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[personal profile] parallax23
The Shortest Distance

Summary: When Kris and Junior’s fairy tale ending hits a snag, they return home to Raintree to find themselves again.

Chapter 1

“You know, whoever said that you can’t go home again probably never had Jean’s famous chili,” said Junior as he drove through Raintree Farm’s front gate. “I swear I feel like I’m ten years old every time she hands me a bowl.”

Kris remained silent in the passenger seat.

Junior let out a sigh.  “Still not talking to me? Fine.  Most husbands dream of this…”

He parked his car in the usual spot by the barn and stepped out.  Now he was getting angry.  They could always talk to each other, but that was before the last couple of months… How had things gotten so screwed up?

Kris was wondering the same thing as she got out of the car.  At least he had agreed to stay at Raintree for this brief trip home.  Since getting married, their careers had kept them on the road almost year round.  Between Kris’s jockey career and Junior’s business ventures, they were hardly in the same place for more than a few months.  Somehow, four years had vanished behind chasing dreams that were almost never in the same place twice.  Yet behind that ranch house door, it was still her home with Jean, Pablo, Matt and Todd inside waiting for her return, whether she’d been away for a day or a year.

“We’ll be civil in front of them –” began Kris, but Junior cut her off.

“Civil?  Are you kidding?  That would set off more alarms than if we were screaming at each other,” he told her.

“Okay, what do you suggest then?”

He stood in front of her and crossed his arms.  “How about you tell me what’s really bothering you and we deal with this like reasonable adults?”

“I think we’ve already said everything we needed to say,” said Kris as she walked around him and to the front door.

“Well, I guess we’re going to handle this like when you lived here,” sighed Junior.

She rang the doorbell and waited for the Ritters to open the door.  Junior stood an arm’s length behind her, but the friction between them was still there.

“Kris! Junior!” exclaimed Jean as she let them into the house, hugging each of them enthusiastically.

“Jean, how are you doing?” asked Kris.

“It’s been too long since you’ve been home.  Can you believe our Todd is a high school graduate?  And he’s finally returning to the West Coast,” said Jean.

“Harvey Mudd College is an amazing school.  I saw some of their research projects last year,” Junior told her.  “Who knows?  Maybe I’ll be making Todd offers to work with me when he’s done.”

Todd emerged out of the living room upon hearing his name.  He’d grown to the same height as Matt, Kris could hardly reconcile him to the little boy who came up to her shoulder.  He was an adult now.

“You know, you don’t have to wait until then for me to work for you,” said Todd as he greeted them.

“My man,” said Junior, hugging Todd, who had been like a little brother to him. “You’ve got a secret cold fusion reactor in the barn?”

Todd rolled his eyes and hugged Kris.  “My friend and I are developing this robot…”

Kris watched as Junior and Todd went into the living room to talk more.  Jean went into the kitchen, and Kris followed her.  Everything was just the way that she’d left it.   Even the cookie jar didn’t have any new cracks in it.  She was home.

“Where are Matt and Pablo?” asked Kris, smiling as she leaned against the counter.  Over the last year, Pablo had finally moved in with Jean, and Matt had moved into an apartment closer to town.

“Pablo is running some errands for Todd’s graduation party tomorrow, and Matt’s taken out one of the horses for some exercise… Light in the Meadow,” Jean told her.  “Coffee?”

Kris’s heart warmed to hear that Flame’s daughter had earned Matt’s seal of approval.  “Yes, I’d love some.”

“So tell me, how was Kentucky?  It must have been hard to just sit there and watch the race this year,” said Jean as she handed Kris a mug coffee, black with no sugar.

Kris nodded as she accepted the cup.  “Yeah, it was pretty strange being up in the stands instead of on the track this year.  Ken Davis finally had his famous daughter in law seated properly for once.”

Jean laughed.  “Next time, you’ll be out there with the best of them.  Just try not to get thrown from your horse and break your arm a week before the race next time.”

“I really thought Montana Sky and I understood each other.  She was temperamental, but I could see us going the distance,” replied Kris soberly.  “That’s what I get for riding at Davis instead of Raintree.”

Her arm stung in agreement.  She had agreed to ride for Davis that year after meeting their star filly, and she had recalled her days riding Wildfire.  Montana had a spark about her that Kris saw as the light to the second chance at the Kentucky Derby.  Three years ago, she had managed to get to the Kentucky Derby with Flame, finishing in the middle of the pack and putting Raintree back on the map.  The following year, Junior’s business had taken them to Alaska and Canada, where she continued racing while up north.  The year after that they were in Australia.  This year, they had returned home and Kris had decided to restart her American career with Montana Sky.  It was a great match until the week before the Kentucky Derby.

During training exercises, Montana had felt Kris’s frustration and responded by promptly throwing her off.  It was a crushing blow to her career.  In the end, Montana finished fifth and Kris could only watch as her greatest chance at a second Derby win slipped through her fingers.  She stayed for two weeks after the race with Junior and his father for the business parties and horse sales that were going on.  She was a jockey, not a show pony presenter.  It was awful.

“Kris, these things happen.  You know that,” said Jean.  “Some years are just better than others.  Raintree hasn’t exactly had its best hoof forward since Flame’s big win.”

“That’s my fault!” Kris blurted out.  “I should’ve been the one riding for Raintree –”

Jean grabbed Kris by both shoulders.  “Listen to me.  I saw how far you got with Montana, and I’d bet this farm that if you were riding her, she would’ve been the one to take home that trophy.   But accidents happen.  Life isn’t going to always work out the way you want it to, and you should be grateful to have your health and your family at the end of the day.”

Kris hugged her and nodded.  “You’re right.  But I think I need some space before getting back in the ring.”

“Of course you do!  Which is exactly what you’ll get while here,” said Jean.

“Jean, I’m not here to be a burden.  I’m here to work with Matt and help him get his new horses ready.  Junior and I are out of your hair after the week is up.”

Jean shook her head.  “I know.  But it’s so nice to have everyone home again.  It’s been so quiet with Matt gone and Todd will only be home on the weekends if I’m lucky…  I just want us to be a family like we were.”

Kris couldn’t find the words to say that was all that she wanted too.