Main Characters: JD, Chris
"Brothers Larabee" AU
Summary: An incident illustrates one of many difficulties of life on a horse ranch
Huge Thanks to Mary Ann for not only sharing, but allowing me to use her wonderful RL stories to adapt into, as she calls it, 'story meat' :o)
An energized JD stared out through the moving truck's windshield. Being perky was nothing new for the youngest of Linc Larabee's boys, however today for JD was, in his opinion, a dream day.
He loved working with all of his brothers, and especially one to one. With seven grown men occupying one large ranch house, quality time was rare. This day, however, was especially cool. Today, JD was accompanying Chris to pick up four new horses - three brood mares, and one gelding.
The gelding was to replace Horace, a loyal, hard-working quarter horse who had earned the right to be put out to pasture. JD glanced sideways at Chris and his cheeks warmed as he recalled challenging him over the terminology. Chris was actually rendered speechless, for a few moments anyway, before assuring the boy that, as far as the Double L was concerned, and as long as he had breath in his body, the expression truly did mean that Horace would enjoy his last years gamboling in their fields, and not auctioned off to possible kill buyers.
Back at the ranch, Vet, Tom Cowell, and their brother, Vin, were keeping an eye on two pregnant mares. In his duties as ranch foreman, Vin was reluctant to travel far right now. Buck seemed the shoo-in for second choice to go with Chris, so JD was stunned when, at breakfast two days ago, Chris asked JD to go with him. JD suspected, judging by the stifled grins, that it was a premeditated request prompted by both Vin and Buck, but he didn't care, Chris asked him, and JD knew all too well that Chris did nothing unless he wanted to.
"Roads are icier than I expected."
Jolted out of his musings by Chris's statement, JD looked across and nodded. "Yeah, snow's still hanging around. Why did you come this route?"
On the approach to an incline, the engine droned as Chris changed down a gear. "This way's much quicker, but it's not the easiest route in poor conditions for a rig this size." He arched an eyebrow as he glanced at JD. "Had I known there'd been a fresh snowfall, I would have chained up before leaving the ranch." He chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment. "Wish I'd packed 'em, now."
Their conversation was interrupted by JD's cell ringing. He answered and heard a familiar voice.
"Hey, li'l brother, what's your twenty?"
JD giggled. "Hey, Buck. You're real busy, I see." He heard Buck chuckle.
"Yeah, yeah. So? What's your twenty, Kid."
JD's bewilderment showed. "What's a 'twenty'?" he whispered to Chris.
The blond smiled. "Tell him approaching Bear Claw Bend."
"I heard," Buck interrupted. There was a pause. "What're the roads like there?" he said, finally.
Chris signaled for JD to give him the phone, which he did. "Passable. See y'all soon. Out." He passed back the handset. "Last thing I need is Buck's clucking."
JD took the phone and placed it in his pocket. He smiled. Buck sure could fuss but...if he was honest...he kinda liked it.
As the truck climbed, Chris could feel the trailer occasionally sliding and causing the tires to spin. They had almost reached the bend when the truck lost traction on the road's icy surface and the trailer began to slide backwards, pulling the truck down the hill with it.
Teeth gritted, Chris fought with the wheel. "Shit!"
JD's fingers dug into the dashboard's leather. He watched, horrified, as they slipped helplessly backwards, and all the while, the horses in the back of the trailer grew more and more panicky. Eventually, the sliding metal horsebox skewed left. The rear wheels bounced over a verge and its journey was halted when the underside frame caught on the edge of the bank, to leave the back third of the trailer dangling five feet above the ground. If not for that, the truck itself would have likely continued to be dragged back, to finish nose-up in a ditch. Instead, with its two occupants badly shaken, the cab was still on the snow-packed road, and partially facing downhill.
Chris tried to start the stalled truck but it wasn't having any of it. He knew his thumb was dislocated, but that was the least of his worries as his foot remained hard down on the brake pedal. It had to be done; it, and the parking brake were the only things taking the strain of the creaking trailer's precarious position, and he would have to stay that way until the horses were safely offloaded, or help arrived - whichever came first.
