The truck rattled and banged over the pockmarked road that led to the airport stables. It had been a tough winter, the endless pattern of freezing and thawing had left much of the area’s roadways battered and aged.
Gelden had chosen not to tell Hillary about Tesla’s whereabouts. Not because he felt she didn’t have the right to know, she did. But if he were wrong, if the note had not been about Tesla, if Maxim’s cryptic T.E.S. had stood for something else entirely (take Echinacea supplements or try erectile squats, for instance), it would mean complete devastation for Hillary. Gelden could not bear to see such disappointment. Not on such a beautiful face.
Pammie, sitting in the passenger seat, Tesla’s leather halter and lead shank in hand, had barely said a word. The entire journey she’d sat still, lips pursed, cheeks glowing. Sweet thing, this Pammie, Gelden thought. She really did care—not only about Tesla but about Hillary’s state of mind. As they rumbled along the deserted laneway, he snuck looks at her. Funny, but he’d never noticed how young she looked. With her dark but friendly eyebrows, big eyes, high cheekbones. He reminded Gelden of someone—but whom?
Not someone he knew in real life. No, it wasn’t a girl from school or church or karate class or his junior quinoa farmers summer camp. In fact, it was someone with notoriety. Fame. And, in spite of Pammie’s unfortunate choice of turquoise cut off shorts and yellow t-shirt, the person she resembled was known for her impeccable and edgy sense of fashion.
“Gelden, look out for the squirrel!”
He braked and swerved, narrowly missing the fluffy tailed rodent. Though, secretly, he wouldn’t have minded clipping it. Skinned properly, heavily seasoned, and tossed into a salad, squirrel meat was quite a delicacy in the Gelden family.
Sadly, today’s prey escaped unharmed. “Sorry,” Gelden said. “I don’t know what’s with me today. I’m…distracted.”
She reached over to pat his knee but missed, swiping him on the upper thigh.
Her touch roared through him like an electric shock. He’d never been touched on the thigh—not by the female of the species. It felt…not unlike being hooked by a porcupine quill. In a good way.
They roared past the sign reading “Airport Stables” and parked the truck. No one was around but a Spaniard snoozing on a bench in front of the stables. All the stall doors were closed up tight but one.
It had to be Tesla’s.
As they climbed out of the truck, Gelden motioned to Pammie to stay quiet. They opened the back door and lowered the loading ramp, then sucked in a collective breath and stepped toward the stall.
Tesla heard them. She poked her head—that glorious chestnut head with red forelock and gleaming lightning blaze—out the stall door. Seeing Gelden and Pammie coming toward her she stamped her feet and whinnied in delight.
The old man woke up.
It was at this moment Gelden thanked his ancestors for their superior ability to think on their feet. In one smooth motion, he took the lead shank and halter from Pammie, opened the stall door, slid it over Tesla’s nose and led her out into the sunlight. With a nod toward the man (who looked too shocked to speak), Gelden said, “We’ll bring her back to Maxim in a few minutes.”
So the man said nothing. Just watched, his mouth agape, while Gelden and Pammie, as if out for a leisurely stroll through the country, calmly loaded the mare, got into the truck and pulled away. In his rearview mirror, Gelden watched the fellow stand up and run into the barn office.
Gelden grinned to himself. It was his without a doubt his finest moment. Dare he say it—his Tom Cruise moment.
“We did it!” squealed Pammie. “We got her back. Hillary will be overjoyed. Gelden, you’re a hero!”
He couldn’t speak right away. Yes. It was exactly how he felt. Heroic. As he pulled onto the highway and into the blinding sun, Blake Gelden slid on his aviator shades and smiled at Pammie. “No, Pammie. We did it.”
As she grinned back at him, he realized who she reminded him of.
Mrs. Tom Cruise.
He’d found his Katie Holmes.
He never felt it before, this stirring of his heart. What he’d felt it for Hillary was different. Thinner, and more transparent. But this, this feeling was different entirely. Gelden finally understood what was perhaps his idol’s most famous action of all, Mr. Cruise’s couch jump. For this girl, for Pammie, at this moment, Gelden was willing to jump the couch.