Dan feels like he’s the one who fell off. He can barely breathe, he’s a bit dizzy, and his mind is far away, replaying a horrible scene that he never wants to think about again. Thankfully, the need for action outweighs his shock, and then he’s steering Monty clear of the spot where Tat’s lying and yelling ahead to Robyn and sliding off Monty and running.
Tat’s moving, and for a second he’s so relieved he almost loses it again. He can remember Justin, lying there so still with Willow still half on him, thrashing and moaning and rolling, struggling to get up and then falling again… but he has to shut that thought out. Tat needs him now; he can fall apart later.
She’s gasping a little, looking panicked, and he gently reaches out to her. “It’s okay, Tat. Is it hard to breathe?” She nods. “Okay, try to take a medium breath—you probably got the wind knocked out of you—it’s scary, I know….”
She breathes in, and he hears a little wheezy sound. “Yeah, that’s good. I think you’re okay.” He sees how much his hand is shaking and drops it to brace against the ground beside her. He doesn’t think she noticed, although she may be able to hear the tremor he’s feeling in his voice. He makes himself replay the fall in his mind. “You landed on your shoulder, right?”
“I don’t… maybe?” She’s crying a little, and Dan isn’t sure if he should acknowledge it, or if that would make it worse.
Finally, thank God, Robyn is there, jumping off her horse and hurrying over. “Oh, sweetie, are you all right?”
Dan backs off gratefully. Robyn has the same first aid training that Dan has, and she’s generally much better at this sort of thing. He keeps one eye on them in case Robyn needs help and looks for Sunshine with the other. She’s standing on the far side of the jump, calmly eating some grass. Dan’s still shaking, and instead of getting better, it seems like it’s spreading. He tries to take his mind off it and walks over toward Sunshine. He carefully goes to her far side, where the girls won’t be able to see him but he can hear them if they call, and he leans into her for a few breaths, almost gasping, trying to get her familiar horsey smell to bring him back to himself. The mare seems totally unconcerned, turning her head to look at him briefly and then returning to her snack. Tat’s okay, he tells himself. It’s not the same. It’s not the same.
“Dan?” Robyn calls, and he jerks his head up.
“Yeah! Is she all right?” He stays with Sunshine, doesn’t really need either of them to see him trembling like he’s going through withdrawal.
“Her shoulder’s hurt. I don’t think it’s dislocated, but I’m not sure.”
It’s pretty clear from Robyn’s tone that Dan is expected to go and help her with this. He takes one more deep breath of Sunshine and walks back over. He’s wearing a work shirt over his T-shirt, and he takes the top layer off. “We need a sling, right?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Robyn takes the shirt from him and carefully loops it under Tat’s forearm and then back behind her neck. Then she takes a closer look at Dan. “Shit, Dan, are you okay? You’re gray.”
Dan cuts his eyes rapidly to Tat and then says, “Yeah, I’m fine.” He looks away for a second, tries to will some color back into his face. “Tat, are you okay to walk down?” He frowns. Half his brain is far away, spinning, panicking, but the other half is here, and it’s a little frustrated. They should have a better system in place for these situations, maybe an ATV parked at the top of the hill, although an ATV ride could be bouncier than just walking….
“Yeah, I think so,” she says, and she bravely tries to smile. “It hurts, though, Dan.” She sounds like a little kid, and he wants to cry. He can’t believe he let this happen.
“I know,” he says soothingly. “It’s just your shoulder, though, right? Not your neck at all or your back?”
“Robyn already asked me that stuff, Dan.”
“Well, now I’m asking.” He doesn’t mean to be short with her. Damn it, why is he reacting like this? He’s seen people fall off horses since Justin; he’s done it himself a couple times. It shouldn’t be a big deal. But this is the first time on a cross-country course, with someone he cares about getting hurt.
Tat looks a little taken aback and then meekly says, “It’s just my shoulder.”
He takes a deep breath and tries to calm himself. He knows it’s already too late to hide his reaction from Robyn, but maybe he can at least keep Tat from seeing it. “Okay, sorry. Good. Uh, I have your emergency number in my phone—that’s your doctor, right?”
Tat nods. “Dr. Sangha. Do I really need to see her?”
Dan’s pulling his phone out. “Why, is she mean?”
Tat gives him an odd look. “No, she’s not mean. She’s nice. But… she’ll make me tell Evan.”
