RU WAS CLEANING yet more tack when Poppy burst in wearing flipflops and an open shirt over a bikini. Ru blinked.
“There you are,” she said.
Where else would he be?
“We all have the rest of the afternoon off and can use the pool. I somehow guessed no one had told you. Come on.”
“I don’t have any swimming trunks.”
She frowned. “Just wear shorts then. But don’t turn down time off when it’s offered. You’ll make the rest of us look bad.”
“I can’t swim.”
Poppy groaned. “Even if you don’t want to go in the water, you can lie in the sun for a while and read a book or ogle me in my bikini. Come on.”
“Okay. When I’ve finished this bridle.”
“Oh, and Mike told us what had happened to you.” She put her hand on his arm. “Sorry. That was shit. I’m glad everything is okay now.”
“I’ll see you over there. I’ve got suntan lotion! You can put it on my back.”
She ran off again and Ru continued with the bridle. It was strange but sort of refreshing to have what had happened to him dismissed in so few words. It was shit but everything was all right now. Almost anyway.
When the bridle was back on the correct hook, Ru made his way to the accommodation block. It had turned into a really hot day and the idea of being in the pool appealed, but he was fairly certain that he couldn’t swim. He’d been able to manage several yards when he’d been eight and remembered getting a certificate to prove it, but since then, he’d not been in water deep enough to swim in. Maybe it was like riding a bike and he’d pick it up again quickly. Though he had struggled to ride in a straight line for a while. He’d practised in the local park until he felt able to ride on a road. But swimming? Too big a risk to just throw himself in. He wasn’t going to be doing a doggy paddle in front of this lot. They’d laugh themselves stupid.
But he’d been asked to join in, and he needed friends, so he changed into his only pair of shorts, didn’t put on a T-shirt and grabbed his towel from the bathroom. He removed the drawing of Jasim from his sketchpad and dropped it on the bed, then left the room with the pad and his pencils.
When he reached the house, Ru followed the sound of laughter and splashing to the pool. A few people were in the water, which glistened so temptingly in the sunshine, the others were on chairs or sun loungers. Ru looked for Mike just to check where he was, and saw him lying next to Kirstie. Ru might have chosen to sit near Poppy, but she was too close to Mike, so instead, he picked a sun lounger at the other end of the pool, spread his towel on it and lay down.
Ru had rarely had the chance to relax in the sun. He’d worked on the farm with his shirt off when it was hot enough and sometimes, he’d laid down in a field for a little while in just his underwear, but there was always a job to do, always the fear that his uncle would come across him and lay into him for being lazy.
Now, he was safe and he could do what he wanted. He quietly sighed. What was it about the sun that made you feel instantly better? It was as if the heat had the ability to leach problems away. Temporarily at least.
“How did you get that bruise?”
Ru opened his eyes to see Poppy sitting on the lounger next to him. She was staring at his stomach.
“Are they bruises on your arm and neck as well?”
“I’m clumsy.” Ru was grateful his shorts hid the dark boot print on his thigh.
“None of the ponies have kicked you?”
“Not even Cheyenne?”
“Is she a kicker?”
“It’s been known, especially when she has her hoofs picked.”
“She’s been fine.” Ru wondered if he’d ever be able to trust Mike. Probably not.
“Do you draw?”
“I’ll try.” Ru picked up his pad.
It didn’t take him long to sketch an image of Poppy lying in the sun, her large sunglasses perched on her head, and he showed it to her.
“Wow, you’re really good.”
“Can I have it?”
“If you want.”
“Give it me later when we’re back?”
“Okay.” Now he’d started to draw, Ru began to sketch some of the others, then the house.
The guys began to fool around in the water and Poppy jumped in.
“Oh it’s so warm,” she called. “Come on in the shallow end, Ru!”
“I’m fine.” Ru drew everyone apart from Mike. He thought he’d be too tempted to give him horns, warts and fangs.
Water sprayed over his legs and Ru jumped. It might have been an accident but then again… He tucked his sketchpad and pencils under his towel and lay back to soak up the rays. The others were playing a game with a ball. Everyone but him was in the water.
“Don’t you want to get your hair wet?” Mike called.
Ru ignored him.
“Worried the chlorine will turn it pink?” Mike continued to taunt
Funnily enough, Ru quite fancied pink hair. Ink’s hair was bluey purple and Ru liked it.
“Cluuuuck…cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck.”
Ru wasn’t certain who started the noise. But others joined in. He’d never heard anyone do it before but he could guess what it meant. They thought he was chicken, too scared to go in the water. Well, he was. He probably couldn’t swim, and he had no idea how deep this pool was. Plus, he was lying near the deep end and he’d look a dick if he walked down to the shallow end to get in.
The ribbing continued and Ru switched off his ears as he’d done when his aunt kept on at him, and just let himself drift to another world. He’d win people over eventually. He was a hard worker and he’d not reported Mike when he could have. Maybe if he made a meal for everyone one night, or bought a couple of bottles of wine…
When he felt the sun lounger being lifted into the air, his eyes flashed open and he had a moment to panic before he was tipped into the water along with the lounger. As he flailed, his head collided with something and he went down with the sun lounger on top of him.