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In Deep Waters
The day had come to an end as the sun fell behind the earth and darkness peered over the covers. The same thing happened to the rest of my world as Katelyn Dale. I was 16 years old and couldn’t scrape a memory from my mind that equaled up to the awful day I had just lived out.
I shut my eyes and tried hard to wash out the events that had happened the past 48 hours of my life. But as hard as I tried, I failed, and everything came rushing back, as if it was all happening again.
It was a bright sunny July morning, in the town of Modesto, California. I’d just finished serving my mother’s parents, Paul and Jeanie Harrison a breakfast that consisted of eggs and pancakes. I was about to head on my way to Lone Pine Stables, the place I had learned to ride, and where I’d kept my horse, Harley, for the entire four years I’d owned him.
I said good bye as my grandparents munched happily in silence and I slipped on my running shoes. Lone Pine Stables was only 3 quarters of a mile away from my grandparent’s house, so since laziness was an attribute I didn’t like, I had come up with an idea awhile ago to run to the stables on days when it was nice. This happened to be almost every day during the spring, summer, and fall. But I enjoyed it, and it kept me in shape. The only disadvantage was that my friends at the barn teased me about running in my breeches. But I didn’t really mind too much because I had convinced myself it was just simply a more convenient way.
Before heading out the door, I set the play list of all my favorite music on my mp3 player and then shoved the little device in the one and only pocket in my tan breeches. I jogged my usual route that I took to Lone Pine, speeding up once I reached the beginning of the drive way, watching the wooden fences of all the many pastures and paddocks fume by from the corner of my eye.
Not long after I was at the barn entrance and found my way quickly to the utility room that housed a bathroom, a mini kitchen, couch, washer & dryer and personal lockers for the boarders. Lone Pine was no fancy stable of perfect high quality. Despite the few things in it that had been remodeled, it had a historic look about it with its large old wooden stalls, creaky but sturdy doors, and humungous yet well used arenas. But it certainly held everything needed to keep a horse owner happy.
I undid my combination lock and grabbed my tall riding boots, replacing their spot with my running shoes.
I was just about to zip up my second boot when I felt the presence of someone near me. I looked up to be greeted by a pair of dancing sparkly blue eyes that belonged to my best riding buddy, Carly Evans. Carly had an oval shaped face with bouncy black hair and a pretty young face that denied her age of 18.
“Guess what!” Carly chimed in her voice that people claimed sounded identical to mine.
“What’s going on?” I asked boredom. Carly over exaggerated everything.
“Tina is buying a stallion!” Carly announced excitedly.
“Really now, Tina, as in “our” Tina?” I replied skepticall.
“Hmm, well what other Tina do we know?”
“I assume her husband Mike is going to help with the handling of the stud, right?”
“Of course! Unless, Tina is too stubborn! You know how she gets.”
I smirked for I knew how feisty that little lady could be. I also laughed at the picture I imagined in my head of petite Tina Myler, the owner and manager of Lone Pine, as well as being my riding instructor for as long as I could remember, trying to control a big stallion ten times the size of her.
Then I realized Carly was staring at me.
“What?” I asked defensively.
“Is that all you have to say?”
“Huh, No! What makes you think that?” I unleashed all the curiosities that were forming in my head at the moment. “So tell me then, what kind of horse is it? When is she getting him? Tell me his color and his name!”
“One at a time!” Carly said holding up her finger.
I smiled at how impatient my friend could be at times, folded my hands and shoved them in between my legs.
“Alright! I think I heard her say she’s getting him in three or four weeks and he’s coming here from somewhere way down in southern California. Then she said he was half Hanoverian and half Oldenburg. A pretty good mix I think. He’s a bay I think or maybe a black, I can’t remember. She didn’t have a picture on her. Ooooh! How can I not remember!?” Carly degraded herself and clunked her fist against her head a few times. Then she paused and burst out boldly, “Let’s go with a bay!”
I stifled a small laugh, “Ok Carly! Whatever floats your boat!” I patted her on the back and stood up from the rock hard couch that looked like it belonged in a dumpster, not a horse stable.
“So, what’s his name?”
“Moon Dance Away, I think it was and she said she was gonna call him Danny.”
“Hmmm, that’s sort of cute. But I don’t know if it would fit a stallion.”
“Yeah, I guess we’ll have to wait on Tina for that..”
