Today was Tuesday – their regular lunch day. More often than not Fraser would be on door guard on Tuesday mornings and Ray would pull up in front of the Consulate just as the nearby clock-tower rang noon. Tuesdays were becoming sacred to the lovers and Ray went to extraordinary lengths to avoid having any conflicting commitments, even to the extreme of allowing Welsh to assign another detective to stake-outs that promised to end in an easy collar. From this we can conclude that love shows itself in many forms, not necessarily the ways in which convention dictates.
On this particular Tuesday they were having barbeque. This was one of Fraser’s gestures of affection since he didn’t particularly like messy foods.
“You know what this Saturday is?” Ray asked, around the side rib he was messily denuding.
Fraser grunted to suggest Ray should speak on. The question was obviously rhetorical and as such did not require Fraser to go to the extreme of talking with his mouth full. (Although he continued to envy Ray the ease with which he was able to do such a thing. In a family as lavish with food as it was with decibels, Ma would have had a hard time training her family to obey an injunction not to vocalize when food was in one’s mouth. )
“It’s our first anniversary. I want us to do something special for that.”
Fraser swallowed his mouthful of salad before saying, “Since we’re not married, I’m not sure which event – specifically – this would be the anniversary of. Do you mean the first time I told you how I felt? Or the first time we actually made love?
“Aw, come on, Benny. It didn’t really take too long after you told me what you wanted for me to give it to you, did it?
Fraser smiled and quoted, “Indeed, it followed hard upon.”
Ray choked and sprayed a very unappetizing mixture of sauce and spittle across the table, so great was his shock. “Benny!”
“You never talk like that in public!”
“Sure I do, Ray. I quote Shakespeare all the time.”
“Shakespeare?” Ray didn’t get it.
“Hamlet. Horatio says ‘I came to see your father’s funeral’ and Hamlet says he thinks he came to see his mother’s wedding. Then Horatio says, ‘indeed, it followed hard upon’ meaning that the wedding came very soon after the funeral. I really don’t see what’s so wrong with saying that line in public.”
Ray wiped his mouth first then dabbed at the tablecloth. “Oh, I thought you meant something else.”
Fraser pondered this for a few beats, caught a possible meaning, blushed and then returned to the original subject. “So, what did you have in mind to do for our anniversary?”
“You’re going to love this, Benny. I want you to take me horseback riding. I never really learned how to do it and you’re an expert. It’d be fun. You give me the okay and I’ll call up a stable and set us up for Saturday afternoon.”
“You’d better let me arrange it, Ray. I can better tell the stable exactly what we need.”
“Works for me. This is going to be such fun!”
After a little research, Fraser chose a stable and called them from his office. A youngish-sounding male voice answered the phone. Fraser told him he wanted to arrange the hire of two horses for two hours on Saturday afternoon.
“You’re both experienced riders?”
“I am. My friend is not.”
“So, you’ll need to buy some lessons.”
“No, I’m going to instruct my friend myself.”
“Sorry, if he’s not experienced we can only give him lessons or trail rides.”
“You’re not him.”
Fraser couldn’t deny that, but he pressed on. “I am an experienced rider. I will teach my friend myself.”
“We don’t allow that. Insurance or something.”
“I’m willing to sign a waiver.”
“Oh, you’ll have to sign a waiver anyway.”
“Then why is insurance an issue?”
“I . . . um . . .” The young voice was stuck at this point. He was giving this customer the stock answers but the customer wasn’t asking the stock questions. “I’m going to have to ask my boss and call you back.”
“You can’t call me back. I don’t have a phone,” Fraser said.
“But . . .you’re talking to me on a phone.”
“Which doesn’t mean I have one. I’d like one that is older for my friend.”
“An older phone?”
“No, horse. My friend already has a phone.”
“What about an address?”
“He most assuredly does have an address.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
Fraser sensed the youth’s confusion, pressed his advantage and obtained the booking. Adverse as he was to lying, the Mountie had become an expert in confusing people in order to get what he wanted.
Saturday turned out to be fine day, just warm enough to be comfortable and cool enough to be refreshing.
Ray threw open the door of the Riv for Fraser to get in. He was disappointed to see that the Mountie was wearing jeans, a flannel shirt and his usual leather jacket.
“I was expecting you to wear the poofy pants. Aren’t they supposed to be for riding?”
“I’m not on duty, Ray. There’s no reason for me to wear my red serge.”
“Except it’s our anniversary and you do sort of look hot in it.”
“I did wear something special for the occasion. See here,” and after slipping into the Riv he handed his Stetson to Ray to examine.
“That’s your regular hat, Benny.”
“No, Ray. Look at the front. See that bullet hole.”
“Aw, that’s from where she shot you in the hat. So, um, why is that special? I mean for us. I’m not the one who shot you in the hat.” Ray cringed a little after saying that, afraid that his lover would say something like: no, you shot me in the back – which wouldn’t have been a very romantic turn of conversation.
“No, Ray. But right afterwards you reached down to help me pull up out of that pile of boxes.”
“Ray, that was the first time I held your hand.”
Ray fairly melted when he heard that. He felt all warm and fuzzy as he drove out of the city towards the stables.
“You didn’t bring Dief,” he commented as they drove.
“Oh no. I didn’t want to take a chance that he wouldn’t get along with the stable dog.”
“So, you’ve been to this place before.”
“Oh no. I just called them.”
“So how do you know they have a dog?”
Fraser smiled indulgently. “Oh Ray. There’s always a dog. And invariably the horses either love or hate the dog, depending on whether the dog taunts the horses or is friendly with them.”
“Always a dog.”
