Silent are the Bells Chapter Nine: Of Guys and Gals
written by Sugarberry
It was with a renewed spring in her step that Brietta returned to the living area of Whitehall Place; she had showered and allowed Lissy, who was still about her chores, to comb her hair into a pert loose style accented with several organdy bows that added a demure touch; a splash of floral cologne satisfied her that any part of the fishy atmosphere of the day had been eliminated, and she could smile again.
The smile was readily displayed when she saw that Dorian was with her parents and Conrad; Dorian had apparently finished his unpleasant chore and had an opportunity to dispense with the grime of the day as well. The look he gave Brietta as she entered the room was more of a caress, she felt it so keenly.
Brietta had just joined Dorian on the sofa when the doorbell rang, and Clarence came from the kitchen to answer it.
“Who could that be?” worried Lena, knowing that supper would soon be served.
Conrad supplied the answer. “Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that Sloan had called concerning a new development in a court case and had some questions. I told him to come eat with us, and we’d talk later.”
Sure enough, Clarence escorted Sloan into the room and quietly slipped away to add another place at the already extended table.
Conrad’s announcement had caused Brietta to flash a quick glance at her mother to see her response to an unexpected guest and then to Dorian to see his reaction; but the stallion showed only pleasure in his friend and business associate’s addition to the evening. Sloan revealed not the least bit of surprise to see Dorian and Brietta side-by-side on the couch, and the stallion was soon drawn into the conversation with no idea that his arrival had been without warning to the majority of the household.
When Clarence announced dinner, the ponies moved to the dining room where Todd, Chad, and Kent were already ensconced at the table at the special invitation of Lena who could not see the youngsters relegated to the kitchen when they had been responsible for securing the main course.
The colts dominated the conversation, finding a willing audience in Conrad, Aiden, and Sloan, all of whom showed a genuine interest in all the details involved with catching the fish that now graced their dinner plates. Brietta and Lena would have rather been spared the details, while Dorian only helped the colts along, reminding them of any particulars they left out.
Sloan and Dorian had stories in turn from some of their joint ventures; and as Brietta listened to their shared telling, she could not help comparing the two stallions. Sloan’s steel blue color was topped by yellow hair as opposed to the grey and violet of Dorian, but the differences in their personalities was even more apparent.
Sloan was always serious which meant that his rare smile was treasured like an unexpected rainbow; some found him too stoical and considered him standoffish and dispassionate; but they did not know how deeply his feelings ran. His patience and philosophic attitude covered his inner emotions. Lena had often praised him for his long-suffering in putting up with the more exuberant natures of Brietta and Shayla as they were growing up.
As sedate as Sloan was, Dorian was the opposite: impetuous and high-spirited with a quick wit and easy manner that drew ponies to him. Very debonair was how Shayla labeled him. As easily as he could induce a smile in others, he always had one available to give as well.
It would be hard to choose between them, if they both were courting my attention now, Brietta thought just as Dorian’s eyes caught hers; and she blushed to think that he could read what was going through her mind. The laughter in his eyes seemed to indicate that he did.
“Brietta found a snake,” Kent piped up, remembering a fact that no one else had volunteered. “It was big, too!” The foal’s forelegs reached out as widely as they could go.
“Brietta found it?” Sloan queried, looking at the mare in surprise. “Were you looking for it?”
“No,” Dorian was quick to reply. “It found her, actually.”
“Let me guess,” Sloan said, his face breaking into one of those infrequent smiles that released his lighter side. “She responded with a scream that could easily have registered at one hundred twenty decibels.”
“It was loud!” Kent grimaced.
Conrad deflected attention away from Brietta’s embarrassment by recalling an old story. “There was a snake pit- down near where the barn stands now- when the house was being built; it was a rocky place in amidst the trees, as I’ve been told, and became a writhing quagmire when the warm spring days made their appearance.”
“Is it still there?” eagerly asked the colts, their eyes riveted to Conrad’s face.
“Apparently not,” Aiden said. “I spent untold hours trying to discover that site when I was a colt. I did find a suspicious-looking pile of rocks in a grove of trees, however, that fed my curiosity for years.”
“Would you show us where it is?”
“I think that would be a grand adventure to partake of,” the lawyer replied, smiling at the colts with genuine delight. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been out surveying the land with such an enthusiastic group as you three.”
Sloan and Dorian exchanged a glance before Sloan asked, “Do you mind if Dorian and I tag along, sir?”
Plans were made for the expedition to take place the following afternoon, and Brietta firmly maintained her complete disinterest in their scheme; no amount of urging or belittling by either the colts or the stallions would convince her to be included. She stubbornly held her ground.
