8. Other People's Hearts Ch. 11byinspirixis1©
Lindsay was depressed about Oliver's ex suddenly showing up on his doorstep. Things had been going so well with him that she had started to hope that something might happen between them.
It had been almost two months since he had opened up to her on Christmas morning and in that time they had grown closer and closer until it felt totally natural to get a text message or a call from him asking her if she wanted to work on his house with him.
Nothing could compare to her time with Oliver. When they were together they laughed a lot. As the weeks passed he grew more lighthearted and jovial. He teased her about how good she was with her dad's tools, and he teased himself for how useless he was with them.
They also had serious conversations. Sometimes he would tell her about something that had happened at work that had bothered him, or some argument with one of his family that had upset him.
Lindsay didn't really know what to tell him. She had always dreamed of having siblings but the fertility gods had not been so generous with her parents as they were with Oliver's.
She was pretty sure she was the first person he'd called when he was suspended from his job. He'd come over to the stables and told her what had happened.
"Usually this sort of thing would really bother me - I'd totally flip out - but I actually feel okay," he'd said.
Then he'd asked her to put him to work.
"Shoveling manure or whatever, I don't care, I just need something to do."
She'd put him in the ring with Maggie to get him used to being beside a horse and she was amazed by how quickly he picked up on how to interact with her.
Working with horses requires the ability to master one's own emotions. Horses are even more in tune with emotions than dogs are. To get a horse to trust you you can't just pretend to be calm and even keeled, you need to feel those things.
Oliver won Maggie's trust in under ten minutes. Maggie was a human-loving horse so it wasn't completely out of left field that he'd been able to connect with her, she was just impressed by how quickly he'd picked it up given that he'd just been suspended from the job that he so obviously loved.
That had been yesterday and she'd had a couple of kids from the Laurence Foundation around at the stables for therapy. She'd had Oliver tag along with Jake, one of the stable hands, raking out stalls and feeding mouths while she worked with the kids, then she found him and took him up to her little apartment above the office for lunch.
He'd been asking all sorts of questions about the work she did with the Laurence Foundation, helping underprivileged kids with emotional problems.
"It is pretty heart breaking what some of these kids have been through," she'd told him. "I wish I could do more for them. Sometimes I think if I earned more money I could move into a bigger place, work less and become a foster parent."
She was a little embarrassed by divulging such a ridiculous, idyllic dream. When she looked up from her empty soup bowl Oliver was gazing at her with a small smile on his lips.
"I don't know anything about parenting," she added. "But I can do safe and I can do caring and stable."
Oliver still didn't say anything, he just nodded.
She shook her head. "It's probably a stupid idea..."
"No," he cut in. "I don't think it's a stupid idea at all." He reached across the table and interlaced his fingers with hers. "I think it's a good idea."
He used his thumb to rub up and down the side of her hand, causing her heartbeat to accelerate and a strange warmth to bloom deep in her belly. He stared steadily into her eyes as his eyebrows rose just a little.
She squeezed his hand in reply, and he leaned closer to her. She helped to close the the gap between them, and then, of course, there was a knock on her door.
She let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "I could pretend I'm not here," she whispered, her face just a few inches from his.
There was another knock. "Lindsay? Gary from Carrington is on the phone."
She nodded. "I've been waiting for this call for a week."
He squeezed her hand. "You should take it. I should go anyway. I'll see you in the morning?"
And so their moment had been irreparably broken, perhaps never to be repeated.
She sighed as she dropped the tail gate of her truck to let Rush out.
It had been too good to be true. Lindsay was still way fatter than Sylvia, or any of the other women in Oliver's life. At the moment she wore a size 10 and was well within the normal range of Grace's graph, but she still felt like she had a long way to go before she reached her ideal weight. She still had blubber on her belly and thighs. She could probably fit three Sylvias in just one of her pant legs.