He looked across at JD to see the boy's trembling fingertips coated in blood, and him exhaling rapid puffs of frigid air due to the shock of the experience, but otherwise, he seemed okay. With the engine stalled, the air in the cab was quickly cooling. No time for feeling sorry for themselves. "JD?"
"Yeah?" He noted Chris staring at his fingers. JD smiled. "I'm fine, just a bump. You?"
"All good here. Call for help. Tell them to bring snow chains."
JD nodded. "Sure." He took out his cell phone, and to the background of whinnying, restless horses, he dialed.
"And hurry, Kid. The only thing that'll guarantee to hold us steady is my foot on the brake pedal, and I'm having to push down real hard without power, so we need to get those horses out of the trailer, fast."
With the weather still cold, back at the ranch Nettie prepared soup instead of sandwiches for lunch. All the brothers but Chris and JD were there to eat, and eyes turned to the mudroom door when Vin walked through into the hallway blowing on his hands. He smiled at the curious looks.
"The mares are settled. I asked Tom in for lunch, but he said he had other calls to catch up on. He's callin' back tomorrow." Vin glanced around. "We heard from Chris?"
Buck nodded. "They've taken Stockman's Pass. They were approaching Bear Claw Bend when we spoke." The brunet noted the concern in Vin's gaze.
"Such quaint location appellations you have around these parts," Ezra commented while setting the table. He looked up, and instantly sensed the mood. "What?"
"Forecasts say the roads are clear, but Tom was sayin' earlier that he had to turn back there this mornin' as there was fresh snowfall overnight and it was freezin' over."
Buck's fingers raked his hair. "Ahh shoot."
"But, surely the truck can handle such conditions," Josiah questioned.
"It should," Buck replied, "but without snow chains, it wouldn't be the first time that route's beaten us."
"So why use it?" Ezra queried.
"It shaves four hours off the journey," Nathan said. "And Chris would have checked, and triple checked the route's forecasts before heading back, so he must have been pretty confident it was passable before tackling it. However, keeping track of the mountain passes isn't as clear-cut as you'd think."
Buck's cell phone rang and the others watched as he answered. "Hey, Kid. What? Right...right...okay, got it. On our way." He looked at his brothers. They've suffered a trailer swing; they need chains, and a tow."
Everyone hustled. It would take up precious time fitting snow chains to the rescue vehicle before they could set off, so they had to get moving.
"They're on their way."
Chris nodded to JD, and then jerked his head to one side as he rolled down his window, "Go take a look at our position. We need to get the horses out." He watched, helpless, as the door closed behind JD, but he dared not release the pedal, the parking brake would never hold alone.
The boy hadn't hesitated, and Chris couldn't have been more proud, especially if the trailer was hanging above ground as he suspected. This would not be easy. He winced and rubbed the calf of the leg stomped on the brake pedal.
'Don't cramp up, Larabee.'
JD dropped from the cab and his boots crunched on the icy snow. He stepped cautiously toward the bank's edge. 'Aww hell'. He called back toward the open window.
"The back wheels are four or five feet above the ground, if the trailer drops, the angle would be near-impossible to pull it clear with a regular pickup."
"Figured. Can you get to the door nearest the cab?"
JD eyed the door barely big enough for a horse to get through...barely, but it was possible. "Yeah, it's on a tilt, but still on solid ground."
"Nice and steady, Kid."
"You got it. Here I go." JD wasn't sure why he announced his timing, but seeing as Chris was stomping down on the only means of keeping the trailer and four horses steady, it seemed the way to go.
He leaned over to grab the handle. Edging closer, JD opened the door and peeked inside and toward the horses. They had slipped, and were standing tight up against their dividers. Their eyes were wild, and the angle they stood at was clearly uncomfortable for them as their hooves scraped the floor to maintain purchase. 'Poor things are terrified,' JD thought to himself. He whistled, softly.
"Easy, easy there..."