When Conrad and Sloan withdrew to the study for business matters, Dorian and Brietta tackled the colts in a board game that successfully captured their attention until the lateness of the hour finally succeeded in swaddling Kent in irrepressible yawning that soon had the other two colts appearing rather bleary-eyed in turn. Anna appeared to convey the three sleepy-heads to bed; but Todd, as exhausted as he was, turned to Dorian to say thank you for the day of fishing and to remind him not to forget the snake-hunting expedition the next day.
As Dorian and Brietta picked up the markers and paraphernalia of the game, Dorian observed, “You look beat.”
“A long day in the fresh air always takes its toll on me,” Brietta admitted, stifling a yawn.
“Being scared out of your wits didn’t help any either, I suppose,” the stallion grinned.
“I wasn’t scared out of my wits... exactly,” Brietta huffed. “It was surprise more than anything.” She looked at his laughing face dismally. “Is there nothing that you’re afraid of?”
He was suddenly serious. “Finding out that you still retain your former feelings for Sloan strikes fear into my heart,” he admitted, catching her hoof in his and looking at her so intensely that she forgot to breath.
Lena came into the room at that moment, and Brietta found that time began moving again. “I was just wondering if the two of you would like to have some iced tea with me out on the patio; it’s such a beautiful evening!”
Brietta accepted the invitation for the two of them before getting up and storing the game back in the cupboard. Dorian had joined her mother at the doorway, and the three of them made their way to the patio where Anna had set out a tea tray. Soft lighting gave a fanciful cast to the greens of the bushes and the normally vibrant shades of the flowers that edged the hewn stone blocks worn smooth by centuries of hooves.
“Where’s Father?” Brietta realized that Aiden was unaccountably missing..
Lena laughed. “He found some trite excuse to go into the study and hasn’t been seen since; I’m sure he was positive that Conrad and Sloan would make some abominable misinterpretation without his supervision.”
“Those three are dedicated, all right,” Dorian agreed.
“And what about you, Dorian?” Lena asked with a hint of disapproval coming through in her words.
The stallion grinned. “I think I’ve chosen the better path... I have two beautiful ladies to share the evening with.”
With a chuckle, Lena poured the ice tea, and Brietta carried Dorian’s glass to him before she sat down next to her mother. “It was a wonderful day,” she sighed, feeling very much at peace with her world. The words were no sooner spoken, however, when a sudden breeze cut across the patio carrying with it the brisker air of the night, causing the mare to shiver slightly; then it was gone. No one else seemed to notice the chilling sensation, and Brietta shook off the feeling of trepidation that had washed over her.
“You have a way with the foals, Dorian,” Lena noted. “Those three grandchildren of Anna’s look up to you as to a god.”
Brietta giggled at the comparison. “Apollo? Hercules?” she said speculatively, merriment dancing in her eyes. Her mother silenced her with a frown, and even Dorian ignored her teasing.
“I’ve never been around foals since I... well, since I left my last foster home,” he admitted quietly. “I do find that I enjoy their company, which surprises even myself.”
“I’ve never heard you speak of your parents,” Lena could not help but say.
“They didn’t want me,” Dorian said simply, “and I retaliated by causing them as much trouble as I could.”
“Don’t be. I survived.”
There was silence. “And your parents?”
The question hung in the air while Dorian stared past the lighted fringes to the deepening darkness. Finally, he said in a barely audible voice, “They weren’t so lucky.”
Neither of the mares were willing to intrude after that terminating statement; and as Dorian seemed unwilling to offer more, they sat in silence until Brietta was unable to stand it any longer. “Dorian,” she said softly, “it might be better to talk about it.”
Dorian looked at the mare as if he had forgotten her and Lena’s presence, then put a hoof to his brow as if organizing his thoughts. “I’ve never talked to anyone about it,” he admitted. “Never had anyone to talk to about it when it happened, actually.” He smiled weakly. “I lived with a number of different families as I was growing up; my parents hadn’t really abandoned me, but that was the way the authorities saw it. Mom and Dad thought I was capable of taking care of myself- I’d certainly given them reason to think that was the way I wanted it from the time I was old enough to talk back to them.”
“Surely those families were good to you!” Lena exclaimed.
“Yes, I’m sure they were; but I was in no disposition to become a conformable colt by that time; I wasn’t very cooperative, I’m afraid.” A rueful expression crossed his face as memories from that time of his life came back to haunt him.
“But your parents...” Lena prompted him.
“My parents traveled a lot- would you believe they studied trees?- and they took pictures and wrote books and taught classes on that subject. That’s why I was left alone so much.”