“Yes, Ray. It’s not a proper stable, otherwise.”
Ray thought about it. “OK, Benny. You realize what this means. If we get there and there’s no dog, we have to leave.”
As they drove into the stable grounds, Ray had actually worked himself up into a state of anxiety whether or not there would be a dog. As he opened the door of the Riv and slid out, he was relieved to see not one but three huge beasts of indiscriminate breed but unmistakable friendliness come bounding towards the car. Fraser got out of his shotgun seat and astounded Ray by throwing himself at the dogs, clasping his arms about their necks one by one, then offering his arms and legs for them to pretend to fight with him. Fraser romped and frolicked with the animals in a way Ray had never seen him do with Diefenbaker. He inched closer, so engrossed in what he was seeing that he neglected to look out for horse-residue on the ground.
“How come you and Dief never play like that?” Ray marveled.
“Dief’s a bit of an old stick-in-the-mud, I’m afraid,” Fraser tossed off to Ray from the ground where he was now rolling about with the dogs, ruffling their huge hairy heads and poking teasingly at them so they could pretend to bite him.
At length, Fraser detached from his new friends and stood up. “I’ll have to be going now,” he explained to them apologetically, “I promised Ray I’d teach him to ride. Maybe we’ll talk some more later.”
The two men went towards a door at the side of one of the buildings labeled “Office”. Ray let Fraser take the lead and handle the discussions, until the time came to present a credit card. Then, after they had both signed a few forms, they were led out to a corral.
As they trailed along behind the employee, Fraser whispered to Ray, “Don’t let on that you don’t know how to ride. This isn’t the same young man I spoke to on the phone. They don’t like inexperienced riders going out without an instructor so just do what I do exactly until he goes away.”
Ray flashed a quick ok sign and winked. Fraser, as he walked, wasn’t entirely convinced that Ray could pull off looking like an experienced rider but he hoped for the best.
Fraser and Ray stood politely while the stable hand introduced them to their mounts, waved about to give some indication of how far back the stable’s property went and gave some preliminary instructions. Fraser tried to give the impression that they both he and Ray knew exactly what they were doing but still the boy did not leave.
Finally, Fraser approached his horse and Ray copied Fraser’s movements. Fraser was gratified to see that Ray mimicked his moves with care: touching his horse’s shoulder first then rubbing it gently. The only time Ray slipped up was when he made a move to dab at the horse’s nose but a quick look from Fraser stopped him. He dropped his hand back to the horse’s shoulder and rubbed the animal in exactly the same kind of circular strokes that Fraser did.
The boy hung around for a few minutes but at last Fraser convinced him that they were fine now on their own, thank you kindly, and would be back in two hours. Having other chores to attend to, the boy left the four of them – men and beasts – to their own devices.
“Now, let’s get started,” Fraser, um, started, when the boy had safely gone. “Approach your horse from the left in order to mount.”
“I remember I heard that before. But I always wondered, my left facing the horse or the horse’s left?”
Fraser sighed and strode up to his own mount. “This side, Ray. Call it what you like.”
Ray sensed Fraser’s unaccustomed impatience but put it down to his just being in a hurry to get to riding. He obeyed and went around to the correct side of his horse. Still, he couldn’t resist asking “Why the left?”
“It’s just a convention, Ray. All horses are trained to expect to be mounted from the left.”
Ray thought it over as he placed one foot in the stirrup and swung himself up as he had seen people do in movies. “They’re trained to expect the left?”
“Yes, Ray. And you mounted very well.”
“Hold the phone, Benny. You’re telling me horses know their right from their left? Come off it. I bet even Dief doesn’t know that.”
Fraser, in the act of mounting his own horse, froze in an awkward position with one foot in the stirrup and the other poised in mid air over the horse’s back. Then he dropped and settled himself in the saddle all the while thinking about what Ray had just said. He’d never really thought about this before.
“I . . . I . . . don’t know if Diefenbaker knows his right from his left. It never came up in conversation.”
“He better, or else he dumber than a horse.”
Fraser was troubled by this line of reasoning, but he decided to table the whole question until he could get home later and talk it over with the wolf.
Expertly he guided his horse around until the two of them were facing Ray and his horse and said, “Now, Ray. Seating. Lean back in your saddle. Keep your feet inside the stirrups at all times. Hold the reins in only one hand.”
“Like in westerns, right?”
“Yes, since these are western saddles. If were riding English style . . .”
“Don’t confuse me. One hand. Go on. “
“If you ever feel like you’re losing your balance, hold onto the saddle horn with your other hand.”
“This thing in front, you mean? Geez, Benny you know what that looks like?”
“Not now, Ray.”
“No, you’ll be too sore later.”
“What, on our anniversary we’re not gonna . . .” Ray had to pause, he couldn’t shout this out lest somebody overhear.
“Ray, you’re going to be using muscles this afternoon that you don’t usually use. You’re likely to be stiff later tonight.”
Ray rolled his eyes.
“Ray, please. We’re in a public place.”
“What, did I roll my eyes too loud?”
“In any case, I haven’t ridden in so long myself that I might even be sore.”
“Well, if I’d known that I wouldn’t have suggested we go riding today of all days,” Ray groused.
“Ray, would you pay attention to the task at hand. We only have two hours.”
As it turned out, the lesson didn’t go too badly. Ray kept his seat no worse than any other neophyte and didn’t fall off. They even spent the second hour outside the corral, exploring the surrounding pastures. And if afterward, as Fraser predicted, they were a little too stiff for the kind of activities they might have otherwise have pursued on their anniversary, Ray was philosophical about it. They’d done something special together – maybe they could even make a ritual of it every year.