Now it’s Dan’s turn to be surprised. “Dude, we’re not keeping this from Evan. Whether she tells him or you tell him or I tell him, he’s getting told.”
“Well, maybe not, Dan….” Tat sounds like she’s wheedling a little, and it at least makes Dan feel better about her shoulder. “He can get a bit… crazy when I get hurt. I fell on the tennis court two summers ago and just skinned my knee—I mean, I took a lot of skin off… it was pretty gross—but still, he was all, ‘you should find another sport, you should start swimming, or maybe do yoga.’” Tat looks at Dan with concern. “And that was after he’d calmed down and stopped talking about tearing up the tennis courts.”
Great. Dan wonders how this will affect the partnership plans, Evan’s scheme to let Dan buy into the business, but he puts that out of his mind for now. “No, Tat, you need to get your shoulder looked at, and it wouldn’t hurt to get the rest of you checked out too. You landed pretty hard. Do you want me to call, or do you want to?”
Tat looks like she’s debating, torn between wanting to be an adult and wanting to be looked after. “You can.”
“Okay, yeah.” Dan takes a quick look around. The horses are all happily grazing, but he takes a moment to tie their reins in knots to keep them from falling over the horses’ heads and getting stepped on. Dan’s got enough panic of his own; he doesn’t need the horses starting to freak out as well. His hands are still shaking quite a bit, and he can’t hide it if he’s holding the phone, so he turns away to dial. There’s a ring, and then an efficient sounding woman greets him.
He clears his throat a little nervously. “Uh, hi. This is Dan Wheeler, I’m calling on behalf of Tatiana Kaminski.”
The efficiency immediately disappears. “Oh my goodness, is Tat all right?” Dan should have known that the nurse would have fallen under the Kaminski charm.
“Yeah, she’s mostly fine, she just… she fell off a horse and hurt her shoulder. We’ve got it immobilized, but we need to walk her down the hill, and then we thought we could bring her to you, get her checked out.”
“Of course, we can get her in to see the doctor as soon as she arrives. Or Dr. Sangha could come out to the house, if you think Tat would prefer.” Dan hadn’t even considered that option. He’s got to remember whose sister he’s dealing with. Being the wealthiest family in a town full of wealthy people has its advantages.
“Uh, I’m not sure, but I think she’s probably going to need an X-ray—can you do that at your office?”
“Yes, but the doctor could give her a quick examination and start on pain management before you make the drive.”
“Uh, wow. Just a second, okay?” Dan lowers the phone and braces his hands at his sides, then turns to Tat. “Do you need ‘pain management’ for the drive to the doctor’s?”
Tat gives him a strange look. “She’s just in town, not all the way to the city. And it really doesn’t hurt much unless I move it.”
“So that’s a no? We’ll just get you to the office?”
“Or not even the office….” But the look on Dan’s face makes it pretty clear that she can give up on that idea.
Dan looks over at the horses and tries to make a plan. “Robyn, if I bring the horses down, do you think you could help Tat?”
Robyn nods in agreement, but Tat interjects. “I’m fine, really! It’s not like I hurt my leg. I don’t need help.”
“Yeah, okay, tough guy.” Dan’s still feeling a little shaky, but at least he’s calmed down enough his voice is back to normal. “Why don’t you give it a try, and if you’re okay, we can pass the horses back out?”
Tat agrees, and Robyn carefully helps her up. Judging by the way Tat squeaks when she shifts her weight and the strained expression on her face, Dan’s pretty sure he’ll be leading the horses all the way down. Winston and Monty get turned out together and are friends, so Dan takes their untied reins in his left hand, and then leads Sunshine with his right. He watches her for the first few steps, but she’s not showing any sign of soreness. She’d clipped her hind legs a bit going over the jump, so he’ll have to keep an eye on them to make sure no lameness develops, but she seems okay for now. Which is good, because he really doesn’t need anything else to deal with.
They start off down the hill. Dan’s glad his hands are busy, because that gives him an excuse to not call Evan quite yet. The horses want to walk a little bit faster than the girls do, so he looks over his shoulder and says, “I’m gonna walk on ahead, and I’ll bring the truck up to meet you, okay?” Robyn nods gratefully—Tat is obviously having a bit of a tough time with the walk.
When he gets to the barn, he calls in to Devin to come and help with the horses. None of them are really all that hot, so Dan tells him to just pull off their tack and put them in the paddocks; grooming can wait for later. Then Dan grabs his keys and heads for the truck. He’s not really prepared to see Jeff standing in the parking lot.
