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I'd rather be an equestrian
“Whoa,” I muttered under my breath. “Don’t be nervous,” my trainer, Cameron, said to me. The arena ahead was a voluminous, circuitous roundabout enclosed by a smooth, streamlined, white fence, oversized and intimidating. Crowds of strangers hovered around the side lines, watching and making their own judgments. I watched apprehensively as the lady with her palomino pony danced through the rounds, taking each jump with care. That would be me next.
My palms were sweating within the riding gloves and my knees were buckling over those sleek, black boots. “Don’t think of this as a competition, Leslie,” she continued when I didn’t respond. Cameron was almost fifty years old and very wise. Despite her age, she had few wrinkles and long, reddish brown hair. “You’ve already won.” Her words buzzed in my brain for a second before I realized she was right. I have already won.
A sudden flash back had me realize this. I vaguely remembered myself as a small girl gazing down at an image of a horse in a magazine. The memory was a blur yet visible.
The model horse’s coat was a mixture of the colors red and brown, chestnut. White, sock-like markings ran up three of the animal’s legs. A long, glistening, ginger mane and tail attached to this horse completed the picture. I used to dream myself upon that horse.
Ironically, my horse, Blaze, the one I was mounted on right now, had the same markings and coloring. As if Cameron could read my mind she said, “You are no longer that little girl who wishes to ride the horse of her dreams. You’re an equestrian.”
Equestrian; the word sounded so powerful. I couldn’t believe it was being referred to me. A surge of confidence soared through me as Blaze began taking us through the gate.
Once within the confines of the arena, my past, apprehensive emotion seemed insignificant. I focused myself with the almost 2,000 pound animal underneath me. Squeezing against Blaze’s sides gently with my thighs, we bounced straight into a light, trotting stride. His ears perked up immediately when he noticed the decretive, flowered jump ahead. I spun him in a wide circle, a courtesy circle, which calmed him down.
Blaze refused the first jump, unsure of the flowers. “Shoot,” I hissed through clenched teeth. I spun him into another but smaller circle before trying again, hoping for him to go over it, which he did. In fact, he practically flew over that jump as if it were three feet higher than it actually was. Adrenaline pulsed through my veins as we thundered towards the next one.
I kept a soft, gentile grip of the reins as we approached it. The way his ears pricked forward, I could tell he was more prepared. After he’d figured out that the flowers were not going to attack him, I could feel his muscles grow more at ease, less tension. Then he launched us over once more.
The following jumps after that were taken the same way, nice and simple. Blaze and I were perfectly synchronized as we gracefully flowed together. I was like the brain controlling his body. No…not his body, our body.
We were one.
Reality had escaped from my mind until Blaze took us over the final jump. I had forgotten about my surroundings; I had forgotten that I was even in a competition. Everything was a blur. So, I was stunned when the announcer called, “first place goes to Leslie and Blaze!” Holly crow, I couldn’t believe it, First place.
I hadn’t expected to win anything. I didn’t even think I was going to be ranked for fifth place let alone first. After all, this was my first competition. I could feel the tears swell up into my eyes. They were tears of joy but I forced them back. Then I patted Blaze’s neck and cooed to him in praise.
An old man with snow white hair passed me the trophy. I could feel my hand quivering as I reached down to accept it, unsure if he meant that it was for me or someone else. Was there another Leslie? My mother, bless her, was crying like a baby while she watched from the other side of the fence. I think she was about to hyperventilate.
“Great job, Leslie,” someone called with enthusiasm, “you did it!” I think it was mother. “Thanks,” I squeaked, my throat tight from holding back the tears. She and Cameron greeted me outside the arena. I slid off Blaze’s back and stumbled to my feet, dazed. My stance was awkward, toes pointed inward. I felt like my mind was clouded and obscure before the realization of my success finally sunk in.
My mother-who looked a lot like me except with laugh lines and artificial blond highlights in her hair-gave me a tight-squeezed hug. The shiny, gold trophy remained in my guarded, safe grip. I would’ve had to been attacked by a grizzly bear in order to let go of it. Wow, I thought, I can’t believe this is happening.
Now I was about to hyperventilate.
“Good boy,” I said to Blaze. The people I knew crowded around him, showering him with their praises. I could see the hint of a grin on Blaze’s face even though his expressions weren’t human. But, he knew as well as I did that we had something to feel proud about.
“Good job, Leslie,” my friend, Kiera, said, “I can’t believe you got first place on your first show.” For some reason, I couldn’t detect any enthusiasm in her voice. “Oh, thank you,” I replied, unsure.
Kiera had a lovely, slender figure, tanned skin and black, wavy, exotic hair. She looked and acted nice but sometimes, I had the feeling she was secretly infuriated with me. “Maybe someday, you’ll win as many ribbons as me,” she probed. I could have sworn I sensed a competitive edge to her voice.
