don't know what i thought i would find
 

Chapter IV: Say What You Need To Say

February 9, 1957

The stable seemed suddenly quiet now that it was just Regan, Spartan, and Danny. Danny's nervousness returned with a vengeance. He had planned out this conversation in his mind a hundred times, but now that he was here, he had no idea what to say.

Spartan neighed softly. Danny took a step closer to the grey horse. "Can I pet him?" he asked.

"Of course," Regan said, coming up beside him. "Stand here, on his left side. Never stand right in front of a horse; they have a hard time seeing you unless you're on the side. Let him sniff you a bit and get used to you." Danny did as instructed. "There, now go ahead and reach your hand up and just pet him on the shoulder for now."

The fur or hair, Danny wasn't sure what to call it, was a lot softer than he expected. "Have you been working with horses for a long time?" Danny asked.

"I was almost twelve when I got started," Regan answered, leading Spartan, and, in effect, Danny outside. They entered the fenced-in corral, and Regan attached a long rope to Spartan, something Regan referred to as a lunge line.

"Ready to try mounting?"

"Yeah, I guess so." Danny let Regan show him the proper way to stand by the horse, put one foot in the stirrup, and then swing himself over into the saddle. It took him two tries, but he was finally seated atop the horse.

Regan led Spartan around the fenced-in area in a wide circle by standing in the middle and using the lunge-line to guide the horse. Danny felt like he was bouncing around a little bit, but he soon got the rhythm of the walk. "How did you get started?" Danny asked again, trying to get Regan to open up.

"With horses?" Regan asked. "Just lucky, I guess. I've always liked animals, and I was able to get a job at a boarding stable."

"Around here?" Danny asked, knowing it probably wasn't.

"No. It was upstate." Regan kept hold of the line instead of letting Danny control Spartan on his own. "Keep those heels down and try not to swing them into the horse so much. Don't want to accidentally tell Spartan to gallop. And let go of the saddle. You won't fall if you keep your balance with your legs. Riding is more about using your legs than your arms."

Danny relaxed his grip on the short rope-like handle attached to the saddle but didn't let go completely. "Where upstate?" Danny tried to keep his voice casual; this was just an ordinary conversation. With a smirk, and an attempt to keep Regan at ease, he added, "Because to a city boy like me, this is upstate."

Regan laughed. "I suppose it's all a matter of perspective. What's your story, anyway?"

"Me?" Danny asked, with a slight feeling of déjà-vu. Hadn't he answered that same question for Mart at lunch yesterday?

"Yes, you," Regan replied. "How is it your brothers both learned to ride at camp, and you didn't? You obviously have an interest in horses."

"Oh, I thought you knew. They're not my genetic brothers. I only started living with the Diamonds about five months ago." Danny wondered how to get the conversation back to Regan and his past. It seemed like Regan was avoiding that direction of the conversation on purpose.

"Genetic?" Regan asked.

"Well, I was going to say real, except they are really my brothers. And I was going to say blood, except, in a way, they are my blood brothers. We just don't have the same parents and we didn't grow up in the same house, until pretty recently." Danny grinned over at the groom. Regan was still guiding the horse with the line, but moved the rope to the other hand and somehow switched the direction Spartan was going to counter-clockwise. Danny felt funny going in circles around his uncle. He wanted to try guiding the horse himself. It started to seem like the most natural thing to be in the saddle.

"Sounds like a good situation, then, if you feel that way about them." Regan guided Danny around again. "You seem to be comfortable up there. Let go of the saddle altogether."

Danny let go. "Like riding a bike with no hands?" he asked.

"Sure." Then, to Spartan, he added a couple of click-y noises. Spartan's gait changed and Danny wobbled a bit. He started to grab for the saddle, but Regan stopped him. "Don't look down. Keep looking straight ahead. And no holding on. Grip with your knees and balance." Danny nodded, and Regan went on. "When I give you the reins, you need to know that they're not for holding onto the horse, or keeping your balance on the horse. Riding is all in your legs. That's why I'm making you ride without holding on right now."

