Klara’s tiny head protruded from the carrier I had strapped around my torso, although her sun-hat didn’t allow for me to see her face. It was a hot day, and Graham had finally convinced me to wear shorts. I had refused the previous summer, deciding to suffer the heat as I had my entire life. Having my legs exposed was certainly more comfortable, but it still felt odd for the hemline of my bottoms to only reach to my mid-thigh.
The purpose of our outing today was as much for business as it was for pleasure. With Roger’s help, I had managed to locate a horse-farm just outside of the city. The owner offered private riding lessons, so I figured it would be good practice for both of us. Graham wasn’t entirely a stranger to equestrianism, but he hadn’t been in the saddle for years. As for me, it would be worth it to start getting my muscles used to the strain of riding again.
“Sunscreen time!” Graham said excitedly, dolloping a fair amount of the gooey substance onto his palms and rubbing it over Klara’s bare limbs, which were dangling cutely from the carrier. She whined as he rubbed in the chilly substance, so I did my best to distract her throughout the uncomfortable process.
I pinched the brim of her hat, which was patterned with small embroidered turtles, and flipped it up. “Peek-a-boo!”
She giggled and I pushed the brim back down. “Where did Papa go?” Graham asked her. The whining resumed and I repeated the motion.
“Peek-a-boo!” This time, her laughter was cut short by a liberal amount of sunscreen being spread over her face by Graham. She wailed loudly and gave I Graham a look. “Now look what you’ve done.”
“Better she cries now than later when she has a sunburn,” he said, shrugging. After applying the lotion to himself, he looked at me. “Your turn, darling.”
I rolled my eyes and allowed him to squirt it into my hands. As I applied it to my face, he bent down to cover my legs. “What are you doing? We’re going to have to change into riding breeches, so there’s no point in putting sunscreen on our legs.”
“Too late!” Graham joked, rubbing my legs roughly.
The walk from the parking area to the barn took about five minutes, but I was grateful for it. I hadn’t walked anywhere except in the bustling city since we went to Cape Cod the previous summer. The eleven months felt like a lifetime.
The stables brought back even more familiarity. Save for the electric lighting and hoses everywhere, the timeless scent of horses made me feel at ease.
“Hey, fellas!” An man stepped out of the stalls to greet us, wiping his hand on a cloth attached to his belt before offering it.
“Good morning,” I said, shaking the man’s hand, “Are you Marquis?”
He grinned and shook Graham’s hand. “In the flesh. You must be John and Graham?”
“That we are,” Graham replied, “and this is Klara.” Graham patted her on the head.
“Bringing a baby to a riding lesson? That’s certainly a first, but we can manage. What’s y’alls' experience with riding?”
“I’ve been riding for quite some time, but I’ve been out of practice since moving to the city,” I said.
Marquis nodded, “That’s what the urban life does to you, my friend. And you?” he asked, turning to Graham.
“A bit when I was younger, but it’s been a while,” he said, shrugging.
“No worries, pal. Just like riding a bike, you’ll see,” he winked and patted Graham’s arm.
Marquis opened his mouth to speak again, but he was interrupted by an older woman approaching behind him. “Isn’t she just the cutest little munchkin!” the woman exclaimed.
Marquis smiled, “Mama, this is John, Graham, and Klara. Fella’s, this is my Mama. She and I run the stable together.”
“Lovely to meet you, Ma’am,” Graham said. Marquis’ mother waved at him in dismissal.
“Call me June, there is no need for formality here. This your little one? She looks just like you.”
“Yeah, she is,” Graham gave me a sideways glance and I shook my head subtly. Marquis and June seemed nice enough, but there was no need to explain my relation to Klara.
“Alright, well I think you should go first, Graham. Seems like you have a bit more to review.” Graham nodded and followed Marquis to the other side of the stable, turning around to wave goodbye.
A horse suddenly popped its head over the door of the stall I was standing next to, emerging about two feet from my face. It seemed friendly enough, its ears and nostrils were relaxed, unalarmed by my presence.
Klara screeched, a sound I had yet to make her make. She wasn’t quite old enough to feel fear, at least according to what I had read, but perhaps she had just been startled. She screamed into my chest and I stepped away from the horse.
“All is well, angelface. I’m sure the horse had no intention of startling you,” I soothed.
“How old is she?” June asked, standing beside me to get a better look at Klara.
“About 4 months,” I said, pulling up the brim of Klara’s hat so she could see my face. She relaxed a bit in response and June smiled.
“She trusts you,” she said, winking.
I felt a bit uneasy. Was it obvious that I was a parent to Klara? Perhaps it had been a bad idea to bring her along.
June seemed not to think twice about it and went to pet the horse, whose head was still sticking out from the stall.
