Rhett and Jenny: From Shipyard to Stable

By Missy Amore — 

Rhett knew her the instant she entered the barn. Her face – no – her eyes were unforgettable. He didn’t move as she entered the tack room to retrieve a bridle and halter. The shadowy racks of saddle pads disguised him. Making himself invisible had become habit. When she left, he resumed the soothing process of making the hand tooled, Western saddles shine. He savored the fragrance of the lemony oil, combined with the smells of leather, horses, and hay. Rhett felt grateful to get paid for such a pleasant chore, even if it was a huge cut from his previous salary.

Peering around the door frame, Rhett watched the woman groom an old and gentle palomino. He wouldn’t dare utter the woman’s name, but the horse was Hopeful. Becca, her therapist, arrived, put on the bridle and held it while the woman pressed her forehead to the palomino’s forelock. The three spoke softly while the woman ran her fingers across Hopeful’s scarred face and the scars of her own face.

They led Hopeful to the exterior barn door just as the farrier came in carrying some horseshoes. He was a slight and unimpressive older man, but the woman reacted as if she had just run into the original Terminator. She stumbled backwards, dropped her helmet, fell on her behind and scrambled to the safety of the tack room. She didn’t stop until she buried herself in the layers of musty horse pads hanging from the racks. She had run blindly past Rhett, so that he stood between her and the door. Rhett guessed that if he backed up, she might think he was repulsed by her disfigured face. If he spoke while she was cornered, her panic would escalate. The only direction to go was down. He dropped to a crouch as if needing to tie his shoe.

Surprise flitted across her face before she turned away, pressing her face into the pads.

“Those are in need of a good washing,” Rhett said softly. “You’ll make yourself sneeze.”

She turned to Rhett, her blue eyes registering horror and he silently cursed himself for speaking. He should have realized that she might recognize his voice.

Becca, the therapist, entered the tack room. “This is Rhett, our stable hand. He keeps this place clean and fresh.”

He waved, “Nice to meet you.”

Her answer seemed incongruous. “I left my scarf in the car.”

One of the horses made some sounds of distress and kicked the wall several times. Becca looked over her shoulder and frowned. “Jenny, feel free to go back to Hopeful when you are ready and brush her some more. I have to check on the roan in the last stall.”

Rhett stood up slowly and stepped aside so Jenny could pass, but she didn’t move. “I was just polishing the saddles.” She continued to stare, her eyes wide. This gave him an opportunity to see the damage he had done up close. Her entire face looked waxy and wrinkled. She had no eyebrows, but her facial features were intact, which was a small relief. Rhett’s research told him burn victims sometimes had a hole where their nose or mouth should be. Surgeries to repair faces were as grueling as the recovery from the burn itself. He wanted to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Actually he wanted to get on his knees and grovel, but it was pointless. Rhett wondered at the improbability of seeing Jenny here, in this stable, one year and forty miles from the accident? Then he realized, they had worked for the same shipyard. Of course, the shipyard had offered to pay for each of them to attend the same therapeutic equestrian program. Though Rhett had declined therapy, feeling unworthy, he accepted the offer for a job at the stable with “restorative benefits.”

When the woman with the scarred face continued to stand, immobile, he asked, “Jenny, do you know who I am?”

She relaxed slightly, “Rhett, the stable hand.”

“Do you know I have been interested in you for two years and four months now?”

The horrified look was back.

“I was showing off for you. I came over to weld in the space where you were because I wanted you to notice me.”

Jenny drew a breath and tipped her head up. The whites of her eyes flashed at him like a skittish horse, ready to run.

He had to tell his tale now and get out the apology. So he spoke rapidly, before she ran or screamed. “I stood there for five minutes trying to get your attention, but you and Roger, God rest his soul, were so focused on fixing the pump you never looked up. I thought maybe I’d catch your eye when I was done with my task. It was such a minor repair. I never thought… I’m so sorry, Jenny. Just so sorry.”

“No one was ever interested in me. I was ugly before.”

“I was interested. I thought you were hot.”

Jenny pulled off her wig. “Is this hot?”

Rhett smiled at her. “The sexiest thing you could do is tell me you forgive me.”

“I never blamed you. You didn’t know there were fumes in there. We hadn’t reported it yet.”

“I’m still so sorry.” He spoke through clenched teeth, as if he was in pain, “Please tell me you will forgive me.”

“Forgive you? Okay. I forgive you, but I blamed myself. I wish I had made old Roger stop poking around and get out. You never needed to feel sorry. Now, what would you have said to me if you had gotten my attention?”

Rhett stepped forward and intertwined their fingers. “You’re hot – sexy. You are beautiful now and you were beautiful then. I have been into you since the first time I saw you walk across the shipyard.”

She took a step forward. He reached out and pulled her in, wrapping his arms around her. As they held each other a horse could be heard blowing out his tension and neighing softly.