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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 3

“Let me guess, you felt a disturbance in the force and dragged your brother away to wring it out of him?” Kris asked Dani, as she leaned against the kitchen counter with her arms crossed.

She and her brother had returned from their ride a few hours ago.  The two women were standing alone in the kitchen while the party was in full swing outside.  Dani hadn’t planned to talk to Kris so soon, but when she saw Kris escape into the kitchen, she decided to take advantage of the moment.  To Dani’s utter lack of surprise, Kris didn’t hesitate to call her out.

“Sometimes I think we know each other too well,” said Dani.  She walked over to the kitchen table and poured pinot noir into two plastic wine glasses.  She handed one to Kris and sipped the other.

Kris accepted it but didn’t shift her focus from Dani.  “Yeah, we’re in agreement about that.  Look, Junior and I don’t need anyone to play therapist for us.  We just need some space.  I get that you mean well--”

“No, I mean to get to the bottom of this,” Dani told her plainly.  “Junior told me everything.”

“Shocking,” muttered Kris.

“He thinks some smug little debutante hitting on him has you riled up, but something about this whole thing doesn’t add up to me,” Dani went on.  “There’s no way that kid could be scarier than me at that age.”

Kris laughed.  “Well, I have to admit, I did want to punch her just as badly though.”

“You’re dodging the question.  What’s up with you?” Dani asked.  “You aren’t acting like yourself lately.”

“What’s that even supposed to mean?”

“Is this about that horse? Kris, there will be other races--”

“No, Dani, it’s not about Montana,” Kris said with frustration, staring into her wine.

As Dani took another sip of wine, she could see why Junior had been so honest with her.  Kris liked to consider herself an open book, but at the moment she had shut herself in and everyone else out.

Before the conversation could go further, Junior, Matt, Todd and Ethan had entered the kitchen.  They were animatedly discussing how the current baseball season and seeing a San Francisco Giants game soon.  When they saw Dani and Kris, they switched their attention to them.  The two women went from serious expressions to smiling.

“Party’s outside.  No VIP only sections,” Matt smiled and teased them.  “Well, not without me anyway.”

“Who died and made you guest of honor?” demanded Todd playfully.

Kris watched as Dani’s new boyfriend put his arm around her.  Ethan Cooper was an average looking guy, not outstandingly handsome or anything particular except that he smiled a lot when in Dani’s presence.  Junior didn’t move closer to Kris.  Instead, their glances met then broke apart as the others were speaking.  They went back outside to the party, but Kris decided to check on Wildfire one more time before rejoining the group.

“Hey buddy,” Kris said as she rubbed the horse’s face.  “I know, I’ve been home two days now, and we still haven’t gone for that ride I promised you all those months ago.  You’re going to have to wait a little longer…”

He flicked his head in acceptance.  There was no one in the world who understood her better.  She hadn’t wanted to leave him all those times, but they had come to an understanding that life didn’t always lead straight home.  She had needed those experiences.

“I’m sorry, but this time it’ll be different.  At least I’m going to be here with you and we can go out for walks until our new rider gets here,” said Kris.  She smiled and gave him an apple.  “I wish we could just go out for a ride right now, but we can’t…”

“Because you’re pregnant,” came Dani’s voice from behind her.  “That’s it!  That’s why you’ve been so weird.”

Kris turned around to face her sister in law.  Dani had brought Kris’s glass of wine from inside to her when she stumbled upon her friend and her horse having an intimate chat.  Suddenly, it came together.

“Dani…” Kris began, but wasn’t sure how to proceed as her friend approached her.

Dani put down both wine glasses on a haystack instead of giving one to Kris.  “Well, is it true?  Am I going to be an aunt?”

Kris paused.  “Listen, you can’t tell Junior.  I haven’t even told him yet.”

Dani laughed and hugged Kris tightly.  “I’m so happy for you.  This is amazing news – act like it!”

Kris couldn’t help smiling at her friend’s excitement.  She hadn’t told anyone since she found out except Wildfire.  “I can hardly wrap my head around it… It changes everything.”

“I know my brother is a bonehead, but I think he’d notice this eventually,” said Dani.  She became serious.  “Kris, what’s going on?  You and Junior should be celebrating and shouting it from the rooftops.  Heck, I even think my dad would be shouting it from our rooftop.”

“Dani, I hardly think we’re the first people to reproduce,” said Kris.

“Why are you acting this way?  Don’t you want to have kids?  And even if you didn’t, it’s a little too late to reconsider,” Dani pointed out.

“It’s complicated!” snapped Kris.

“What’s complicated?” asked Junior as he walked into the barn.  He looked at his wife.  “Kris?”

“How much of that did you hear?” asked Kris as he stopped squarely in front of her.

“What are you so afraid of?” Junior replied.

“Nothing.  Least of all you,” Kris told him.

Junior sighed.  “I came looking for you because you’ve been avoiding everyone at the party.  Come on.”

“Parties aren’t my thing, but I promised to be in a good mood for Todd,” she said more to herself than her friends.

Then Kris walked out of the barn and back to the party.  Junior shook his head and followed her out, leaving Dani alone with the horses.

“Hey Wildfire,” said Dani as she rubbed his face with one hand and drank wine with the other.  “You know your owner is a crazy person?  You would think the years would wear her down, but she’s possibly more stubborn than you are…”

The horse neighed in agreement.


“Please don’t tell me that you’re going to stand here all night,” Junior said to Todd as they stood by the dessert table.  “Matt, you have failed as a brother.”

The Ritter brothers rolled their eyes at their neighbor.  Todd had watched as the other people at the party danced together, but he was too shy to join them.  He hadn’t learned how to dance at boarding school, and it was too much pressure to learn how during his own party.  Especially with Emily Coleman, the girl he had a crush back in eighth grade.

“Leave Matt out of this.  I’m having a great time,” Todd told him.  He saw Emily steal a glance at him, but then turn back to her friends.

“You’re guarding the cheesecake instead of dancing with that cute little blonde you keep exchanging glances with,” said Junior.  “You’re not having a great time.”

Matt nodded.  “Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t dance?  It’s not hard.”

“You guys spent your entire high school years here partying every weekend.  There’s just rowing and drinking in Boston,” said Todd.

“And that is why you have returned to California,” said Junior, who was looking at Kris laughing and talking with some of Raintree’s employees.  Then he turned to Todd.  “Follow my lead.”

He walked up to Kris and playfully nudged her toward the dance floor.  “They’re playing our song.”

Kris gave him a puzzled look.  “We don’t have a song.  Plus, I’ve never heard this song before.”

“It could be our song, if you gave it a chance,” said Junior sincerely.

Kris grinned despite herself.  “You are really out of practice with picking up women.”

Junior leaned close to her ear and whispered, “Don’t tell Todd that.  I’m trying to get him to dance with the girl in the green dress.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Kris said and she pulled him onto the dance floor.

Todd and Matt watched in disbelief that Kris’s mood had changed.  Junior gestured for Matt and Todd to join them.

“Time to make your move,” Matt said, then pushing his brother in the direction of Emily.

This was his party.  She had come to his party.  Todd took a deep breath and tapped her on the shoulder.  “Want to dance?”

She smiled.  “Sure.  I love this song.”

Kris watched as the young couple started dancing, then she put her arms on Junior’s shoulders as they danced.  “That was a nice thing.”

“Why do you sound surprised?” Junior asked, pulling her closer.  He noticed that other people at the party had started dancing too, but the only one he cared about the Kris.

“I’m not,” Kris said, and the song ended.  A wave of guilt hit her.  She pulled away from him and walked into the house while the others kept dancing.