And her education and career... well there was no way she could compete with Sylvia on that front. Lindsay hadn't even gone to university. She'd completed a diploma at her local community college with the intention of transferring credits and doing a proper degree, but when the time came her job at the stables was advancing so quickly, and her mom and dad didn't have any money spare to help her along so she'd postponed it. She'd postponed it until it was just a distant thought.
She should just accept it. Sylvia was all of the things that Lindsay wasn't; all of the things that Oliver was looking for in a long-term relationship. Lindsay was just a fling, just a rebound girl. In five years time they would look back on this period and Sylvia would ask, "What was that girl's name who you hung out with while we had a break?" and Oliver would squint his eyes and say, "Oh yeah, the fatty with the horses... Lesley? No, Lucy? You know I can't remember." They would laugh and get on with whatever it was that two doctors did together.
They may even be getting along with what they did together right now.
She decided to take Corrina, a rescue horse she'd picked up cheap at a state auction, out for a trail ride.
Corrina was doing great. Lindsay had paired her with Faith, a 12 year old who had been sexually abused by members of her own family, and it was a match made in heaven. Despite her name, Faith had absolutely no trust in any other human being. Corrina was basically a good, steady horse but had suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of her previous owner, making her skittish and quick to bolt.
When Lindsay had introduced them the first time she had made sure to tell Faith what had happened to Corrina, how she had been found malnourished and dehydrated in a filthy stall with whip marks on her face and hind quarters.
"She doesn't trust anyone," Lindsay had told her. "If you want her to trust you you'll have to use everything you've learned from the other horses and have a lot of patience."
Faith had peered up at her with wide eyes and nodded solemnly.
From the moment that Faith stepped into the ring Lindsay had known something had changed inside her. She moved with such clam purpose. It was only minutes before Corrina was standing beside her, letting Faith stroke her neck. The two had formed such a bond that Lindsay knew there was no way she could sell Corrina on.
At the stables they made money three ways. They bought, trained and sold horses for profit, they taught children, and sometimes adults, how to ride, and they boarded rich people's horses. If she wasn't going to sell Corrina, the horse was going to have to earn her keep as a lesson horse. Lindsay wanted to take her out to assess where she was under saddle and where she could possibly go in the future. And, to be honest, Lindsay wanted to get out into the fresh air herself.
Since she had lost weight Lindsay had ridden more and more and she loved it. There was nothing like being in the saddle.
It was the dead of winter in the foothills. There was snow banked on either side of the slick trail and the trees and shrubs were all covered in white. The only noises were those of the horse, and occasionally the dog. She had brought Rush with her and every now and then she would look behind her to make sure the little bitch was still following the trail behind them.
Rush was a good dog. She was smart enough to learn commands easily, but not so smart as to be a danger to herself. Lindsay had brought her out trail riding a few times since Oliver sometimes asked her to look after her. After just a few corrections, she always followed behind quietly, happy to be outdoors.
The accident happened so quickly that Lindsay didn't have time to try and control both animals at once. A sudden rustle in a bush in front of them spooked Corrina and caused her to rise on her haunches and try to turn. Lindsay moved into the turn with her to let her regain her footing on the rocky trail, but Rush was back there.
The horse saw the dog and flipped out. She whinnied and faltered on her rear legs, lost her footing and came crashing down on her side, pinning Lindsay's right leg under her. A sharp pain ripped through her leg for a moment as Corrina snorted and slipped and rocked and scrambled to her feet. Lindsay held onto the reins and squeezed the saddle beneath her, knowing full well that she would bolt once upright.
There was a high-pitched growl from the bush down the trail and Rush rushed toward it, barking insanely.
"Rush! No!" She commanded, but it was too late. Rush had put herself between the horse and the mountain lion.
Corrina took off back down the trail. Lindsay screamed over her shoulder at Rush as she tried to get the horse under control, loosing sight of her as Corrina took her around a corner at lightning speed.
It took a few hundred meters to get Corrina to settle. When she finally slowed Lindsay turned her around and led her back up the trail, yelling for Rush as they made their way back to the bush. She was afraid of what she would find.