Thankfully, Cameron interrupted, “You’re up for the next competition, Kiera.” Then Kiera mounted onto her brown gelding and strutted into the arena. Once she was out of the way, Cameron glanced over towards me and said, “You were fantastic. I’m so proud of you, Leslie.” Then she reached her arm around me, giving me a gentle one-armed hug before turning her attention towards the arena.
I guided Blaze to a park bench where I sat and he stood beside me loyally. My mother shadowed me, never more than a few inches distance from my side. “Do you want me to grab you a smoothie or something, dear? After your big competition, you ought to have some sugar in you.”
“Yes please,” I answered quickly. My throat did feel parched and I needed some time alone to gather my thoughts. “Okay, I’ll be back soon,” she concluded before dashing away in a flurry.
Once alone, I inhaled deeply. Here, within the shelter of trees and shrubs, away from people, I could breathe without being bombarded with others. “Wow, Blaze, you are a blue ribbon winner,” I was convincing myself more than him. He grunted smugly as if he understood my words. I couldn’t help but let a low chuckle slide through my lips.
I untied the string which held my number plate firmly across my back and let it fall to the ground. “Hello,” a soft, euphonic voice startled me. “Whoa,” I gasped, “who’s there?” Blaze didn’t seem moved by it; unlike me, he remained calm.
Just then, a boyish figure appeared from behind a bush. “I’m sorry to startle you. Congratulations on first place. Er, you’re Ms. Lorraine’s daughter right?” His voice sounded like it was trying to be casual. He meandered towards me with his eyes down at his feet. An introvert, I could tell. I used to be one but spending so much time with an almost 2,000 pound, four legged creature helped to break down my wall of reserve.
“Yes, I am. My name’s Leslie Lorraine. And, thanks,” I retorted. I could see a slight smile shape the corners of his lips as he slowly lifted his head without meeting my gaze. He had the cutest baby face I’d ever seen. His hair was a thick, luscious wave of dark brown. “I’m Claude,” his voice croaked. Blaze whinnied as if to introduce himself. “This is Blaze,” I added, gesturing with my hand towards him.
Claude chuckled loudly when Blaze lifted his front leg out towards him. “Well, nice to meet you too, Blaze,” he laughed. “So, why are you here?” I wondered. The humor suddenly vanished in his expression. Then he met my eyes for the first time. His eyes were a dazzling, bright blue which glistened in the sparkle of the sun’s rays. He watched me intently in silence. I was breathless.
Those eyes had me at awe instantly. It was like I was under his spell. And my trophy, once wrapped in my secure grip, slipped and hit the ground with a thud. I don’t know how long we stared at each other but I felt as if an electric current was passing through us. Slowly, he approached me and my only instinct was to remain still. Even Blaze, who I saw through a peripheral peek, was practically a statue.
My breathing was heavy and uneven as Claude took a seat by me. Cautiously, he intertwined his fingers through mine, holding my hand, sending a shock wave down my spine. “What are you?” I managed to ask through my breath. The wave of magnetic energy drawing me towards him was a clear indicator that he couldn’t be mortal. An angel maybe, but probably not human, I analyzed.
“Leslie Lorraine,” he spoke my name as if reciting poetry. “You may not understand this now but, I am part of you.” His tone was surprisingly firm now, shyness gone. He was right; I didn’t understand this at all.
Just then, he let go of my hand as my mother emerged from a path through the shrubs and handed me my smoothie. For some reason, my mother’s presence changed the mood of the atmosphere. I felt at ease to move again. Even Blaze fidgeted, shifting his weight on another foot. Forgetting how thirsty I’d been, I gulped down my drink, feeling the cool liquid run down my dry throat.
“Hello, Ms. Lorraine. I believe we’ve met before. I’m Claude.”
“Oh, hello, Claude, I know you. You’re Cameron’s cousin right?”
“Actually, I’m her nephew.”
“Right, I remember.”
I had finished the entire cup by the time my mother muttered that last word. Cameron was Claude’s aunt? I was slightly surprised by this news. “Why haven’t we met you before?” I asked curiously after I took my last sip. He winced at the sound of my voice for some reason I couldn’t imagine.
“Well,” he stuttered, returning to his shy disposition, looking down at the ground beneath him, “I don’t really see her that often. She suggested that I come watch this horse show with her and that’s why I’m here. But,” he glanced up at me, serious again, “I plan to start visiting a lot more often.”
“What’s the reason for this change?” She asked, exchanging a suspicious glance between us. I felt on edge by his stare. Finally, he looked back towards my mother. “I found my purpose,” he answered coolly before turning his gaze back to me.
The car was silent the whole way home as my mother drove. I held my trophy firmly on my lap. My thoughts were racing the entire way from the competition. I was both astonished from my win and clouded by my earlier experience with Claude. I remembered his eyes. Yes, those eyes which had me under his trance. What did he mean when he said he was apart of me?
Our house was in a rural area surrounded by trees and various forests. Kiera and her mother were in the red truck behind us. Her horse was in our trailer with Blaze. Once parked in our driveway, I lead Blaze out of the trailer with ease. He seemed pleased to be home again.