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and glanced at the time. It read 9 ‘o’ clock and I figured that if I was to beat the hot California heat, then I should get Harley ready to ride.
“Have you ridden yet?” I asked reaching for the door as Carly followed me out and down the wide rubber matted aisle.
“Yeah, I did earlier this morning. I’m babysitting and meeting with Aaron at his house this afternoon, so I snuck my ride in before hand.”
She caught me off guard. “Aaron? Who’s that?”
“Uh, my boyfriend.” she stated bluntly as if I should’ve known.
“Well, according to me, I didn’t know you had one.” I said slowly and cautiously so she’d take the hint.
“Oh.” she looked surprised and turned away, embarrassed. “I guess it would make sense if you didn’t know. I mean, he only asked me out yesterday. We met at work.” She peeked up at me through her long dark eyelashes.
I let loose a quite laugh that I always seem to have around my friend. “Carly! You make me laugh!”
Just then a few horses nickered as if setting a wake up call in Carly’s mind. She perked up and said, “Well, I should be going. I guess I’ll see you around!” She waved good bye and the rest of the barn grew silent. Normally there was at least one stable hand cleaning stalls or one of Tina’s lesson girls lingering around longer than usual. Today though, it looked empty, so I turned on the radio and let is disperse throughout the barn.
I spent a good grooming session with my horse until his dark chocolate bay shined and gleamed. “Such a good boy, Harley!” I praised the gentle gelding, giving him a big hug and patting his neck. None of my other stable friends who I usually hung out with, Derek, Kara, or Cassie showed up, so I tacked up and rode Harley for an hour in the indoor ring that was next door to the barn. Harley, being the usual awesome horse that he was, did everything I asked of him. He was so well trained and such a joy to ride. I always had to remind myself that he was finally mine. I could remember the first day I saw him 9 years ago and how I’d always wanted to love him like my own. And now that’s just what I did every single instant of my life.
When I was finished riding and Harley was settled out in one of his favorite pastures with his barn buddy, Jasmine, I jogged home.
The Harrison house was quite when I got home. It was only around noon time, so my grandparents were usually home at this hour unless there were emergency things that needed to be taken care of which was basically never.
“Gran? Grandpa?” I called through the hollow house. Gran answered from the kitchen.
“In here dear!”
I came through the door way and Gran motioned me to sit. I pulled out a chair from the table and sat down next to my grandpa who seem to have his mind somewhere else temporarily.
“I’m making sandwiches, would you like one Kate?”
“Sure, thank you Gran.”
Grandpa tuned back into the conversation and patted my hand.
“Did you have a good ride, honey?” His gruff but gentle voice warmed my heart like it always did when he spoke. “Harley was fantastic, grandpa!”
“Good!” he replied cheerfully, his thin white hair shaking as he nodded his head as he sat contently in his wheel chair. The crow feet around his eyes showed even more as he smiled at me. I smiled back before Gran began to talk.
“Teresa called after you left. I filled her in on what’s happened around here lately.”
I thought for sure I caught Gran swapping a knowing glance at Grandpa when she said that.
“Why’d she call?” I asked in a voice that was too snobby for Gran to not notice.
“Just to check in on us. She’s still family you know.”
Teresa was my older sister. She was twenty years old and in her third year of
college. We’d never been close, but we did use to be friends. We emailed a few times a month. But other than that we hardly kept in contact, except for when she called me here at our grandparents.
“How’s everything with her?” I asked sweetly, trying to make up for my previous question.
Gran seemed satisfied that I was asking about Teresa, even if it wasn’t all that interesting to me.
“Good, actually! She said school is going well and that she met a nice young man. They’ve only talked over coffee a few times, but the way she talks about him, I can tell there’s something special with those two.
I just nodded along, playing with my fingers while only half listening.
“Isn’t that nice? Katelyn?”
“Huh? Yeah that’s good. Did she mention his name?”
“Uh no, she didn’t. I don’t know why. I didn’t bother to ask either.” Gran pondered while she slapped the top pieces of bread to the bottom ones. She piled the sandwiches on a plate and brought them over to the table, placing them in the middle so both Grandpa and I could reach. She handed me a napkin and I pulled a half turkey sandwich off the plate and laid it on my napkin. Before sitting down, my Grandma placed her cane down on the floor.
Then it hit me. There seemed to be a sudden tension and I could see Gran stiffen beside me. Even Grandpa’s presence changed. Both straightened more and crossed their arms.