“But couldn’t they have found a place for you in their occupation?” Brietta asked. “It seems you would have loved that life, following along on their quests.”
“I told you they didn’t want me,” Dorian said rather angrily, but he immediately regretted the show of indignation. “I’m sorry; I thought I was over being hostile toward them; don’t let me take it out on you two.”
“It’s our fault,” Lena soothed him. “We were digging too deeply into your past.”
“Yes, Dorian,” Brietta concurred. “Let’s change the subject.”
“No,” the stallion disagreed. “Maybe it’s time I talked about it. I couldn’t have better listeners.” He smiled at the mother and daughter with a slight return to his usual carefree nature and continued his narrative. “My parents were complete unto themselves, and they found that a foal was an exhaustive nuisance. They managed to hire a nanny of sorts to look out for me when I was very young, but I managed to make her life miserable, too. When Tina was gone, I learned quickly that a solitary life did have some advantages; there was no one to complain about anything that I got involved with, whether it was good or bad.”
“You could never have been bad,” countered Brietta.
“I have a police file that destroys that theory, Brie. I wasn’t adverse to taking any chances for any reason, just to see if I could take a risk and succeed. Shop-lifting was too easy, I found, so I had to enlarge my repertoire as I got older. You’d be surprised at what finesse I achieved by the time I was getting ready to graduate from high school.”
He stopped to see what effect his words had on Lena and Brietta, but both mares were sympathetically noncommittal. He found himself wishing they would condemn him on the spot rather than act as if he had said nothing incriminating, yet he also wanted to win their approval. In a clarifying moment, he knew that was very important to him.
Brietta felt his anguish and reached out to pat his hoof. “You told me once that your experience was the reason you went into law, because you wanted to see what it was like from the other side.”
“It took my parents’ death to get to that point,” Dorian conceded.
“How did it happen?”
“They were on one of their foraging expeditions for more material for their latest idea- a textbook of some sort, I believe- in some forlorn stretch of the wilderness when an old lumber wagon they were on had an accident going over an isolated gorge; it seems that a storm had weakened a section of the bridge, and no one was aware of it. There were no survivors.”
“How horrible!” Lena exclaimed, but Brietta only watched Dorian closely, wondering at the lack of emotion in his voice.
“Those who knew them best- and that certainly would not have been me- said that they died as they would have wished, involved with the work that they so loved and in each other’s company.”
“How did you take the news?” wondered Brietta.
“Amazingly, it hit me like a bombshell; I was stoic throughout the funeral, but when I was alone again, I cried my eyes out- and I still don’t understand why,” he said bluntly. “It wasn’t that I was going to miss them; I rarely saw them by this point in my life. Maybe it was all that we had missed...”
“It’s a very sad story,” Lena sniffed.
“Do you feel any better for having told it?” questioned Brietta, noticing the wavering look of Dorian’s eyes.
“In that you and Lena know the truth about me, yes.” He stood up and crossed to Lena, and stooped to kiss her cheek, then did the same with Brietta who took his hoof in hers for a moment- their eyes meeting in a tangible exchange of shared emotion- before releasing him to return to his chair.
By this time, the other stallions had completed their parley and found Lena, Brietta, and Dorian on the patio. “No frog hunting tonight?” Sloan directed at Dorian and Brietta as he took a seat.
“I’m absolutely happy sitting right here,” Brietta admitted. “We’ve got a perfect evening for sharing with family and friends.” Her glance encompassed each of them equally.
“Watch out for this tea,” Dorian warned. “It tends to put one into a dangerously revealing mood.”
“Dangerous?” Sloan raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“Dorian has been telling us his life history,” enlightened Brietta, “and has found that two sympathizing females can ask some terribly revealing questions.”
“As he’s never divulged anything but the barest details of his early life, I rather wish I’d have been here for that conversation,” said Sloan.
“You didn’t miss much, as my life wasn’t that inspiring,” countered Dorian.
Lena disagreed. “Your story was compelling, Dorian, and I’m glad you felt free enough to talk to Brietta and me about it.” Then, turning her attention to Sloan, she asked, “And you, Sloan, did you get your legal questions answered by Conrad and Aiden?” Lena was not about to let Dorian’s admissions be bandied about in free discussion.
The conversation slipped into work-related issues until Conrad admitted his need to seek some sleep which broke-up the gathering; Brietta, after a quick goodnight to Sloan and Dorian, lent a hoof to Clarence in carrying the tea items back to the kitchen. It might have been weak of her, but there was no way that Brietta was going to be placed in a position that would necessitate her saying goodnight to both stallions at the door, knowing her own inner turmoil over her feelings for each of them.