Kiera flashed me a scowl before she went in to let her horse out. What was that about? We walked our horses to their stalls in silence while our moms chatted about different subjects. “Are you mad at me or something?” I finally asked her once I had poured some grain into Blaze’s trough.
“Oh, like you don’t know.”
Huh? Did I miss something?
“Claude really seems to like you.”
“You know him?”
“Yeah, Cameron usually brings him to competitions. He has this weird ability. He can sense when two people are soul mates. I guess he sensed that you were his.”
“I’m Claude’s soul mate?” I almost laughed at the idea.
“I asked him to find my soul mate for me once. And he made up some excuse that soul mates are rare and finding mine would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. It’s not fair! Why do you get your soul mate and I don’t?!?” Her lip puckered at the last statement.
That’s why she was mad. She was jealous. Perhaps she was also jealous that I won first place. But why would she get all emotional over finding her soul mate? That’s when I came to the conclusion that Kiera must be a hopeless romantic. I chuckled at that thought.
“What’s so funny?” She demanded. “Nothing,” I answered. Relax Kiera, I wanted to say to her. She was taking this way too seriously. Did she really believe that anyone could sense the presence of soul mates? C’mon!
She was fuming at me now. “You’d better watch yourself, Lorraine. I can get fierce.” Her feeble, little threat sounded like it came from a harmless kitten. Well, she was finally opening herself up to me, at least. She used to act nice to me but now she was letting it all spill out of her. I don’t know why I found this all so amusing. She stomped her foot to express her anger. That, too, was hilarious.
Dressed for bed in no time that night, I burrowed into my quilt and curled into a little ball. Then slowly but easily, I drifted into sleep.
The next morning I ran through my routine, stepping into the hot shower then drying myself off with a towel. I slipped on my tan riding breeches and an old t-shirt. Then after sliding on my boots, I stepped outside to the backyard and prepared to tack Blaze up for riding.
I was stunned when I saw Claude standing in the stable doorway. Blaze already had his saddle and bridle on. “Did you…?” I wondered. He nodded at my unfinished question. “Why?”
“I told you. I’m apart of you. Or…you’re apart of me. Whatever works?” He flashed me a crooked grin. Then he looked into my eyes again and the same thing happened. I was under his spell again. I remained stiff as he approached, his face inches from mine now.
His breath felt warm and soothing against my skin. Then, so fast it was a blur, he pecked a kiss on my cheek. He looked away then, and I could think clearly. “What do you mean about being apart of me?” I asked, whipping my cheek where he’d kissed it.
“Well,” he started explaining. “Everyone has a person in the world that is perfectly and chemically compatible with them. It’s called a soul mate.” Oh, gosh. Here we go again with the soul mates. “It’s a science really. And, I have the ability to sense this connection between people. Nobody knows why. It’s as unexplainable as people who can see the future or super smart geniuses.”
I waited impatiently for more explanation. “Leslie Lorraine, I’m your soul mate.” I rolled my eyes. “Haven’t you noticed how you are hypnotized when you look into my eyes?” I glanced away before he could show me. I didn’t want to be under a trance. “It’s because we’re chemically made for each other,” he continued when I didn’t respond.
“Okay, just don’t kiss me again. Yuck.”
“Sorry,” he murmured bashfully in response.
For two weeks, he came to my house and tacked up my horse for me. It was driving me crazy. Still infuriated with me, Kiera gave me the cold shoulder every time she came out to visit her horse. I ignored her. I didn’t want to get involved in her immature jealousy.
I also ignored Claude. He was annoying me. And, I avoided his eyes as much as possible. Yes, I didn’t want to admit it but, I could see what he meant. He was my soul mate, I could tell; I could just feel it.
“Leslie, what’s the matter with you?” he asked me when we were alone. “Can’t you see that we’re destined to be together?” Ugh, when would he just leave me alone? “Yes,” I admitted. He raised his eye brows. “But, I’m not interested.” I simply said. He looked baffled.
I guess I’d have to explain it to him sooner or later. “Claude,” I started. “I’m not interested in having a boyfriend. I’ve never been. And, honestly,” I sighed, “I probably never will be. Okay?”
His face fell. “So, what do you mean? You don’t like guys? Does that mean you like…” his voice trailed off. I could see what he was getting at. “No,” I answered immediately. “I mean, I’m a loner. All I want to do is continue with horse riding. I want to compete. That’s all. I’ve never been romantic.”
“Out of all the girls in the world, you had to be my soul mate.”
I smiled apologetically.
“You rejected him?!?” Kiera scolded. I told her thinking that it would resolve this silly dispute between us. “You’re so ungrateful!”
I was wrong.
Her rage resulted in dating Claude, hoping this would make me furious. In reality, it really didn’t. But, even though he decided to be her boyfriend as result of loneliness, Claude said he’d always wait for me. So, who knows what the future may hold? My only goal now was to be the best equestrian I could be; to follow my dream.
Equestrian, I thought to myself.
A feeling of pride and strength came with the word.