Morning indeed came early to Birchwood Castle. Ember was up at dawn, though she was thankful for the alarm clock this time. She could have slept til noon had she not done so. After an invigorating shower and a roll through her morning bathroom routine, Ember entered the living room on her way to the kitchen to discover Luca had fallen asleep on the couch.
She decided to leave him be and left a second plate of french toast in the fridge for him when he woke up later.
Then she headed out to shovel hay in the paddock for the horses. Several hours later, after her rounds of making sure the horses were fed and the stalls mucked, Ember returned inside to check on her guest.
At least he had turned over. It was still hard to tell at times if he was even still alive. That part continued to concern her, but she filed it away as something to look into later. There was still a lot to be done around the estate. So back out she went to make sure it got done.
Her first concern was the staff. She called the housekeepers and gave them the day off. Then she headed out to the garden to help Brady with the harvest. She brought out the wheelbarrow and while he did the watering and weeding, she did the picking and carted it all inside herself so that she was the only one to go inside for the day. Brady was extremely happy for the help and the chance to go home early for the day.
The rest of the day was spent working with the horses. First up, it was Halter training for GVA Sundance Horizonskies. The filly had obviously already had some pretty descent training before she arrived and was quick to pick up on cues. She just needed a bit more work with moving and positioning of those long arabian-influenced legs of hers.
TLS Full Immersion, however, decided he had other ideas about the choreography during his lunging session.
Then, it was Turtle’s turn to practice his moves. He had an important show tonight to perform at. Turtle was all too happy to prove he knew exactly what he was doing.
After a quick check on Luca, it was time for a change of clothes for the evening show. Ember felt a little bad for having to leave, even for the single show that she had this evening. But she decided to leave a sticky note and the house phone next to him so he could call should he need anything. Then it was off to tack-up Turtle and head off to the show. The trailer driver was rather impressed with the photo he snapped of Ember and Turtle showing off before loading time.
The show turned out perfect with Turtle easily bringing them home a 1st place trophy.
Upon returning home and getting Turtle squared away int he stable, Ember returned inside. Luca hadn’t moved an inch since she’d last been through, and naturally she was getting rather worried. Yet, there was no one she could think of to turn to in this sort of situation.
So rather than fret, she decided to try speaking to her new friend through his stomach. She quickly set about cooking up a pot of soup for the both of them.
In the other room, just as the sun was setting and the soup was starting to simmer, Luca stirred at last. Waking up was so hard. If only he could figure out why. He didn’t like having to spend so much time being idle. Whoever he had been before now, it hadn’t been someone who stayed in one spot all the time.
Still, as he got to his feet, Luca couldn’t help but feel like he’d been hit by a monster truck. Repeatedly.
“Well would you look at that. I knew the smell of my awesome cooking would bring you around to rejoin the living. and just like that, here you are just as I’m finishing up. I made a stew recipe I brought back from France.”
“Soup… sounds good. I feel like the freshly woken dead. Just as cold.”
“That’s what you get for sleeping on that piece of shit couch instead of in the bed. I bought the thing at a garage sale. It’s definitely not as comfortable as it looks. I just have never had a reason to by a decent couch til now cause I never used it. I’m always outside or in the study or off in some foreign land chasing ghost stories. Anyway, yeah this should warm you up. My farmer friend brought me back some of the fish he caught on his vacation, so I decided to make a French fish stew I learned when I went to visit a wine town my dad use to tell stories about.”
“You weren’t kidding about being an awesome cook. This is amazing,” Luca murmurred after a few bites of the heavenly meal.
“My grandmother was big on family dinners. She would always get me involved in helping her make these grand meals at family get-togethers. She believed that good food could cure just about anything. The way she cooked, she was right. Whenever i travel to someplace new, I try to learn a new recipe to bring back to honor her memory,” Ember said with a smile as she thought back to the tubby farmer’s wife who so loved to feed the world whenever she could.
Luca closed his eyes and sat for a moment, savoring the flavors as warmth washed through him from the inside out.”She may have been right about that.There was something else you fed me yesterday that I could vaguely recall having a similar effect, now that I think about it,” he said before resuming his worship of the soup in the bowl before him.
“Oh that? That was an ancient Egyptian tea remedy I discovered in my travels. A nice old lady passed it to me in exchange for helping her family with a few things. Actually, it was one of several in a kit she gave me. It was the only thing I could think of to try at the time.”
“You have good instincts.”
“They keep me alive. I can only hope they’ll help me do the same for you. You do scare me still from time to time, though.”
“That makes too of us. I scare me too.” He chose not to elaborate, instead quickly rising to scoop up her empty bowl along with his to put them in the dishwasher. He found the soap in the cabinet under the sink and ran the appliance, not really remembering where or how he learned to do basic household chores. Something in him still remembered it at least. That was good enough for him.
“You didn’t have to do that. I’m quite capable of cleaning up after myself,” she laughed with a bit of a blush, not use to having someone pick up after her.
“You cooked. It was fair enough that I clean up after sandbagging your couch all day.”
“Well then, if you feel like helping out, then you can help me with the foals and putting everyone to bed for the night.”
“Just lead the way. I can’t remember how to make that stuff, but I’ll try to help however I can.”
Outside, they went. After Ember patiently mixed the formula, she let Luca fed the foals while she checked hooves and coats for any hitch-hiking pests. After that, the two of them lead the horses to their stalls for the night, and Ember locked up the stable.
“I have to go to bed, but like last night, You’re welcome to stay up as long as you like. Make yourself at home. There’s a pile of clean clothes in the laundry room that are yours to sort through for what fits. I picked up a bunch of different stuff at the consignment ship while I was out this evening. Hopefully some of the stuff will work til we can go shopping day after tomorrow. There’s also a second bathroom upstairs if you prefer it. If you really get bored, there’s a bunch of boxes of various bits of furniture upstairs waiting for someone to put them together. Just try not to over do it,” she told him.
“Really, thank you for everything you’ve done. I’ll do my best to find ways to repay your generosity.”
“How about focusing on getting well for me, huh? Speaking of, at some point, you should write me a list of symptoms on the notepad in the study. I have friends all over the world that I can ask around for info. I guarantee someone will have an answer as to what’s going on with you and how to help make it better.”
“I’ll do that. Sleep well.”
“Hey, don’t forget there’s a perfectly good king-size bed in there that you’ve already shared with me before. Else, I’ll start to think you’re scared of me,” she laughed.
He put a palm to his face and replied, “Yes, your majesty.”
Her laughter was infectious as she walked away to go to bed. It made it easier to mask his pain. Pain of the things he couldn’t tell her. Shaking his head to force those thoughts from his mind, Luca went to grab the pile of clothes and head upstairs. Perhaps a shower would help.
Downstairs, Ember tossed and turned for a good while before she finally fell asleep. She knew there was something wrong. She knew there was something he wasn’t telling her. She just couldn’t figure out what. Tomorrow, she planned to start making a few phone calls. Someone had to know something that could help Luca. She just had to dig around a bit. She planned to dig as much as it took. She damn well wasn’t going to give him up without a fight.