“Buttercup here is a new mother,” she said, scratching the mare’s long nose. “She just had her first foal last Spring. She isn’t very social, but perhaps Klara piqued her curiosity since she has a baby of her own.”
“Horses are quite intuitive,” I replied, setting Klara’s diaper bag on the ground and maneuvering her out of her carrier. She squirmed a bit, but didn’t seem too disturbed. She kicked her tiny legs, managing to nail me in the breastbone before I could get the carrier off.
“She’s a strong kicker,” June laughed, “Here, I’ll hold her while you get situated.”
I transferred her into June’s arms gratefully and removed the contraption from my body, relieved to feel the breeze on my sweating chest. Klara whined, seeming confused as to why she was in unfamiliar arms.
“Don’t cry, babygirl,” June cooed, “You can stand to be away from your daddy for a couple minutes.”
I froze, the anxiety from a few moments ago resurfacing. I scrambled to find a proper response, but June spoke again before I could.
“Don’t you worry your handsome head, hunny. I’m not one to judge.”
“How could you tell?” I asked, taking Klara back. I was relieved that June seemed unbothered, but concerned that she had been able to tell so easily.
“From the way she looks at you, and you at her. But don’t worry, most people are too focused on themselves to notice that sort of thing.”
I nodded, still feeling uneasy. Perhaps in 1978 people were too distracted to notice, but people in 1778 would be much more perceptive. If what June had noticed was true, then I would have to consciously avoid paying too much attention to her when we were in public. The thought made my stomach drop. The only comfort was that I knew I would be free of that burden once we reached the Fraser’s.
I stroked Klara’s head as I thought and June gave me a sympathetic look. “Don’t worry yourself too much hun. Here, let’s go watch your man ride.”
I followed her out to the paddock, where Graham was riding in circles. Marquis stood in the middle, telling Graham how to make the horse change its gait. The paddock was quite large, allowing the horse to canter comfortably around.
“He’s lovely, isn’t she?” June said, leaning against the fence. “His name is Oregano, but he’s called ‘Lots of Dots’ in shows.
Oregano was quite a striking horse. He was healthy, youn, and strong. He would have been a perfect horse for battle, if not for his coloration. Any officer of a high standing would be asking to get shot by riding a steed that stood out so much. While from the front his coat appeared to be dark brown, from the side one could see that his entire back end was spotted.
Graham seemed to be doing a decent job of controlling him. His posture was perfect and he seemed steady. Even when Oregano got spooked by a dog running by the fence (“Nellie,” according to June), he was able to bring Oregano back down. Even out of practice, Graham was a decent rider.
Seeing Graham ride was yet another weight off my chest, but my fears of how to prepare him for the road ahead were still mounting. There was still so much preparation to be done. I started making a mental list as I watched Oregano canter in circles.
We would have to get Klara accustomed to using cloth nappies, as there were no “Huggies” in 1778. We would need to find adequate clothing to travel in and decide which items from the future we should risk bringing (if any). Hell, Graham would even need to learn how to write with a quill! Perhaps he could get away with bringing a fountain pen, although Roger’s explanation of his pen collection had informed me that those wouldn’t have been invented for many years to come.
I must have been staring into oblivion, because I hadn’t managed to notice that Graham had dismounted Oregano and was leaning against the other side of the fence. He waved a hand in front of my face and I blinked, pulled back into the present.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he said, reaching over to relieve me of Klara.
“Oh, just pondering the future- or past? I’m not even sure at this point.” I shook my head and Graham gave me a sympathetic look.
“I get the feeling. But don’t worry, we will figure everything out.”
“I know we will,” I said, feeling somewhat exasperated, “It’s just that every time I think I have thought of everything we must do, another necessary preparation comes to mind.”
“I hate that feeling,” Graham said, patting my shoulder with his free arm. “It’s like when you leave the house and you feel like you’re forgetting something, but you feel it all the time. And then something will just pop into your head and your stomach drops and- shit.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“We need to get tested.”
Graham looked around, making sure that Marquis and June were out of earshot. “You know, sexually transmitted illnesses and stuff. I’d rather not have to put a sheep’s bladder on my dick every time we have sex. We honestly should have done it a while ago. Could’ve saved a lot of money on condoms.”
I smiled and slapped his arm playfully. “How does one even get tested anyway?” I asked. I had since learned that Claire’s warnings about “germs” were truthful, although there were still holes in my understanding.
“Well, they take a swab and they put it into-”
My eyes widened and I interrupted him, “Nevermind. If you tell me how it’s done now, I probably won’t want to go through with it.”
“Or they might take a urine sample,” Graham continued, teasing. I made a disgusted face and he laughed.
Thankfully, our unpleasant conversation- although Graham seemed to be enjoying himself- was interrupted by Marquis, who was bringing Oregano back into the barn.
“Gear up, John!”