“Hey, Dan, I was hoping to find you here,” Jeff starts. He’s grinning almost bashfully, and Dan’s pretty sure that he’d find it adorable and sexy and sweet at any other time, but right now he barely notices. Whatever Dan and Jeff and Evan are trying to create together, and however much they’d enjoyed their first night together just the day before, Dan knows that Tatiana’s health is a priority for all of them.
“Hey, man, get in. I’ll explain as we drive.” Jeff looks a bit startled but climbs into the truck, and Dan backs it up and turns it toward the hill. “Tat’s fine, but she fell off and hurt her shoulder. She’s getting a bump on her collarbone, so I think maybe it’s broken. We called the doctor, so we’ve got to pick her up and take her to town.”
“Shit.” Jeff’s quiet for a second. “You called Evan yet?”
“Uh, no, I haven’t had time yet. I was gonna do it on the way to town.”
Jeff nods, and then shakes his head. “Nah, I’ll do it. He gets a bit… high strung about Tat.”
Dan glances over. “Are you serious? I mean, I’m the one who let her get hurt….”
“Yeah, ’cause riding’s only dangerous if Dan is careless. Whatever, man. People fall; it happens.” Jeff pauses. “Was she wearing a vest?”
“Yeah, of course. Everyone wears their vest on the course. That’s the rule.” Dan knows that Michelle had been a little unimpressed with his insistence on helmets at all times and safety vests on the cross-country course, but she seemed to calm down about it pretty quick. He suspects that Robyn had mentioned Justin’s accident to her, but he doesn’t actually know that.
Jeff pauses for a second. “Yeah, okay, I know it’s not your fault, and Evan will know that eventually, but… just for now, let me call him, okay?”
Shit. “Yeah. Okay.” They reach the bottom of the hill, and Dan sees Tat, looking a little gray herself by now, being helped by Robyn. He parks the truck as close to the base as he can get it and hops out. He can help Robyn, and Jeff is pulling his phone out; Dan has a feeling he doesn’t want to hear any part of that conversation. He thinks again about the partnership, wonders if he’s not just out of a business opportunity but maybe out of a job as well. But he can’t do anything about that now.
“Hey, Tat, rough walk?” It’s Tat’s left shoulder that’s sore, and Robyn’s already supporting her on her right side, so there’s really not much that Dan can do. But Tat’s crying, her face drawn with pain, and Dan remembers his own experiences with broken bones. They hurt, and Tat’s not used to having hurts that aren’t immediately soothed. She stumbles a little, and Robyn catches her but throws Dan a look. He understands and smoothly takes Robyn’s place, then gently lifts Tat up so she’s lying sideways in his arms, her left shoulder out where he won’t rub it, her face buried in his neck. Dan feels terrible; he should have sent Robyn down with the horses, and he could have carried Tat before. Just one more way he’s fucked this whole thing up. “Okay, Tat, it’s okay,” he soothes, and he walks as carefully as he can toward the truck.
It’s a four-door, thankfully, so it’s not too hard to maneuver her into the back seat. Jeff is standing around the front of the car, talking soothingly into the phone, but Dan can’t hear the exact words. He’s not sorry. “Okay, Tat, are you all right like that?” Dan glances around. “Do you want Robyn to come along as a pillow?” Robyn raises an eyebrow at the glamorous job description, but when Tat nods tremulously, Robyn wastes no time in climbing in. She starts doing that smooth-the-hair-away-from-the-temples thing, and if there’s a person on Earth who doesn’t find that soothing, Dan doesn’t want to know about it.
Jeff appears at his elbow just as he’s about to shut the door and hands the phone over to Tat. “Your brother wants to talk to you for a second, sweetheart.”
Tat makes a face and then seems to be bracing herself. She takes a deep breath before lifting the phone to her ear. “Evan, I’m fine, and it was just an accident. It wasn’t anyone’s fault except for a little bit mine, and Sunshine was perfect—she did just what she was supposed to—and Dan and Robyn were there, and they took care of me, and I’m fine, and Sunshine is fine, and everything’s fine, so be calm. All right?” She pauses, and then holds the phone a little ways out from her ear and grimaces at Jeff, who smiles sympathetically back.
Then he turns to Dan. “I told him I’d ride along with you, okay?”
Dan nods. “Yeah, of course. Sorry.” Dan isn’t sure what he’s apologizing to Jeff for—maybe for dragging him into this little drama.