They were almost all the way back to the bush when Lindsay spotted Rush jogging towards them on the trail. Her tongue lolled out the side of her mouth and she had a look of smug satisfaction on her doggy face.
Lindsay dismounted to check both animals over and noticed that her right leg wasn't working as well as it should, but she pushed it to the back of her mind. Rush's ear was ripped and bleeding, but not badly. Corrina seemed fine. She remounted and turned them towards home.
It was not a fun trip back. Lindsay didn't feel well, probably as a result of the stress of Oliver's ex showing up and then having a riding accident. They were about twenty minutes away from the stables but Lindsay didn't want to push either animal so they went slowly and it took closer to half an hour.
It was close to noon by the time they made it back. As they got closer she could see someone sitting on the exterior fence. The figure became more familiar as she neared him; long limbs, broad muscular shoulders, narrow hips, a maroon woolen hat pulled over his head, warm brown skin. She told Rush to go ahead and the little dog sprinted to her owner with glee.
Oliver climbed off the fence and bent down to greet his dog. It only took a moment for him to notice her ripped ear.
"What happened?" He asked as he squinted up into the pale sun.
He stood up and took a step towards her. "Lindsay?" He said gently.
"Yeah?" She bit her lip and held her breath. She knew he was about to tell her he was going back to Sylvia.
"Do you know you're bleeding?"
He reached out and touched her leg. "How long since this happened?" He asked, almost casually.
Lindsay looked down and noticed for the first time that her leg was drenched in blood. There was a thick gash across her thigh that was oozing deep red blood onto her riding tights. She could see small rivulets of blood flowing over her riding boots and dripping off the heel. Bright red spots burned into the snow under her.
"Ah... I don't like blood," she admitted as the world started to swirl around her.
"Hey, look at me," Oliver said.
She found his steady, deep brown eyes and focused on them. He didn't look alarmed at all. She guessed it wasn't an emergency.
"It's not a big deal. Where is the first aid kit? I'll just put a bandage on it for you."
"There's one in the ring and another in the office."
He led them to the ring and helped her to dismount. She stumbled and his arms closed around her, keeping her upright. He sat her down on a bench and led Corrina into the ring, closing the gate behind her, then pulled the metal first aid box off the wall and returned to her.
"Look away," he instructed as he put on the plastic gloves from the box.
She turned her head and watched Corrina walking slowly around the ring as Oliver felt up and down her leg and poked and prodded around gently.
"It's just your leg?" He asked.
"Yeah. The horse fell on it."
"Did you hit your head?"
She still wasn't looking and she felt a sharper pain. She gasped.
She felt Oliver lift her leg and then a pressure that got tighter and tighter.
"You can look now."
Oliver had wrapped her entire thigh in a bright white bandage. He peeled the plastic gloves off.
"Can you lie down for a second?" He asked. He helped to lift her legs onto the bench and guided her head down gently onto the wood. "I'm going to feel you abdomen now, okay?"
She nodded, but he had already unzipped her riding jacket, lifted her shirt and started gently pressing and feeling around her belly.
"Sorry, I just need to undo this for a second."
She felt her pants tighten for a moment and then slacken, and then Oliver's hands feeling lower and lower until he got to her panties. She bit down on her lip and looked up at the ceiling beams. This was certainly not how she had pictured him seeing her skin for the first time.
"Now I'm going to feel your ribs," he told her and a moment later his fingers walked up her sides to her arm pits. "And your sternum."
She laid still as he felt around her chest.
"How do you feel?" He asked as he shined a light in her eyes. .
"Um... A bit sick."
"You don't like blood?"
"No. Especially not my own."
"Are you cold?"
"What day is it today?"
She looked up into his steady brown eyes. "Um... Monday."
He smiled his beautiful, reassuring smile. "Come over to the farm with me?"
"Okay. I have a few things I need to do here first..."
"No Lindsay, come with me now."
