lone inhabitant. Her heart wrenched at the thought that someone could be so cruel to another human being, let alone to a person they’d once loved. As she thought, tears began sliding down her face at the heartbreak and fear she’d endured and was now free from. But she wasn’t free from the heartbreak, yet. Sylvia knew that only time and the growth of new love would heal the searing ache.
She stopped mucking to wipe her face on her sleeve, and glanced up at her new four-legged companion. He had been watching her from the side of his stall where he had placed himself, but now he lumbered over to her. He lowered his large, gentle head and pressed it against her. His head was as long as her torso. She hugged it appreciatively, and he lifted it back up to look at her again.
Slowly, a squishy oblong pink flap slid out of his mouth to flop goofily out the side of his face. Sylvia laughed as he bobbed his head up and down, jouncing his tongue here and there. He had such a twinkle in his eye and was acting so silly that she couldn’t deny that he was trying to cheer her up. He never stopped looking straight into her eyes the entire time, and she played the tongue game with him until Jose popped his head over the door to check on her. She quickly got back to work, but not without a grateful stroke to the horse’s nose. Somehow he had felt her heartbreak and known what to do. Horses are healers, they say.
This must be true, for as the days and weeks went on with Sylvia gradually learning the ropes of being a groom, her pain dwindled. The big bay, who she now called Whiskey because of his ability to put her to sleep so quickly that first night, had become her best friend. Without speaking, she had shared her secrets with him and he had provided the unconditional love she needed.
Jensen, the kind trainer who had taken Sylvia in, had shown her where the groom’s dwellings were and set her up with her i.d. so no more dashing in through the exit would be necessary. With his permission, Sylvia spent more and more time with Whiskey, choosing to be with him when her work was done rather than go anywhere else. On many an occasion, Sylvia would slip in to spend the night in his stall, just like that first evening.
She made friends with other characters around the training barn, too, like the exercise riders, Shelley and Alejandro, the eight other grooms, and the black and white mousing cat affectionately called The Punisher.
She later ran into Benfield, the trainer who had come in to the bakery that monumental day. She smiled at him, wondering if he would recognize her. He smiled politely back, but didn’t seem to remember. And that was okay, she realized. She had known him as much as she’d needed to in order to make it to Jensen’s barn. Anything else was extra.
For the first time in years, Sylvia was happy. Maybe it was the fact she’d made a brand new life for herself, completely on her own. Maybe it was the kind people she worked with. Maybe it was that she was around horses all day every day. Most likely, it was the deep, spiritual connection she’d made with the big bay gelding. He had been her rescuer, her healer. Like so many people before her, Sylvia owed her renewal to a horse, and to the horse she would be forever grateful.