JD clucked his tongue and smiled to see the animals settle a little. The trailer creaked and dropped a bit, setting the horses off again. It caused him to glance back toward the truck. 'Hold on, Chris.'
"Come on now," he soothed, "you can do this. I'll have you outta here in no time."
Punching the first rear divider up and out of its setting, JD let the partition swing on its chain while he untied the first mare. With gentle encouragement, he led the nervous animal toward the single, open door. Backing out, JD guided the horse through the narrow opening and onto the snow-covered grass. The horse snorted and shook her head.
"There you go. That wasn't so bad, was it?" Slowly he walked the horse to a bush a little further along and away from the vehicle, to secure her. Dipping into his coat pocket, JD pulled out some carrot pieces and offered them to the mare. She lipped at the treat and JD patted her neck before giving the thumbs up to Chris and going for the next horse.
JD was focused, so time was of no consequence to him. Chris on the other hand had been holding the brake for almost three-quarters of an hour and his leg was going numb, not to mention that his disjointed thumb throbbed, fiercely. Any other time he would have popped the dislocated digit back into place himself, but he couldn't risk botching the job under these conditions, so left it for now. Chris was relieved to see the second horse out and JD going back.
"Doing good, JD."
The boy flashed Chris a smile. "Thanks, you too. The gelding's gonna be the toughest, he's way down the trailer."
Chris watched him going inside again, eventually to emerge with the final mare before heading back in for the gelding. The blond was really fighting a charley horse, and felt the spasm travel right through to his foot. For a split-second, the pedal lifted and caused the trailer to groan and drop a little more. He scolded himself and punched his calf. "Keep it together!"
JD disappeared into the horsebox for the final horse. His head now ached a little, but he was far too focused on the task at hand to let it bother him. Inside the horsebox, JD looked at the position of the gelding, and then the floor. During his last three trips, his boots had made the floor wet, so he'd have to be extra careful this time. He was almost at the horse when the trailer creaked and dropped a touch. His foot slipped and he started to slide, but just before he hit the floor, JD managed to grab onto one of the swinging, padded, rear-stall separators. His body swung, and he felt the pull of the fall on his shoulder, but with the use of one foot landing solid on the floor, he stayed up. "Whew, that was close."
The nervous horse was not impressed at the flying limbs behind him and kicked out, catching JD's butt cheek with a hoof.
"Oww, shoot, fella, I'm on your side."
Gaining his footing, JD realized he was at such an angle that he would need to hold onto something to lead the horse out. Bracing himself against the divider, he untied the gelding, but the feisty black was uninterested. JD offered up some carrot pieces, and smiled when the horse sniffed, and then took them.
"I know you've had a scare, boy, but you need to get outta here so we can get this rig off the bank. Now, I'll forgive you my sore tushie, and all I want in return is for you to trust me, okay?"
Continuing with the encouraging words and again clicking his tongue, JD edged slowly backwards up the slope, all the while grabbing onto anything sturdy his free hand could find to stop him slipping, and often having to stop to ensure he didn't when the angle, or the wet floor got the better of him.
He was relieved when his searching fingers eventually found the edge of the metal doorframe. Gratefully he curled them around the framework, but jolted when a warm hand closed over his. "What...?"
A strong grip took his wrist and pulled. When JD came face to face with Buck, he couldn't help grinning. "Neat, you turn up now the work's done."
Buck smiled, took the reins, and led the horse, and JD, out of the door. Outside, Ezra winked at JD, and then took the horse from Buck. JD looked around at the tire-chained truck parked up ahead of theirs, and was surprised to see that Josiah and Vin had already secured the chains around the tires of Chris's vehicle. Nathan attached a hook to a hitch on the front of the stalled truck and soon they were ready to tow.
JD stood with the horses. Guided by Vin, Nathan rolled the pickup forward until it took up the slack. His vehicle's tire chains bit into the icy, packed snow and inch by inch, both trucks eased the trailer up, and forward, only stopping momentarily to allow Vin, Josiah, Buck, and Ezra to check the stuck truck's chains before completing the job of setting the horsebox back on solid ground. Once the trailer's snow chains were fitted, they finally relaxed a little. Vin popped the hood and examined the stalled engine.
