Chapter 1 Gemma

Gemma tips her head forward and rolls her shoulders back and down, feeling the stretch temporarily relieve  the ache in her neck. Lifting her head she flicks her eyes to the clock. 6:45. She feels the beginnings of a panic but it is subsides when she remembers that Jack is picking up the children tonight, along with getting the evening meal under way . When she gets home it is her turn to just flop into the chair with a glass of wine. 6:50. Another hour and she will call it a day. And what a day it has been. Though nothing unusual there. Every day these days seems to be just a long ordeal of competing urgencies. When she took on her first management role she was so relieved to be free of the seemingly mindless repetition of her job. She knew what a bad manager was, she seemed to have been managed by every variant at one time or another. She was going to be different. She knew it in her core. How long ago was that? What happened to that young woman full of hope. The one who now catches herself acting and saying things just like those “bad” managers of the past, the same way she hears her mother’s words coming out of her mouth when she talks to her children.

Part of the reason she is still sitting at her desk tonight, trying to get the last report finished now she has the building to herself, or at least her small corner of it, is tomorrow she is off on another leadership development offsite. She’s been involved in a company wide program for a while and it has brought a great deal of awareness but has also added to the pressure. When she was numb she could  ignore the lost ideals and deal with the expediencies required to just get the job done. Gemma is aware she is floundering in this new awareness. She can intellectualise what she is learning, she can even feel it deeply when involved in session with the others in the leadership team, but she has trouble holding onto to it when back in her  own space, faced with her team who do not , as yet, speak the same language. How can she “be” with them in the same way she is with her coach when they have no common language? Maybe tomorrow will be different. There has been some secrecy about what is in store. Hopefully not another rope course!

Jelani chases the last flecks of grain around the bowl with his upper lip until he positions it just so and can finally get it in his mouth. He hopefully scrubs the bowl with his tongue but eventually convinced there are no more joys to be found there, he lifts his head and listens intently before moving off to find some new tips of grass to pinch off with his teeth. Today has been a good day. His belly is full and nothing ate him. Not that he consciously thinks about being eaten or is aware he hasn’t been. He just knows that he has been as vigilant as required to keep himself feeling safe. He walks over towards Hunter, intent on a mutual scratch, sidestepping quickly when he walks to close to Ostara an she flicks and ear in his direction, all the warning he needs. He knows the speed with which that ear can be backed up with hard quick feet. Content he drifts into a doze, the comforting sounds of his little heard around him.

“And that was a blast from the past, Dolly Parton and the classic 9 – 5. Coming up next News and Weather” Gemma snuggles down under the covers for a few more seconds. Milking the half-awake half asleep moment for as long as she can. 9 to 5? Whose cruel idea of a joke is that on breakfast radio? More like 5 to 9. Again the automatic flick of the eyes to the clock. 4:30. Has she got time to fit in a quick run? No, she has to be up and out before she gets caught up with lost homework and missing shoes or whatever other small drama that is sure to happen if she delays. Not even out of bed yet and already the pressure she feels like a palpable force replaces the magic of sleepy oblivion. What will the activity be today, when demands will it place on her?

The sun is warming on his back and he leans into the feel of the coarse brush that is so much gentler than Hunters teeth but still make his skin feel good. Anna looks at him and quickly raises her fingers slightly and he steps over obligingly to allow her to walk around to his other side to continue the rhythmic brushing. “Going to work your magic today?” she asks. He doesn’t understand her words but he feels the slight difference in her voice that tells him today is not a day of standing around in the paddock, flicking at flies with his tail, searching out the most succulent bits of grass and keeping out of Ostara’s way. Today something different will happen. A slight thrill of unease goes through him. Different requires a need to be more consciously alert. Different is the warning, the leopard moving through the dappled sunlight of the forest, the Lion waking with an empty stomach and scenting the wind for prey, the wolf pack circling on silent feet. Not that he, Jelani, or any of his ancestors for hundreds of years have encountered large predators intent on making a meal of him and his kind, but still the environment and the beings in it must be constantly scanned. Who knows what dangers lurk in the blowing plastic bag or the deep shadow beneath a bush from where small scratching noises come.  He takes his cue from his herd mates and the strange two legged creatures that share his life. Both those like Anna who is a daily part of his life and those others that visit from time to time. He can read the energy pulsing through them even when he does not know its cause. He can feel it like a physical forces as it ebbs and flows, the difference between determined intent or trembling fear. It is not his unique talent. Every member of his herd, of his species, has the ability, the need to live in that way. Some react by trying to shut it out, unable to cope with all the sensory information, like an autistic child, developing repetitive patterns to close out the world, or become dull and unresponsive. Others become hyper alert, so called “difficult” cases, unsafe for people to be around unless they are very skilled. Others, like Jelani, live with human energy as part of their world, just another element process and react to accordingly.

It has been a long drive out of the city. As the familiar streets  and surging traffic fall behind, the roads narrowing and the houses giving way to fields Gemma’s heart starts to sink a little. It is another rope challenge or some other activity involving them all becoming a team for the day to work out some challenge quite unlike anything they encounter back in the office. Yes there are skills to be tested and some of them are directly transferable but in the end ropes are not people. They do not have minds of their own (even if it feels like it sometimes).  A rope is just a tool, something you work on, not with. And, of course, Brendon is here.  Brendon the organiser, larger than life. Always ready to help a team mate but somehow always intimidating even in his concern. A natural athlete, seemingly without fear, and her bosses boss. His very presence makes Gemma want to curl up and hide, she can feel herself shrinking.

The bus turns into a driveway lined by black painted fences behind which a few large black horses stand, heads raised, ears pricked, looking at the bus. Small foals scramble to their feet when one of the horses snorts loudly, and in an instant all of them turn and run  a few meters from the fence before turning and looking back at the bus. Then dropping their heads to start grazing again, the foals burrowing  under their mothers for a quick drink, before staring a game of chase.  Gemma is fascinated.  Somehow the pony stage passed her by. While her school friends were glued to the Saddleclub on TV or being run around to riding schools by their parents, Gemma was immersed in her music. Learning scales and fingering had been tedious but as her skills had developed she had found she could escape into the music in ways she could not without it vibrating through her body. She didn’t play anymore, who has the time to keep up the practice needed for effortlessness, but she can still be transported by the music of others. Horses however remain a mystery. A little unnerving in the way Brendon can be in fact. Their very large physicality somehow threatening, even if dosing half a sleep. Half a ton of muscle just ready to leap into action and equipped with hard hooves and big teeth. She looks over at Brendon, expecting to see the usual “bring it on ‘ look on his face and is surprised to see the slight tenseness of the wrinkle in his brow. Brendon is the only one who knows what is planned for today and it does not fill her with courage to see him look the way he does before a particularly hard meeting when he knows he does not hold the strongest position.

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