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Patriots Academy

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"Reckon you've got it, lassie?" asked Horatio, as lifted Amelia so that she could slip her feet into the stirrups. She nodded, smiling down at him from her perch on the sorrel mare, her mantle spread out behind her, dark lovelocks fluttering on her forehead.

"I do," she said in her quiet, eager voice, biting her lip to keep back the grin hinting about her lips. She always chose to ride on Saturday afternoons, while Kate and Meg chose to stay in the warm lounge of the Eagle House. Neither of them were quite partial to horseback riding on a blustering day in mid-November. But Amelia loved the feel of wind pressing against her soaring body, and she could imagine herself an eagle--that eagle as it glided on the gale, the eagle that represented her house. She loved her mare, Rhea Sylvia, named for the mother of Romulus and Remus. The name suited the horse which looked like a ruddy flame beneath the cold sunlight that afternoon. Amelia patted Rhea's side, and the horse began at a gentle trot from the stable, to the meadow that seemed the bottom of the basin of these Appalachians all around. Amelia raised her eyes to the hills, covered in bristling trees, a strange sense of peace and happiness washing over her. For once all the outside world seemed quite faraway, and none of the terror which had fixated. Her mind burst with whirring thought and fancy, as she pictured herself on a Highland bluff, someplace far off melancholy bagpipes playing a song of Scotland. For a moment she was garbed in the costume of a Celtic woman, her hair undone and whirling around her face.

"Good day, Amelia."

The low, melodious voice startled Amelia more than a shout would have, and she looked around uncertainly. Her breath caught in her chest when her eyes rested on Jason Wesley seated upon the high back of his black stallion. His thick mane of dark blond was well above her own head, and his horse had come up close alongside her own. She blushed when she found herself meeting the electricity of his brilliant eyes, as she felt the sparking interest somehow clutch her. She could not bear to meet his gaze another moment, and dropped her eyes, embarrassed. Embarrassed at being caught unaware, and for the absurd wave of shyness that crept over her, almost paralyzing with its overpowering effect. She knew exactly why Ellie Morris had nearly fainted that one afternoon on the settee. She had been whimpering something to the crowd of girls around her--of "his . . . his eyes." She had moaned that he must have known every one of her thoughts in regards to him, and that had put her under a thick cloud of mortification for months afterward. That explained why Ellie had always hated to pass Jason in the halls. She had told Meg that she knew he had read every one of her secrets. "He basically owns me now," Ellie had sighed.

Since Jason had arrived at Patriots Academy, which had been in October, Amelia knew there was something afoot. She knew it concerned her exactly, and Kate had confirmed her suspicions by telling her that everyone talked about how Jason was deeply interested in her.

"What do you mean?" Amelia had asked uneasily, her heart beginning to race at once. She had waited for Kate to reply, breathless.

"Everybody's talking about it," Katie at last responded softly, "Everybody. It's because not even a blind person could miss it. How could you have missed it?"

"I--I don't know," Amelia had stammered, "I don't know what you're even talking about."

Kate groaned. "Come on." Her voice dropped to a whisper, and she leaned in, "Jason really likes you . . . I guess you could call it obsession . . ."

"What?" Amelia had gasped. Everything began to rush together, her thoughts colliding in her head as they chased each other confusedly. She felt suddenly naive and silly. Very, very silly. Her "what?" sounded superfluous to the situation at hand. Hadn't Kate just told her? But she didn't believe it. Every girl in the school wanted Jason Wesley. He was powerfully handsome, beautiful, potent and strangely charming. The villainous hero. He always beat all the other boys at sword-fighting, wrestling, and outmatched even Jim Fairfax at horseback riding. He could shoot fair, could dance divinely, could woo a girl if he liked and catch her heart in a minute. He was what one might call, in 19th century jargon, "a devil with the ladies", because of his devil-may-care personality, countered by a fierce temper and dangerous edge of recklessness. But he did not pay any of them attention. His main focus the past few months at school could not be mistaken. He meant to make himself the head student, the primary one, the one nobody else could surpass or surmount. But one of his greatest powers was his voice. His voice could woo a nation, so spoke the choir teacher. Nobody could describe the spectacular reverberation of thrill in his voice as it rose to meet the highest notes of the Star Spangled Banner.