Jeff just shakes his head and goes around to the passenger door, but then Robyn lifts her head. “Dan, are you okay to drive?” She asks it too quietly for it to register with Tat, who is still dealing with her brother, but Jeff hears and throws a concerned gaze Dan’s way.
“Did you fall too?” he asks incredulously.
“No.” Dan gives Robyn a firm glare. “I’m fine. We ready?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, just puts the truck in gear and lets Jeff close his door before pulling away.
He’s focusing on driving as smoothly as he can, and he doesn’t really pay much attention to Tat’s conversation until he hears her say, “No!” in an outraged voice. There’s a silence, and then, “Evan, come on….” She listens and then sighs, and Dan sees movement in the rear view mirror, glances back to see her holding the phone out in his direction. “He wants to talk to you, Dan.”
Dan doesn’t really want to do this here, with an audience, but he guesses he doesn’t have choice. He reaches a hand back, but then Jeff is there, taking the phone out of Tat’s hand and holding it up to his own ear. “Dan’s driving your sister to the doctor’s right now, kid. He’s concentrating on the road. Why don’t you talk to him later?” Jeff waits for a response and then says, “Well, if you still feel that way later, we’ll figure something out.” He looks over at Dan and shakes his head in a “don’t worry” gesture, but Dan isn’t convinced. “Okay, we’ll see you at the doctor’s. You concentrate on your driving, too, all right? Tat’s fine.”
The rest of the drive passes in silence except for Robyn’s soothing words and, as they near their destination, Jeff’s calm directions. Dan pulls up to the main entrance but can’t park there, so Jeff gets out and lifts Tat into his arms, where she nestles just as comfortably as she had in Dan’s. Robyn slides out after them, and Dan pulls away to find parking. He finds a spot and turns off the engine, but then he somehow just doesn’t seem to be able to get out of the car.
It’s like all the adrenaline and all the emotions that he’s been trying to repress for the last hour suddenly break free, and he doubles over the steering wheel, grabbing onto it like it’s a life preserver, not sure if he’s getting too much oxygen or not enough, but definitely having trouble with his breathing. He thinks of Tat again, realizes that this little freak-out is just another way he’s letting her down, but he can’t seem to stop. He wonders for the millionth time what Justin felt, what he knew about the accident, when he realized things were going wrong, whether he’d been scared. More than anything, Dan can’t stand the thought of Justin being scared.
The doctors had said that he’d lost consciousness instantly, that the damage to his brain was immediate and severe, that he’d never known what happened, but Dan doesn’t know if he can believe them or if they were just saying what he wanted to hear. Justin was so quick, so fast to understand things that Dan could sometimes never quite catch, and it makes Dan afraid that he had known, had felt the pain, had felt Willow’s weight as it fell on him, crushed him. Dan wonders if Justin felt the blow to his head, if he had time to realize that something was seriously wrong, if he was afraid and alone and waiting for Dan to help him. But by the time Dan got there, it was too late, and maybe Justin’s last thought was that Dan had let him down.
And now he’s not sure if he can’t breathe because of the adrenaline or because of the sobbing. He needs to pull himself together. He’s in a public parking lot, and people are waiting for him, and he’s letting them down, too, and then he thinks of his sister and how lost she’d been when their mom got sick and how much worse it must have been for Krista when their mom died, but Dan hadn’t been there. He’d been off dealing with his own stupid crap instead of taking care of his family. And his mom herself, what had she thought about her runaway son? On top of all her other worries, he’d just heaped a little more on. Had she wondered where he was, wondered why he hadn’t come to find her? Maybe her last thought had been of him, with all the people that she cared about gathered around her except one, her stupid faggot son who didn’t care about anyone but himself, who she had done her best for and loved and tried to guide, and who had yelled at her and left her to face sickness and death without his support.
Jesus Christ, he feels like his chest is going to explode. He’s still hanging on to the steering wheel, sobbing and gasping, and it reminds him of falling apart behind the funeral home, except this time he’s all alone. There’s no Chris or Jeff to help him. But that’s only fair; why should he get help when he’s never helped anyone else? But then he feels a cool hand on the back of his neck, and he tries to pull away a little, but the hand stays there, not pulling, just resting and rubbing a little, and he hears Jeff’s voice.