"Makes sense, I guess. Do you think I'm ready to take the reins, then?" Danny asked, the hesitation clearly showing in his voice.

"Not if you're nervous about it." Regan smirked up at him. "Let's just keep going like this for a while." He clicked at the horse again, and Spartan slowed back into a walk. Regan clicked again and Spartan sped up. "This is a trot. In order for you to keep balanced and comfortable, you'll have to rise and sit with Spartan's movements. Otherwise you'll just get bumped around a lot."

"Yeah, okay." It took a bit of practice, but Danny soon got the hang of it. He also found that the rhythm of Spartan's hooves in the muddy snow helped him relax. "Regan?"

"Mmm?" The groom mumbled from his spot on the ground.

"Does Mr. Wheeler race any of these horses?" Danny hoped the question sounded like a normal turn in the conversation.

"Nah, none of these are race horses. We do shows once in a while, though." Regan looked out at the preserve now in front of them. "Just for the beauty and behavior of the horse and jumping competitions; things like that."

Danny tried to keep the disappointment off his face.

"Are you interested in race horses?" Regan smiled up at the boy again.

Danny nodded. "Well, I mean, sort of. It's all I've ever really heard of before, I guess. Unless you count those western novels Harvey reads. Have you ever worked with race horses?"

"Yeah, once. Feels like another lifetime. And one I'm glad to have left behind." Regan's tone indicated that would be the end of that conversation.

Danny wasn't that good at taking hints. "Was it bad?"

Regan frowned. "I was lucky, I thought. The guy I worked for treated his horses well. But there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes ... it's not always pretty."

Danny grabbed on to the short straw Regan had offered. "What do you mean?"

"You can't be that innocent having grown up in the city, can you?" Regan furrowed his brow as he looked up; he looked more like he was following the gentle pace of the grey horse with the rope rather than actually leading the horse from his spot in the middle.

"Well, no," Danny admitted. "I imagine the betting can get out of hand, and I've certainly heard stories of horses being drugged to help them win. Does that happen a lot?"

Regan looked up at Danny thoughtfully. "More often than I'd like to admit."

Danny waited for Regan to say more, but it soon became apparent that he wouldn't. "How about the guy you worked for? You said he treated his horses well." Danny really wanted to just come out and ask, "Did you drug Gadfly?" He couldn't even imagine how poorly that would go over.

At first Danny thought Regan wouldn't answer. Regan slowly switched the lunge line in his other hand and stepped to one side so that Spartan would turn clockwise again, but didn't acknowledge Danny's question. Then his uncle shook his head. "I'm just not sure. The guy I worked for seemed like a good guy, but at the end, something happened."

Spartan turned along the fence, continuing in his circle on the slush.

"Anyway," Regan continued on after the brief silence. "That's all in the past, and leaving that place led me here, so it turned out okay for me. I guess I'm lucky."

Damn. For that brief moment of silence, Danny thought Regan might actually open up about the story that was weighing so heavily on his own mind. "Sounds like an interesting story. What happened?" Danny kept his voice as casual as possible.

Regan glanced up at him, his green eyes dark and masking all emotion. "Are you ready to try taking the reins yourself, and maybe stop going in circles?"

"Huh." Danny wondered if Regan realized that he really did feel like he was going in circles, and not on horseback, either.

"Huh?" Regan echoed, now sounding slightly annoyed.

"Yes," Danny answered more clearly. "I'd like to take the reins."

Regan got Spartan to stop his monotonous course. He came over and unhooked the lunge-line and untied the reins that Danny had earlier been told not to touch. With instructions on how to hold the reins and how to keep Spartan to a nice slow walk and how to not accidentally urge him into anything faster, Regan let Danny try guiding Spartan on his own. "Spartan used to work for a circus," Regan told him. "And part of his job there was letting the kids ride him. He's really gentle and really used to inexperienced riders, so don't worry."