His tone was friendly but forceful enough for her to know that she was going to do what he told her. She nodded and he helped her up but her legs weren't cooperating as they should so he scooped her up.
As he was carrying her away she looked back to see a mountain of plastic and foil wrappers and the contents of the first aid kit spewed all over the floor. There was a dark puddle on the cement under where she'd been sitting.
"We should clean up," she said.
"Later," Oliver replied.
The next few hours were a blur. Even though he told her that he was taking her to the farm he actually took her to Saint Andrew's, the hospital he worked at. She remembered a nurse putting one of those creepy tubes into her arm and seeing a plastic bag full of blood being attached to it. The next thing she knew she was waking up in a room that was really just a cubical made out of curtains.
Oliver was sitting on the end of the bed, his arms folded around his legs and his chin resting on his knees. "Hey," he said softly.
"I think I'm going to throw up."
He jumped up and held a bucket beside her while she heaved and vomited and spat into it. Her body started to shake uncontrollably and she didn't know why, but she was crying.
Oliver squeezed onto the bed beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. "It's okay," he said. "It's just the anesthesia wearing off. You're okay." He kissed her hair and she leaned into him.
She sort of zoned out for a while and the next thing she remembered was Oliver helping her to get into the back of her dad's car, and then she was at her parents' house, in her old room and her dad was tucking her into bed.
She blinked a few times, trying to clear her head. "What happened?"
"A horse fell on you. You needed a transfusion to replace the blood you lost and surgery to repair the vein in your leg that was scratched."
"Oh... I was at the hospital..."
"Yes. Oliver took you. You're lucky he was there... I'm lucky he was there."
She looked into her dad's eyes, all weathered and worried. "Sorry dad."
"It's okay sweet pea. You try and rest now."
The next morning Oliver came over to check on her. He took her blood pressure and asked how she was feeling, then asked to see her wound.
The cut on her leg was high on her thigh so she had to take the sweat pants she was wearing off. She sat on the couch and covered herself with a blanket while he peeled the bandages away and gently felt around.
"Did you do the stitches?" She asked.
"Yeah, just the external ones. I'm suspended so I technically I wasn't supposed to even be in the theater, but I know the surgeon and I made a pretty compelling argument... So I owe him one."
He looked up at her. "I'll tell you another time."
When he was done poking around he put a new dressing on the wound and carefully taped it to her skin, then pulled the blanket down to cover her.
"Are you well enough to talk about something important?"
He had been kneeling on the floor and he sat back and bit on his lip for a moment before he spoke. "Sylvia wants to get back together with me."
It wasn't a surprise. "Are you going to?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I feel..."
He sighed. "Sorry, I'm not good at this stuff, but I want to be honest with you."
"It's okay. Take your time."
"Sylvie and I were together for a long time. I feel a sort of responsibility for her. I don't know if it is love or if it I'm being sentimental or what, but it hurts me to see her hurt."
"But then..." He looked down at his hands. "I'm going to go out on a limb here..."
He looked back up at her and paused for a moment. Finally he said, "I have feelings for you."
Lindsay couldn't help the smile that she felt spread across her lips. It was probably totally inappropriate in the context.
"You do too?"
She nodded. "Yeah. For a while now."
He smiled and his shoulders relaxed. "I don't know where that leaves me. I feel responsibility for one woman and desire for another. I think I'm starting to understand how Sylvie felt when she broke up with me."
Lindsay wanted to point out that this situation was actually very different from when Sylvia broke up with him, but she didn't think it was her place. Instead she said, "Sounds like something you'll have to figure out on your own."
Oliver continued to stare at her for a moment before he nodded. "You need to take it easy for the next week or two. No riding or heavy exercise, okay?"
"I want to check your stitches on Sunday. I'll give you a call."
He started to get up.
"Oliver? Thanks for looking after me when I was... You know... Bleeding."
"Just the way you said that... Bleeding... As if it was a disgusting disease." He leaned down and kissed her hair. "You don't need to thank me for that Lindsay."