Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash

By: Bev Pettersen

Jenna sighed, enjoying the smells, the reddening sunset and the nostalgic sound of peeper frogs and their promise of summer. Wally was right. Her dad had done one good thing. He’d found the most beautiful spot in the entire county.

Wally’s arm moved and a white envelope dropped on her lap. “Unfortunately things are going to change a bit,” he said, his words muffled with pepperoni. “That’s the last of those.”

She opened the envelope and flipped through the bills. Two hundred and twenty dollars. Em would be thrilled. “What do you mean, the last?”

“The new owner is tough, a stickler for rules. And the sale went through much quicker than expected.” Wally burped, and Jenna inched away from the overpowering smell of pepperoni and beer. “He’s going to be a pain in the ass,” Wally went on. “Even clamping down on the construction crew. Staff will have to walk the line.”

She shoved the bills back in the envelope, quickly crunching numbers. After sending Em’s money, there’d be sixty dollars to last until the end of the month. It’d be tight. “I always walk the line,” she said, tucking the envelope into her back pocket.

Wally chuckled. “But sometimes it’s the wrong side.”

“Can’t help it. Bad blood and all.” She tried to speak lightly, didn’t want to reveal how his words hurt, but the fact was undeniable. The Murphy family was trash.

“Jenna,” Wally said quickly. “What I meant is we can no longer look after every sick animal that knocks on our door. These people want to see a profit.” He took a thoughtful sip of beer. “Should be plenty of work though. The Burkes have a lot of contacts. They’re in the process of negotiating contracts with major race stables so eventually we’ll receive quality horses. Unfortunately Three Brooks will be closed to the public.”

“What?” Jenna blinked in dismay. “What about the locals? If a horse is hurt, you mean we can’t help?”

“Not anymore.” Wally blew out a resigned sigh. “Derek wants to offer pricey rehab to an elite clientele, along with top staff and expanded facilities. He’ll be explaining all this in a staff meeting tomorrow.”

“Who’s Derek?”

“Derek Burke, their cleanup guy. He’s moving into the big house…taking over for a while.”

Jenna stiffened, straining to see Wally’s expression through the gloom. “The Three Brooks mansion? But you’ll stay in the apartment at the Center? You’re still the manager?”

“Far as I know.” Wally ripped a slice of pepperoni into three ragged pieces, his voice gruff. “But frankly it would have been better if the Canadians hung on to ownership. They didn’t come down much. Never interfered.”

Jenna squeezed her hands, her heart aching for Wally. He loved the town, the people, the horses. To her knowledge, he’d never turned down a fundraiser or any sponsorship request. But paying clients were few, and business had slowed to a trickle. It was a miracle he hadn’t laid anyone off. For his sake, she hoped the new boss would be easy to work with…and didn’t know much about massage.

She swallowed and glanced over her shoulder, resolving to stay up late and study another chapter in the library book. All her knowledge had been learned from her mom or by experimentation, and her massage technique was rather unorthodox. Maybe the new guy wouldn’t approve.

Maybe there’d even be a test. Her stomach churned at the thought. She always felt stupid when people talked about college and university and degrees. Street smart, book dumb, her father had always said, usually with an approving wink.

“Thanks for the heads-up,” she murmured, scrambling to her feet and scooping the empty bottles off the table.

Wally rose with a rueful smile. “You know I’ll always look after the Murphy family. Long as they let me.”

She waited until the lights of his truck disappeared then crossed the road and whistled for Peanut. He ambled from the dark and poked his muzzle into her hand, whiskers tickling as he snuffled for the tiny piece of carrot.

“Time for bed, mister.” She guided him by his forelock to the kennels. Luckily he was small. Years ago, they’d raised foxhounds and the old mesh kennel was perfect for a tiny pony.

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