“Kate, hon, your grandfather and I need to talk to you about something.” Gran urged gently.
My mind raced uncontrollably. “Like what?” I asked taking a bite from my sandwich trying to act normal. A tired sigh escaped my grandma.
“There are going to be some changes in the next few weeks.”
My mind raced before I could stop it. Nothing that I could think of had gone wrong lately, unless it had something to do with my dad.
Ever since my father, Johnny Dale divorced my mother, Connie, when I was only 3 years old and Teresa was 7, he immaturely made some irrational decisions, causing him to lose everything he once held dear. After getting addicted to drinking, drugs, women, and even involving himself in criminal work, he reserved a twenty year jail sentence for auto theft and murder. The news was so devastating for my mother that I thought she wouldn’t survive. After all, the man she had once loved was now an entirely different person and her two daughters no longer had a father to love and cherish them.
But my mother encouraged my sister and me, promising us we would pull through this together. Then she met Tony Hinder, my step-dad, almost 4 years ago and fell in love. But until 2 years ago, after only being happily married to Tony for two years, My mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away 5 quick months later. Before she died, my mother insisted that I go to live with my grandparents since I was still only 14 and just going into high school. My sister on the other hand, was just graduating and heading off to college. Therefore, my step dad moved away for reasons we didn’t know. Tony had gotten to know my sister and I a little bit, but we’d never had any real relationship of any sort. So my step dad and I rarely kept in contact. In fact we had lost all contact for the most part.
I was brought back to reality and realized that my grandmother had a tear spilling from her eye.
“Yes Gran?” I could feel the panic seeping from my voice.
“Katelyn, we need you to understand. Your grandpa and I are getting old. You need somebody younger, more agile and mobile that can provide better care for you, sweetie, with what you need…”
“But Gran, I can take care of myself! I’m grown up now! And I need to stay here and take care of you and Grandpa!”
Gran gave me a hopeless yet stern look that told me to be quiet.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
“Honey, that’s exactly my point. You are taking care of us, when we should be taking care of you!”
There was a short pause while Gran glanced at Grandpa who gave a slight nod at whatever Gran was unsure about.
At that moment, I realized how old my grandparents really were. I’d never given thought to it, but they were withered little people whose strength was weakening every day. But I wasn’t going to give up that easily.
Gran continued, “In a few months, your grandfather and I are going to…” she broke and a tear slipped down her cheek. “Your grandfather and I are losing the house. We’ve given up payments for the past few months.”
My grandma began to cry and my grandpa tried to stand up to comfort her. I couldn’t even move.”
“We contacted your step dad in Kalbarri, Australia…” my grandpa started.
“Australia?” I interrupted violently.
Gran took no heed of my interruption and continued. “He said he’d be delighted to have you come live with him and his wife, Lori.”
“What!? NO!” I cried, standing up and knocking my chair over in the process. “I don’t want to go live in some other country I’ve never been to before! What about Harley? I can’t leave him! And all my friends? I’ll never see them again! What about finishing school here? And you guys! I’ll never see any of you again!” My words tumbled out so badly I wasn’t sure if Gran and Grandpa even understood what I had said.
Gran held up her hand in attempt to silence me. It just irritated me more so I folded my arms so I wouldn’t hurt myself, anyone, or anything. She motioned for me to sit again. I felt like a steam engine as my face pulsed with heated blood. I did as Gran wanted me to, pulling up my chair with an aggressive jerk and tried hard to focus and listen.
“We’ve been saving for awhile. We knew this was going to happen. So we agreed to put money away for you instead of trying to save the house for a few more months. We weren’t quite sure at first, but we’ve put extra money aside for you for some years now anyway, so if anything ever happened to one of us while you were still living with us, you’d have some money to support yourself for a little while. After Grandpa and I talked this over, we decided to take some of that money to pay for your plane ticket to Australia, and to ship Harley down there to live with you.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased, or angry. I considered being both at the same time, but the anger over took. I hadn’t spoken to my step dad for awhile, so I had no idea where he had been living, or anything. “Where will I keep Harley?”
“Your step dad lives on a big working horse and cattle ranch, Kate. Did you not know that?”
“Uh, no! I don’t exactly talk to him every day! Will Harley be going by airplane or boat?”
“Boat, airplane is too expensive. We’ll ship him out the day you leave so he can
arrive there about two days after you.”
