Equilibrium excerpt #2

June 24, 2011

I suppose if I’ve said good morning to you all while I was asleep that it’s redundant to say it now. I have another excerpt from Equilibrium for you – this one features Michael’s sister Jen and her two kids, Jack and Lilly, who’ve come to Burreela for a visit. Jack is horse mad, so Ryan’s invited them all to his place to look at his horses, with no ulterior motive whatsoever. :)

THEY took Jen’s car to the Mitchell farm, because it had car seats and the kids’ CDs in it. Within ten minutes Michael was considering throwing himself under the next truck that passed their way.

“I have no idea how you can put up with this music,” he said quietly as Jack shouted the lyrics to the incredibly repetitive and simpleminded kids’ song blaring out of the car speakers at the top of his lungs. “And I’m sorry to say, your son is never going to be a famous singer.”

Jen laughed. “You get used to it, the songs and the singing.” She paused a moment before she looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “So. This Ryan bloke. Have you and he got something going on?”

Michael’s stomach dropped, and he jerked his head around to look at her. “No!” He cast a look back at the kids, but they were happily oblivious. “What makes you say that?”

Jen shrugged. “I don’t know. You looked pretty comfortable together at the market the other day, and it seems to me he’s going out of his way to impress you, inviting us to his farm and all.”

Oh, God. Horror prickled down Michael’s spine at the thought that she’d picked up on that so easily. “Don’t be ridiculous. He’s not going out of his way to impress me. Why would he do that? He’s just being friendly, that’s all.”

Jen made a sceptical noise before shrugging again. “There’s friendly and there’s friendly. And I think he’s being the type of friendly that ends with sticking your hand down someone’s pants.”

“Jen! Jesus, not in front of the kids.” Michael looked back at the kids again as Jen laughed. “If Jack regurgitates that in front of Ryan, I will kill you.”

“Oh, what’s he going to say, Mikey? Nothing. He’ll be too excited at all the horses, anyway.” She paused. “Do you know if he’s gay?”

“No. No, I do not know if he’s gay.” Except, of course, he did know. But Ryan hadn’t actually told him that, and so for the purposes of this conversation, he didn’t. “And I’m not going to ask him, either. And don’t you ask him!”

“I’m not going to ask him,” she said, in the tone of voice that he knew meant that she would if she could get away with it. “But I’m going to be watching him. I’m going to watch him very closely.”

“Oh, God,” Michael said, scrunching down in his seat. “Just… just don’t embarrass me, Jen, please. I have to live here.”

She laughed and reached over to ruffle his hair. “Aw, little brother. When have I ever embarrassed you?”

Michael snorted. “There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to list them all, believe me.”

Jen laughed, then joined in a chorus of the song, smiling at him as she sang the words into his face. Michael groaned and sank further down in his seat, burying his face in his hands.

He’d perked up by the time they got to Ryan’s place, mainly because he had no desire to let Ryan see that the visit was affecting him in any way. Ryan was waiting for them in the main yard, with Murphy but no horses. When Jen slowed at the end of the driveway he approached them.

“See that offshoot of the driveway there?” He pointed at what amounted to no more than a dirt track snaking around the back of the main house. “Drive around there until you get to another house, and park out the front of it. I’ll meet you back there.”

They did as he’d instructed, Michael doing his level best to not give Jen any more ammunition by refusing to watch Ryan walk away toward the stables. The house they parked in front of was a cozy-looking wooden cottage, plain but well kept. Behind the house, Michael could see various fenced-off paddocks, a couple of sheds, and a building that looked like another set of stables, as well as a practice yard that was set up with various drums and flags, like an obstacle course.

They got out of the car, Jack almost vibrating with excitement. Ryan grinned at them. “I’ve got a couple of horses in the home paddock if you want to come around,” he said, leading them around the back of the house.

“Is this your house?” Michael asked him as they walked, Lilly balanced on his hip as Jen gripped Jack’s hand to stop him from running forward.

Ryan nodded. “Yeah. Before I joined the police force, I lived in the main house, but when I moved back, I thought I’d live out here. I was used to living out of home then, you know?” He grinned. “I was used to the privacy. I’m sure you know what I mean.”

Dimly, Michael was aware of Jen in his peripheral vision, smirking at him. “Ah, yeah. Yeah, I think I have some idea.”

“I thought you might.” Ryan chuckled and turned his gaze to Jen. Michael hoped against hope that she was quick enough to wipe the smirk of her face before Ryan looked at her. “So, Jen, Michael doesn’t talk about himself much. Got any embarrassing stories to share?”

Jen laughed. “Yes, but I’ve already been told not to embarrass him—”

“Jen!”

“—so I better not.”

Ryan made a disappointed noise and looked over his shoulder at Michael. “Spoilsport.”

Michael attempted to defend himself. “There’s not much to tell, so you’re not missing out on anything.”

“So you say.” Ryan glanced at Jen with a smile. “We’ll talk later,” he said in a stage whisper.

Jen grinned. “Okay.”

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