"Jesus." Chris sighed an I'm-at-the-end-of-my-rope sigh as he laid his cards face down on the picnic table and rubbed his eyes, elbows on the table top.
"Bad hand, stud?" Buck chuckled as he rearranged his cards.
The others recognized a distraction and brought their cards in closer to guard their hands, except for Ezra, who raised a questioning brow at the actions.
"Do me a favor, Buck," Chris said tiredly. "The next time I send Vin to pick up feed, do not lend him your truck." His weary look shifted from Buck's face to look beyond him and down the long driveway.
At that moment, the familiar rumble of Buck's classic Chevy caught the players' attention and all heads rotated to pinpoint the noise. Except for Ezra, who took the opportune moment to glance over at JD's cards.
"Well there's something you don't see every day," Josiah commented.
The dusty red truck slowed as it approached the house. Sticking up over the truck's cab was a horse's head and neck. The animal looked around curiously with animated ears while his blond mane and forelock rippled in the wind. It was a dark gold palomino. The truck stopped in a cloud of dust.
Vin's teammates put their cards down and rose as one, save Ezra, who delayed just long enough to get a peek at Nathan's cards.
The truck door opened and Vin hopped out. He gave his friends a quick wave before slamming the door and moving to the back of the vehicle. The horse pricked his ears and nickered softly when he caught sight of his chauffeur.
"Hey, buddy," Vin called in a calming tone. "Let's get ya down outta there, okay?"
The rest of the team trailed down the porch steps in a broken line. After a longing look at the abandoned game, Ezra laid down his cards and brought up the rear. They formed a ragged arc beside the truck to observe the spectacle before them.
A lead rope attached to the horse's halter trailed through the Chevy's rear sliding window. Vin reached over, collected the rope, and, talking softly, gently pulled the horse in a tight half circle. The truck rocked and hooves clattered on the rubber mat in the truck bed. Facing backward, the horse swished his tail lazily, unperturbed at his unorthodox transportation. It dipped his head and ruffled Vin's hair. The sharpshooter chuffed affectionately and lowered the tailgate.
"Come on now," he asked, stepping back to give the animal room. The horse took a step forward, dropped his nose to gauge the distance to the ground, then tucked his hind legs slightly under as his front legs bent at the knees. It pushed off just enough to clear the tailgate and landed on the dirt and gravel driveway. Once earthbound, it gave a mighty shake, took a leisurely, 180 degree look around, and then ducked his head and began nibbling the grass.
"I have a feeling he's done that before." Josiah tipped his head and examined the animal.
"Looks like it, huh? Wasn't hard to get him in there."
Ezra eyed the truck then turned to Vin. "And how, exactly, did you achieve that feat?"
"Oh, I just backed the truck up to that dirt berm in front of the feed store and he just hopped in."
Vin frowned. "Why? I don't know. He just did. Well, I did ask him to, though, if that's what you mean."
"No, that's not what he means," Chris interjected. "I think Ezra means why do you have him at all?"
"Oh! Well there was this feller yelling at him."
"An old feller?" Buck asked, laughing. Chris gave him a glare. Buck explained. "Palomino, old feller, get it? Feller? Yeller? Old Yeller?"
"Hey, Buck, that’s funny!” JD chortled.
The others ignored the pair and turned their attention back to the horse at hand. Vin continued. "Horse wouldn't load into the feller's trailer. I offered to help, but the guy said 'no, just take him!’ He seemed kinda peeved."
"Great,” Chris muttered. "Another bad mannered horse.”
"He ain’t bad mannered,” Vin defended, straightening. "Maybe jist a mite . . . jumpy.”
"He did jump in the truck,” Nathan noted with a grin. He and JD bumped fists, chuckling.
Chris shifted his glare to the medic. Nathan's grim disappeared and he cleared his throat.
"Maybe he’s just . . . twitchy.” Josiah said thoughtfully.
"Better than itchy,” Buck added.
JD pitched in, "Or bitchy.”
"Can’t be bitchy. He’s a he.” Vin crossed his arms and returned Chris’ annoyed stare.
Just then the horse raised his head enough to snort in Chris' direction. He resumed grazing.
"I was always partial to Happy,” Buck offered.
"I liked Doc,” Nathan added.
"Well, he’s certainly not Bashful,” Ezra inserted. Everyone looked at him. "What?” he protested. "I know the classics.”
"He’s not Sleeping Beauty, either.” All eyes shifted to Chris. "More like Eating Beauty.” His frown deepened as the horse ate the newly sprouting daffodils at the edge of the driveway.
"Hey!” Vin yelped, pulling the animal back to the grass. The horse responded with a shake of his head and a happy crow-hop.
"Ain’t Sleepy, either,” Nathan said in a helpful tone.
"He ain’t gettin’ a dwarf name.” Vin’s statement sounded final.
Chris pinned Vin with a look before uttering, "That’s because Dopey’s already been claimed.”
Vin’s eyes narrowed, and, uncowed, reflected the look. "Better ‘n Grumpy, though.” With that, he yanked on the rope and the palomino reluctantly followed his new owner to the barn.
"Oh, snap!” JD laughed.
Buck snagged JD’s elbow. "My, look at the time! That grill started yet?” He dragged a squawking JD toward the house.