She left the two stallions to the care of Aiden and Lena, who escorted them to the front hall; plans were verified for the following day’s jaunt into the wild side of Whitehall Place, and the day came to its peaceful close.
* * *
The morning was marred early by a shower that pelted the leaves in a staccato rhythm that woke Brietta from a deep sleep; one look at the windowpane, and the mare snuggled back into the blankets and immediately fell more deeply into dreamland.
When she awoke several hours later, the sun was shining through the window; the mare stretched and swung her legs out of bed; but remembering that it was Sunday, she sank back against the covers. It was only when she looked at the bedside clock and saw that it was already nine-thirty that she jumped up once more and scurried into her private bathroom to comb the knots from her hair and make herself presentable.
She had just completed her preening when a soft knock sounded on her bedroom door and Lena’s voice came through. “Brietta, sleepyhead, it’s time for you to be up.”
Brietta grinned as she bid her mother to enter. “You’d think I was old enough not to need you to get me out of bed, Mother. I’m sorry I made you come up all those stairs on my account.”
“I wouldn’t have, but your grandfather was getting worried that you wouldn’t make it in time for church; but I see you’re ready. Come down now and have some breakfast.”
“I heard the rain earlier,” she said as the two mares descended the stairs, “and thought that the colts would be disappointed; but by the way the sun is shining now, it looks like their snake expedition will go on as scheduled.”
“Sloan and Dorian will be here right after lunch; I don’t think the colts could wait any longer than that,” she laughed.
Brietta ate a quick breakfast, and the family headed to the church that had been constructed even before the rest of the town had risen up from the virgin countryside. It had been built of native stone and became the fulcrum of the town as Whitehall grew in ever widening circles around it. The morning rain had washed it and freshened the flowers that adorned the perimeter of the stonework. As peaceful as it was beautiful, the church was a beloved landmark.
The growth of the town had required the organization of a second parish that had its own modern structure across town, but Brietta could not find the same comfort and peace in that edifice as she could find in the older but seemingly more sacred building that had formed her religious experience since she was a foal.
It was only upon leaving the vestibule after church that Brietta saw Shayla and her little son, Flynn, walking ahead of her through the scattered groups of ponies visiting on the front lawn. She ran to catch up to them.
“Shayla! Wait up!”
Shayla turned at the sound of her voice being called, and smiled wanly. “Good morning.”
Her friend, nearing her confinement date, looked weary and worn. Brietta could not help feeling concerned. “Shayla, are you okay?”
Tossing her mane, Shayla smiled, that simple act erasing a goodly share of the fatigued appearance. “I’m fine, just tired out.”
“Where’s Derry?” Brietta scanned the surrounding ponies but found no sign of the golden stallion with red hair that was Shayla’s husband.
“He got called out of town yesterday for a business emergency; the plant in Freemont had a computer crash.”
Brietta looked down at Flynn who was grasping his mother’s leg and tugging at it in an effort to get her to move. “Who is helping with this little darling?”
Rolling her eyes, Shayla laughed. “The terror has only me to suppress him. Both sets of grandparents had plans for this weekend, and I wasn’t about to spoil their fun.”
“But Finella says you shouldn’t be chasing after him all the time.”
“Dr. Finella is very pleased with my progress and has allowed me to increase my activity... a little bit.” The amendment came unwillingly.
Frowning, Brietta disagreed. “She probably hasn’t seen how Flynn keeps you on your hooves. When will Derry be home?”
“He promised he’d be back by ten this evening. I’ll be fine, Brietta! But thanks for your concern.”
“I’ll go home with you and run after Flynn while you rest.”
Aiden and Lena had been listening to the conversation; and upon hearing Brietta’s plan, Lena protested. “You can’t miss today’s fun, Brietta! The colts will be disappointed.” Her emphasis on the word colts was an obvious reference to Dorian and Sloan. She smiled at Brietta’s stormy look and ignored it while Aiden chuckled. Turning to Shayla, she extended an invitation. “Why don’t you and Flynn come with us to Whitehall Place; your little colt will enjoy an afternoon with Clarence and Anna’s grandsons, leaving you some time for yourself.”
Shayla readily accepted, but she looked at Brietta curiously, knowing Aiden and Lena well enough to realize when they had the upper hand with their daughter. “What’s up?” she asked her friend as they fell into step with the others, Flynn having readily clasped Conrad’s hoof for the walk.
“Grandfather brought up that old tale about a snake pit near Whitehall Place, and the three colts believed every word. Then, Sloan and Dorian attached themselves to a search for this despicable spot, and...”