“Shit, Dan. It’s okay, kiddo. She’s fine.” Dan tries to stop crying, knows he’s making a fool of himself, and a part of him wishes Jeff would just go away and leave him to humiliate himself in peace, but another part of him is so, so glad to not be alone. “I know, sweetheart, it’s not just her. Shhhh….” When Jeff gently pulls on Dan’s neck, he thinks about resisting but he can’t, and he lets his head be shifted over to Jeff’s shoulder. Being there, smelling Jeff’s familiar scent, feeling the warmth of his neck and the cool of his fingers—that’s what lets Dan calm down a little. He takes deep breaths, lets Jeff’s presence wash over him, and it’s better. Dan’s still a crappy lover, brother, and son, but at least he can breathe.
His sobs taper off into crying and then into snuffles. He feels like a little kid. A stupid little kid. Jeff finds a box of Kleenex under the seat and hands a few over, and Dan tries to clean himself up. He pushes back to a sitting position, and Jeff doesn’t argue, but his hand trails along with Dan, staying on the back of his neck. “You okay?” Jeff sounds like it’s a casual question, like Dan tripped or something.
“Yeah, sorry.” Dan’s voice is a kind of hoarse, his throat sore. “Shit, you should be in with Tat….”
Jeff just shrugs. “She’s in with the doctor, and Robyn’s in the waiting room. They’ve got my phone number if anything comes up, but it won’t.” Jeff shakes his head. “I think you were right about the collarbone. Sucks that it happened so early in the summer.”
Dan groans. “I shouldn’t have let her jump. Or….”
“Yeah, or what, Dan?” Jeff doesn’t sound impatient, exactly, but he doesn’t seem to have much use for Dan’s train of thought. “She’s riding eventers. If she’s doing the sport, she needs to jump. Was there anything that could have been safer about today and still have it be eventing?”
Dan doesn’t get a chance to answer, though. There’s a rap on the window on Jeff’s side of the car, and Dan looks over to see Evan standing there. He looks pissed off, and Dan really can’t blame him.
Jeff sighs and rolls down the window. Before he can talk, Evan grits out, “Where is Tatiana, and why aren’t you with her?”
Jeff looks like he’s done about enough soothing of Evan for the day. “She’s with the doctor, and I’m not with her because she’s a fifteen-year-old girl with her shirt off. Robyn’s in there.”
“And you’re out here? Jesus, Jeff, what if she needs you?” Evan glances across at Dan, but Dan’s busy looking out the windshield, and Evan doesn’t see his face. “And Dan, what the hell? This happens on your watch, and you’re hanging out in the parking lot?” Evan turns back to Jeff, and now he sounds more hurt than angry. “Is this… is this your priority now? Is this more important?”
“Jesus, kid, Tat’s fine….” Jeff trails off, and Dan knows he has to step in. He can’t let Jeff take the fall for this.
“It’s my fault, Evan. I was… I don’t know… but Jeff came out to check on me, that’s all.” He still can’t quite bring himself to look Evan in the face, knows that if he did, his swollen eyes would make it immediately obvious just what Dan had been doing in the truck and why Jeff had felt it necessary to sit with him.
Evan just shakes his head. “Yeah, whatever. I need to go see my sister now. Are you coming in?” He’s pretty clearly talking to Jeff—probably wouldn’t care if Dan fell off the edge of the planet, and Dan can’t blame him.
Jeff looks torn. Dan wants to tell him to go, but he doesn’t think Evan would appreciate that in his current mood; he’d probably see it like Jeff was waiting for Dan’s permission or something. So he shrugs his shoulders a bit, knocking Jeff’s hand off his neck, and hopes that the man gets the hint. He seems to, but he doesn’t seem to like it. “Okay, they won’t need Robyn in there anymore. Why don’t I send her out, she can drive home with you?”
“Jeff, I don’t need—”
“Yeah, I know,” Jeff says. “Stay put anyways—she needs a ride.” He opens the door and steps out.
Dan turns to watch him go, just as Evan bends down to the window, saying, “We’re gonna have to have a talk about—” He breaks off when he sees Dan’s face, and Dan quickly turns back to the front of the truck. Evan doesn’t continue, and Dan tries to fill in the gaps.
“Okay, yeah. I’m sorry, man.” He knows that doesn’t help at all.
Jeff is pulling Evan along now, calling back to the truck, “Stay put, Dan.”
Dan stares out the windshield again. Stay put. He doesn’t really want to, but he’s got to accept the bitter truth that he has nowhere better to go.