Chris exited the cab and half-walked, half-stomped off the tingling sensation in his leg caused by full circulation returning. He approached JD, smiled, and gently punched the boy's arm. "Nice work, Pard."
JD returned the smile. "You didn't do too bad yourself." He grimaced and his hand moved as if to touch a sore spot, but quickly stopped.
"Your head hurting?" Chris asked. The dry line of blood down the side of JD's face was hard to miss.
JD shrugged. "Partly, but..." he flushed and rubbed his posterior, "the gelding kicked my butt...literally. Reckon I have a bruise forming."
His gathered brothers couldn't help but chuckle. Chris went to thumb toward the horses, and also winced. He nodded toward them instead.
"Let's get the horses back in the trailer and settled, and then I can drive them home."
Slamming the hood down, Vin shook his head before even Nathan could say a word. "Nope, you're goin' home with Buck and Nathan. Josiah, Ezra, and me'll get the horses home. Should be a breeze now the chains are on." He hopped up into the cab and turned the key, smiling when the truck's engine roared to life.
Chris was about to argue when he noticed how cold JD looked. Thinking on it, he wasn't too warm himself, and he really could do with his thumb back in place. He nodded.
"Knock yourself out." He raised a cautionary hand, causing Vin to look. "Scrub that...just get home safely."
Tanner grinned. "Will do."
The Texan carefully maneuvered the vehicle and trailer into the correct position to climb the hill, and then he and the others loaded up the hesitant animals. One hour after arriving to retrieve the stricken trailer, Vin, Ezra, and Josiah were setting off for the Double L.
Inside their own vehicle, Nathan was checking out the injuries. There was very little he could do about JD's butt right then, so he made a mental note of how JD was rotating his shoulder and wincing, and then handed Buck a sterile wipe to clean up the small scalp cut, buried in JD's hair. Hushed words, followed by a low, long string of curses from Chris suggested his thumb was soon back in place. Nathan secured the repaired digit with an Ace bandage around it, and then the whole hand for extra support.
He moved back to JD and checked up on his cut. Declaring it wasn't too bad, and applying a little ointment to keep it sterile, Nathan took out a solid pack from his kit and punched at it to release the chemicals inside. "Try and hold this freeze pack against your jeans at the part of your butt that hurts," he told JD.
Buck nudged his kid brother. "Hey, that horse sure had some cheek, huh? Don't you worry, though, I'll make sure the guys don't make you the butt of their jokes." He laughed at the dig to his ribs.
"Shut up, Buck."
Ignoring Buck's teasing, the doctor packed up and jumped into the driver's seat. Minutes later, the four were also heading for the Double L.
One week on, and Chris was out working in the corral. His brow furrowed at the question JD had just walked up to him and asked. "Let me get this straight, you want to call our new gelding...the one that left a shoeprint on your ass, 'Shamrock'?"
Next to Chris and holding the reins of the handsome animal, JD nodded. "Uh huh."
JD pointed. "See here, on his nose, just above the muzzle and between his nostrils?"
"A small white patch. What of it?"
"It's shaped like a shamrock, see?"
Chris stared, then grinned and nodded. "Yeah, I guess. And that's where the name came from?"
"Yeah. Also, you said he came from Irish draught stock, right?"
"And...well, after what he went through up on Stockman's Pass, he's...you know, lucky."
Chris folded his arms across his chest and chuckled. "That one's a bit of a stretch, Kid, but...okay, we'll discuss it with the others over dinner."
JD beamed. "Awesome, thanks." Looping the reins over the horse's shoulders, he pulled out some treats for the gelding to lip before clucking his tongue and walking away. "Come on, Shamrock."
Chris openly laughed as he watched the horse obediently follow JD across the corral. He shook his head. "Discuss it…r-i-g-h-t."
With only a little soreness in his thumb to remind him of their recent impromptu adventure, Chris finished up before heading in to join his brothers for another of the Double L's routine events and one of his favorite times of the day - dinner with family.
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