“Sloan and Dorian?” Shayla asked, finding that tidbit more interesting than any old snake pit. “Are they both after your affection?” She pinned Brietta with a look that could not be ignored.
“Dorian was at the house because of the foals- he has a way with them- and Sloan was there on business; so don’t get any ideas,” Brietta said rather testily.
Chuckling softly, Shayla responded honestly. “I thought Dorian was taken with you that first time he met you, but I didn’t think Sloan would give him a chance to win your hoof.”
“Well, for your information, if this is a contest, Dorian is way in the lead!”
Shayla gave her friend a sideways glance and wisely decided to drop the subject.
* * *
Very grateful for Shayla’s presence, Brietta was able to absent herself from the afternoon’s outing on the pretense that she owed it to Shayla to keep her company as they so seldom got a chance to talk, which was true enough. The stallions, aware of Shayla’s need to confine her activities, could not press her to accompany the party; so the all-male enterprise had to forego exerting any pressure on Brietta to accompany them.
Todd, Chad, and Kent accepted Flynn into their midst so that it would have been hard for a stranger to tell that they were not all of the same family; Conrad and Aiden appeared to be as excited as the foals to shed their normal bookish activities; Clarence, decked out in an old fedora, looked quite dashing; and Sloan and Dorian assumed the role of cavalier companions for both young and old. Brietta almost felt a twinge of regret as the colts and stallions left the house as they all looked so happy and carefree.
A peaceful quiet settled over the house after the male voices had faded into the distance, and Lena left Shayla and Brietta to enjoy a coze, the two mares retreating to Brietta’s bedroom as if they were still fillies in high school with secrets to share and plans to discuss. Curled up in the comfortable chairs in the conversational nook that graced a windowed corner of the room and with music playing in the background, the two could well have been teenagers again.
“This music reminds me,” Shayla said, “that Egan and Kelli are having a dance at the high school auditorium to celebrate their anniversary. Did you see the open invitation in the paper?”
“No, I didn’t. They married right out of high school, so this must be their... seventh anniversary.”
“Kelli says that Egan doesn’t remember the date unless she schedules some sort of soiree; last year it was a picnic at the park, the year before a sit-down dinner at their home.”
“So what kind of dance is it to be? I seem to remember Egan steering clear of ballroom dancing.”
“It should be fun; a disc jockey will be playing only songs that were popular while we were in school.”
“Ah, the songs they fell in love by!” Brietta grinned.
“You’ll attend, won’t you? It’s next Saturday.”
“It sounds like the perfect opportunity to touch base with some of the ponies I haven’t seen since our high school days,” Brietta considered. “And I don’t have any other plans.”
The two mares fell into a companionable silence as the summer breeze wafted into the house from the open window, teasing the curtains and bringing with it the smell of lavender and pine. Shayla rested her head against the back of the chair, enjoying the quiet while her son was busily occupied and well chaperoned.
“This is so nice,” she said, looking a little guilty. “As much as I love Flynn, I’ve been having a difficult time keeping up with him as of late. And with Derry out of town, even if it is just for the day, it makes it all the harder.”
“Well, Flynn will be having the time of his life; and, hopefully, he’ll have worn off some of his energy with this afternoon’s pursuits.”
“My afternoon will be pure heaven if I can sit right here,” Shayla sighed.
“There’s no reason that you can’t. Is there anything I can get you?”
“Would a glass of water be asking too much?”
“No, it wouldn’t. I could even get you a glass of juice... or milk... or...”
“Water will be fine,” interrupted Shayla, laughing. “Really, Brietta, you’ll spoil me; and then what will I do when I get back home and have to fend for myself again?”
“Derry will be home by then, and you have to promise me that you’ll let him do your running for you.”
“Now you sound like my mother.”
“She’s always been a sensible mare,” Brietta countered. Returning with the water, she advised her friend, “Just relax now, and take a nap if you can.”
“Great company I’ll be then; you’ll wish you’d gone with the guys. I can just imagine Sloan and Dorian competing with one another to find you the biggest snake.”
“If you’re lucky, Flynn will bring you back a baby snake to keep for a pet,” retorted Brietta.
“Don’t even say that,” Shayla shivered. “I don’t like snakes any better than you do.”
“Then let’s talk about happier things. Have you seen the new window display at GewGaws? I couldn’t believe some of the colors they’re flaunting.”
“I know what you mean! Did you notice that hideous shade of lime green?”
“Oh, gross! And then there was that outrageous orange. It clashed with everything.”
More of the same followed, and it was some time before the two mares had thoroughly picked apart the new line at Whitehall’s most progressive apparel shop. What a pleasant way to spend the afternoon!