"A circus?" Danny asked his grey mount, although it wasn't really a question. "That sounds like a fun job, Spartan. Wish you could tell me about it."

Regan chuckled, then smiled up at him and winked. "Talking to the horses is a plus in my book. Good luck getting the story out of him, though."

Danny had to turn around slightly to look back at his uncle; he was relieved to see the brief display of annoyance had completely disappeared from his face as well as his voice. "You never know." Then addressing Spartan again, he added, "Come on old boy, let's get out of this rut you've created here."

Danny walked Spartan all the way to the back fence and then tried to turn him around. He pulled on the reins, but Spartan ignored that. "Don't just yank on the reins; guide him with your whole body!" Regan called out to him from the other end of the enclosure. "You need to look in the direction you want him to go." Danny nodded and tried again, turning his upper body to the left like Regan had shown him earlier. That seemed to do the trick. Spartan turned and walked along the fence toward the road. When they reached the corner, Danny managed to guide Spartan back toward Regan, making a triangle with the hoof tracks. Soon, Spartan was standing next to Regan again.

"Good." It was just one simple word, but the tone it was said in and the confidence Regan had shown him went a long way.

Regan smiled in a way that reminded Danny suddenly of his mother. Danny knew he just had to tell him why he was here, regardless of Gadfly. "Regan," he started.

"Oh, Regan, there you are!" A middle-aged woman seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, although Danny was sure she must have come from the large house.

"Miss Trask," Regan greeted simply, but his voice was friendly.

"You must be one of the Belden boys' guests." Miss Trask came up to the side of the horse and held her hand up for Danny to shake. "I missed meeting you all at breakfast earlier."

"Danny, Miss Trask. Miss Trask, this is Danny—" There was a slight pause at the end of Regan's introduction, as if he'd just realized he didn't know Danny's last name. "Is it Diamond?"

"Nice to meet you, Miss Trask," Danny answered, in that same evasive way Regan had avoided some of his questions earlier.

"Very nice to meet you, too, Danny." Miss Trask smiled at him and her grey-blue eyes twinkled merrily. Miss Trask turned to address Regan and held a basket of food out to him. "Helen came over earlier for some coffee and a chat and asked if we could take Micah some of her jellies and other goodies. She figured the kids would be going there at some point."

"Yep, they are," Regan answered, taking the basket from her hands.

Danny tuned out the rest of their chit-chat. He stroked the dark mane lying against Spartan's neck, grateful that the horse was patient. Every once in a while Spartan started to walk forward, but Danny gave a firm "whoa" command and pulled back on the reins to keep him in place. In his mind, he was trying to figure out the best way to tell his uncle the truth. In the short time he'd spent with him, he knew Regan was a good man, and his past, regardless of what secrets it held, was irrelevant.

Miss Trask finally left and Regan turned back to him.

"Regan," Danny said again.

His uncle looked up at him. "Are you ready to try trotting on your own, now? You seem pretty comfortable up in that saddle. Let me just put this basket in the office."

"It's Mangan," Danny stated.

Regan's brow furrowed in confusion.

"My last name."

"Oh." Regan didn't say anything more.

Maybe he didn't know Mom's married name. Danny was about to say more, when Regan finally acknowledged the name.

"That's a good Irish name." Regan spoke deliberately.

"Yeah. Yeah it is."

"I thought you were Jewish? Or is that just the other boys?" Regan scrutinized him with an intensity that Danny could almost feel.

Danny took a breath and said what he needed to say. "I'm Irish. Both sides. My mother's name was Regan, like yours." Before Regan could say anything, Danny finished quickly, looking into those deep green eyes his uncle shared with his mother. "Sarah Regan."

Danny wasn't sure what he expected Regan to say or do, but what he did not expect was to see Regan's retreating back as Regan turned and headed quickly back to the stables.

He needed to follow him. He hadn't yet learned how to dismount, but he'd seen both Mart and Harvey do it earlier. With a quick swing of his leg, he lowered himself off the horse, almost losing his balance as his left foot was still in the stirrup. "Come on, Spartan," Danny whispered to the horse, grabbing the now-dangling reins. "Let's go after him."