I gripped my thick dark chocolate brown hair at the top of my head and felt like ripping out all the red and light brown highlights I’d had put in a week ago.
“Harley has never been on a boat before! What if he freaks?” I struggled to hold it together.
Neither Gran nor Grandpa answered. Gran just continued on her little spiel. “We’ve booked you a flight on the twenty third, two weeks from today. We have your schedule and everything. We’ll call your step dad, Tony when you leave and have him come pick you up at the airport.” Gran seemed to be finished finally and I felt the tears burn down my face as if they were leaving permanent streaks.
Gran didn’t say anything else, so I felt it was my turn to talk.
“So that’s it then, you just go and make all these decisions, plans, and arrangements without letting me know or have any say in what happens to my life? I guess you still must think of me as a little girl!” I tried not to shout before tearing from the room and storming into my small bedroom. The sobs came harder then. I was sure my pillow would be flooded in the next hour.
The rest of the day passed and I still couldn’t hold back the painful sobs. The tears had stopped after all the water deserted my now dry eyes, but that was the only thing that changed. I didn’t go to dinner or come out of my bedroom the rest of the evening. I cried myself to sleep before my grandparents could come check on me and fortunately slept peaceful throughout the night.
When morning came, still nothing had changed. I could still feel my body shaking and my heart breaking. I checked my clock and saw that the time read 5:30. I had an hour and a half before my grandparents would be up to start the day.
I decided to get up and drive over to Mumbo’s Coffee shop in the middle of town where my best friend, who I’d known since 4th grade, worked. She wouldn’t be there until 8:00, but I figured I could just wait in my car, sleep, or listen to music. Anything but sit here and cry like I had the day before.
My face was still slightly swollen and red, but I freshened up by washing my face, applying a small amount of mascara and combing my hair. I checked myself over in the mirror, only disappointed that I looked like I’d been sick and stuck in bed for the past week. People always told me I was beautiful, but I always believed they were just being nice. I mean, who was going to call someone ugly? Well, except for the times like today.
Despite both my parents part Indian bloodlines, my inherited light brown skin didn’t help my paleness at all. I still looked somewhat sickly, like all the color from my face had drained out over night. Even my bright deep sea blue eyes looked blank and empty.
I went out and got in my car after leaving a brief note for my grandparents in the kitchen. The garage door rumbled to life and started to lift, so I shifted my car into drive and sped out of my grandparent’s quarter mile long drive way as fast as I could without being noticed. I was enjoying this freedom of being able to drive without adult supervision. But it only added to the fact that I was now on my own more than ever. As I drove in silence through town, I tuned my brain out so I didn't’ have to listen to all the thoughts jabbing around inside my head. About eight minutes later I pulled into the small parking lot that surrounded two sides of Mumbo’s coffee shop and parked my silver compact car in a parking spot near the front door. Once the car was still, I leaned my head back, hoping that the nearing future didn’t hold anything so troubling that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.
When I awoke I realized I had fallen asleep. Thankful that I had, I looked around and saw that people were buzzing around. Cars were out on the street and my car clock read that it was 8:15. My best friend Leslie Robinson was definitely at work by now.
I hit the lock key on my car and stormed through the opening double doors slightly less than I wanted to so people wouldn’t stare or question my behavior. I spotted Leslie rushing around behind the counter, filling cups and snapping lids while telling her co-worker how much whip cream needed to be put on each drink.
Leslie didn’t see me, so I got in line. The two people in front of me went quickly and then it was my turn. Suddenly, it was brought to my attention that I hadn’t decided what I was ordering.
“Hi!” Leslie welcomed me. “What brings you here this morning?”
“You’ll never guess. Can we talk?”
“Oh ok, give me 5 minutes and then I’ll tell Lily I’m taking a quick break.” Leslie nodded, gave me a knowing look that she understood something was up.
“Alright. So uh, what’s your special today?”
“White peppermint mocha. You want that?”
“Sure. I’ll try it. Just a small please.”
Leslie got to work on my mocha while I scrimmaged in my pocket for money. I didn’t have any so I motioned to Leslie that I was going out to my car.
I grabbed a five dollar bill from the glove compartment that was supposed to go towards gas money and forgot that I’d left my cell phone on the seat. The screen informed me that there had been two missed calls from my grandparent’s house. I flipped the phone back on the seat and went inside.