Only just then when Kate had told her of his obsession did Amelia begin to review the moments when he had sought her eyes in the vast auditorium at auditions for the 9/11 memorial performance. As he had sung every girl in the room must have been swept to the floor by the terrible majesty of his angelic voice. He had been singing, and his voice must have taken form, for as Amelia stood in the wings mesmerized, she had felt gentle but firm air pressured on her, beginning to swirl against and around and against her. Ecstasy filled her chest, and she could hardly think. She could only listen, entranced, as the voice lifted her from the ground. The room must have lost gravity, she thought someplace faraway in her mind, as the voice wrapped tightly about her. She could feel hands clutching at her heart, carrying her higher and higher as Jason sang, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

"In Triumph!" The triumph did burn in his eyes after the audition, as everyone stood around in the small foyer behind stage, the choir master applauding Jason's performance. Amelia had felt someone watching her as she stood with her friends, folding her arms and squeezing them with her hands to keep warm in the cold, echoing hall. The eeriness of that sensation unsettled her, and she pushed it away out of notice.

And now she was alone with him in the meadow, both on horses. She knew that she could not outrun him. He was watching her intently, curiously, when she looked back up, swallowing down her nervousness.

"I see you ride here every Saturday," he told her in that quiet, powerful voice, as he leaned in slightly. "You do love to ride, don't you?"

"Yes," Amelia said flatly, astonished. So he watched her from his lonely room in the uppermost garret, which he shared with Thomas Randolph. The thought wrought disturbance and strange delight in her soul, which she could not explain to herself.

"I thought I would join you today. I . . . need to ride. I've been spending far too much time indoors, studying the blasted history . . ." he stopped himself as a smile played at his mouth. "What do you love most in history?" he asked softly.

"I . . . I . . ." Amelia faltered. She felt unsure, afraid of the plying way with which he probed. Of course, she loved history. It was one of her best subjects, and she always found herself fascinated by it, by the study of past times and people.

"You do like the Revolution, I believe. Especially George Washington? I'm sure you can often get every bit of information on him from George Custis, can't you?"

"George is so nice to tell me everything I wish to hear," Amelia managed to reply.

Jason gave a sharp laugh, pulling himself erect. "That is why the two of you spend so much time together in the library?"

"Yes . . . yes, it is," Amelia tried to summon her confidence and composure. But she failed miserably when she caught the flaming blue fire of Jason's eyes.

"If you want to hear everything, I wouldn't ask that moonstruck fellow," he muttered. "All he must speak of is of America's beauty. And how he means to go and fight the terrorists. Ah, yes, go on, George! Go battle Jihad! We shall watch . . ."

"He is very patriotic," Amelia heard herself retort, on the defense.

Immediately Jason's voice was soft and kindly again. "Well, he should know that my dad would never let any Jihadists into America. He is with the CIA. And he won't let any terrorists through the borders."

"I hope not." Amelia was blushing again, her eyes lowering.

"Are you afraid of those absurd terrorists?" Jason had leaned close again, and his pale narrow face was lit with eagerness . . . eagerness to please her. Amelia had never seen him look so. A smile touched at the corners of her mouth.

"Someday I shall protect America just as my father does--I'll keep the lot of those terrorists away from our country. I won't let them ever reach America." Resolve built in Jason's voice. Amelia watched as he clenched his fist. "George Custis may keep to his dusty books. I'll be out there like George Washington himself, Amy. I'll be a general someday!"

"Will you?" asked Amelia shyly.

"Yes!" Jason brought his horse around to face Amelia's. "Ride with me?" Even his horse, Achilles, seemed to paw the ground with triumphant resolution.

"Okay."



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