Danny led the horse inside the stable. The sounds of papers rustling came from the office. Danny let go of Spartan's reins and walked over to the open door. Regan was sitting at his desk looking through what looked like a box of letters. Danny cleared his throat, and Regan looked up at him.

For a few seconds, neither of them spoke.

"Regan?" Danny finally said softly.

Regan's eyes were moist and there was an urgency in his voice. "Danny. They're here somewhere. Just a second." Regan went back to looking frantically through the envelopes.

Danny took two steps further into the office. "Uncle Willie," Danny said this time, somewhat forcefully.

Regan's head shot up in surprise. His eyes narrowed suspiciously, but one corner of his mouth twitched up into a half-grin. "Only your mother could get away with calling me that. Do not ever call me Willie, you hear? You can call me Regan, like everyone else does."

"I'd rather call you 'Uncle'," Danny answered evenly.

"Uncle Bill, then." Regan relaxed and smiled fully. "I kind of like that."

"Uncle Bill it is." Danny grinned back at him and stepped further into the room.

Regan took one large stride across the small office to meet him, stepping over a box on the floor in the process. Danny found himself enveloped in a huge bear hug, one that rivaled Mrs. Diamond's enormous hugs.

Almost as suddenly, Regan let go. "You knew. You knew the moment you met me. Why didn't you just say something right away?" Regan turned back around and took a step back toward his desk. Danny wondered briefly if his newfound uncle was upset with him. But Regan turned toward him again, firing off more questions. "How did you find me? Did you know I was here, or is this just one more of the great Sleepyside coincidences?" At Danny's confused expression, Regan let out an almost hysterical-sounding laugh. "Please tell me Trixie had nothing to do with this. Oh, God! None of that really matters. You're here." Suddenly Regan's expression grew somber. "And you're living with Neil and Harvey. Where's Sarah? What happened? What about your father? Oh, God." The first "Oh God" had been joyous. This second one was full of dread.

Spartan whinnied from inside the stable. It had the effect of calming Regan down. "Spartan. You brought him inside?"

Danny nodded.

"Thanks." Regan walked past Danny toward the horse. Danny followed him, watching as Regan quickly grabbed the reins and guided Spartan back to the spot where Danny had originally left him. Spartan had managed to knock over a bag of brushes and Danny picked them up, while Regan grabbed a rope that was hanging from the wall and hooked it to Spartan's halter.

Danny saw a similar rope on the other side and grabbed it so that Regan could hook it to the halter as well, but Regan shook his head. Danny remembered seeing Thunderer tethered the same way when he'd first walked into the stables hours earlier. With a shrug, he dropped the second tie. "Sorry. I didn't think to hook him up or anything."

"Don't worry about it," Regan said. He quickly unbuckled the saddle and removed it and the blanket from Spartan's back. He handed them to Danny, pointing to a saddle rack where Danny could place them. Then he removed the reins and slipped a thicker, more rope-like halter over Spartan's ears. He removed the tether and guided Spartan into his stall. Once the horse was inside, he slipped the halter off, and walked back out of the stall clicking the door closed behind him. To the horse, he said, "Sorry, old boy. You can wait a few more minutes. For once, there's something more important."

Spartan snorted and looked like he disagreed, but Regan ignored him and pulled Danny back into the office. "You must look like your father," he commented. "I would've never recognized you for Sarah's boy. Sarah." Saying that word, Regan once more went to the desk. He picked up the box and one of the letters. "These letters here," Regan said. "I was looking for the ones that mentioned you. I didn't know if you'd believe I was your uncle otherwise."

"From my mom?" Danny went over to stand next to his uncle.

"Yeah. We managed to stay in touch until I left Saratoga." Regan handed him the box. "That's where I worked with racehorses."

Danny nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"You do?" Regan quirked an auburn eyebrow at him. "Then what exactly were you trying to find out back there in the arena?"

"Nothing important," Danny said, trying to sound convincing.

Regan's expression became serious. "What do you think you know?"

Danny shrugged. "Gadfly."

"Oh, God," Regan said again. He sat down in the rickety chair behind the desk.

Danny put down the box of letters and sat down on the corner of the desk. He looked at Regan, and Regan met his gaze. "You didn't do it."

Regan shook his head. "Of course not."

"So, like I said, nothing important." Regan looked like he was about to say something, but Danny held up his hand. "I have a lot of things in my past that I would like to talk to you about someday, Uncle Bill. They aren't very pretty either. But can we talk about that stuff later?"

Regan nodded in understanding. "Sure."

Danny picked up one of the letters and started to read it.

"How long ago?" Regan asked quietly.

"April Fourteenth, nineteen-fifty-five." Danny whispered the date.

"Almost two years ago. Oh, God. I'm so sorry." Regan choked back a sob. "And your dad?"

Danny looked at him, tears brimming in his dark grey eyes. "July Ninth, nineteen-fifty-three."

"And you've only been living with the Diamonds for five months." Regan reached over and embraced his nephew awkwardly across the desk. "I am so sorry. If I had only known. I should have been there. I should have written her sooner, then maybe I'd have been there when you needed me."

"Sooner?" Danny asked, his voice muffled by Regan's arm.

Regan let go of him and reached for the box of letters again, pulling out a stack rubber-banded together. "Yeah, sooner. By the time I finally wrote her again after leaving Saratoga, all the letters came back undeliverable. Here are the ones I sent her. I finally gave up this year."

Danny gave his uncle a reassuring smile. "I'm sure she knows you wanted to stay in touch."

Regan stared at Danny and Danny gazed back. They were both quiet and Danny got the impression Regan wasn't really looking at him, but rather at some distant memory.

Regan finally began speaking again. "Did you come here to find me? Or was this a coincidence?"

"No coincidence. I came here to find you," Danny stated, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Thank you." Regan sounded worried. "I should've tried harder to find you. To find Sarah. Or to find out what happened." Regan's green eyes met Danny's black ones. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Danny answered. "You didn't know."

"No, I didn't. I always pictured Sarah living happily with Tim and their son, you. I had no idea they both died." Regan frowned; his next question came out in pieces. "Can you ... is it okay if I ask ... how—what happened?"

Danny nodded. "Dad died in Korea. According to the officer that informed us, he died a hero. All I know is he and some other soldiers were out and the jeep they were in hit a mine. It all happened just a couple of weeks before the armistice was signed." Danny paused, thinking back on that night when the officer rang their door bell. His thoughts jumped to the ceremony that honored his father and the other men who had died that week, where they presented his mom with the flag. He wondered where that flag was now. "Mom was devastated." Tears formed in his dark eyes. He wanted to tell Regan about those two years when his mother was alive, and how difficult they were. He wanted to tell Regan how strong his mother was, and how it wasn't enough. He wanted to tell Regan how he was there when his mother died. The words just wouldn't come out.

A clock on the wall started to chime the noon hour. Regan looked up. "We should head over to Mr. Maypenny's."

Danny shook his head. "We don't need to if you don't want to."

"You do not want to miss Maypenny's stew. Listen to your uncle on this one." Regan smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "Besides, we have plenty of time to catch up still. And maybe I could use the distraction to let this all sink in." Regan got up and headed back out of the office into the main area of the stables. Danny stood up and watched from the office doorway as Regan walked over to Spartan's stall and spoke softly to the horse. "Spartan, sorry for leaving you like this, boy. Lucky you didn't have much of a workout. Let's give you a good rub down now." He stroked the horse's nose gently a few times before unlatching the gate and calling to Danny to join him.

Danny knew the tactic well. Regan was trying to protect him from his own memories. Though he was disappointed, Danny convinced himself it was better to just go on with today instead of trying to figure out the past.


chapter V: we got things we gotta catch up on