My mocha was waiting for me when I came back in, so I paid at the counter and wandered my way over to a small two person table by one of the many windows in the casual coffee shop. I waited patiently, drinking my coffee slower than what was probably normal until Leslie came over and pulled a chair out in front of me.
“Let’s hear it.” Leslie said, looking up at me with her green eyes underneath her blonde, styled, straight across bangs.
I started from the beginning, replaying the whole conversation, my grandmother’s words, and my words. When I finished, it looked like Leslie’s jaw was no longer connected to her mouth and her eyes had been frozen in a wide eyed position.
I pressed my lips together and faked a smile. It was my way of showing Leslie that I was frustrated to the bone.
After Leslie still didn’t respond, I snapped my fingers in front of her face. She still didn't move. But I could see water outlining the edges of her eyes as if she were about to cry.
“Leslie, do I need to call the ambulance?”
Leslie frowned and shook her head, “No, don’t be silly this isn’t funny. I’m just shocked.”
We both sat there for a minute, thinking. “I didn’t wear much make up for a reason.” I whispered.
Leslie ignored my comment.
I nodded very slowly.
“I mean, if you were moving to another state, that’d be one thing, but….but Australia? That’s half way around the world!”
I didn't’ respond because I couldn’t. My emotions rarely took control of me when I was upset, but this was more than I could have ever imagined. Fiery tears avalanched from my eyes again, but this time, there were no sobs.
“I don’t want to go, Leslie. I’m going to miss everything. And I don’t want to move down to a place I never been before and live with a whole bunch of strangers.” I sighed before continuing. “I’m so glad Harley’s coming with me, if he wasn’t, I’d for sure be a fish out of water down there in that dried old desert, swarming with all those down under dog cowboys.”
There was a faint smile on Leslie’s face, but it slipped away just as quick as it appeared.
Leslie gave a quick glance over at where she should’ve been working.
I noticed. “I should probably let you get back to work.”
Leslie opened her eyes really big, looking like a sad little puppy. She always had those eyes when she was sad.
“Call me later after you get off work, ok? Then we can meet somewhere.” I told her.
Leslie nodded, hugged me tight and went back to the coffee kitchen.
I got back in my car and went back home, without calling my Gran back.
Once I was home, I didn’t even stop to say hello or mention I was home. I went straight to my room, which was right next to the laundry room that led into the garage. My grandparent’s house wasn’t very large, but it wasn’t too small either. Once in my room, I slipped my breeches on, but instead of putting on my running shoes, I slid my socked feet into my fuzzy slippers that were made for walking around outside. There was no way I’d be able to handle running, so I took my car.
Tina was in view when I pulled up and parked in the small Lone Pine dirt parking area. I hurriedly put my riding boots on in the utility room, and then stalked off to talk to Tina.
When I found her, she was as cheery as ever.
“Well, hello Kate! It’s good to see you!” I knew Tina well enough to know she was ignoring my desperate appearance.
I tried to deliver a happy smile, but I didn’t succeed very well.
“Hi Tina. Is there somewhere we can talk?”
Tina didn’t look surprised, “Yeah, how about in my office right now?”
“That’d be good. Thanks.”
Once we were settled in her office, I brought the subject directly up front.
“Tina, I might be moving to Australia.” I kept the might in there in case there was any hope I could stay.
My riding instructor frowned deeply. “Why there?”
“Well, it’s where my step dad lives and it’s where my grandparents want me to go.”
“Oooh sounds like a tough situation, Kate. What about Harley?”
“My grandparents are going to ship him down there for me.”
“By boat or airplane?”
“Boat.” I replied with a doomed voice. “He’s never been on one before, has he?” I asked.
Tina use to own Harley and competed him in advanced hunter jumper shows when he was young. She and Harley excelled at their competitions, but after Mike, Tina’s husband bought her an even better horse awhile later, Harley was just used for lessons before I bought him. Now he was twelve years old and even better at jumping than he’d ever been. Harley wasn’t the only one who loved to jump. I did too. Ever sense I laid my eyes on him, I had wanted to jump him. He was so big and athletic, and had the most ideal conformation for jumping. Just as I’d hoped, he’d turned out to be a magnificent jumping horse.
Tina and I went to competitions around town and to a few towns outside our area. We did really well and Harley was so eager to please. Since I had been taking jumping lessons for about 6 years, I only had experience riding English. I’d never been in a western saddle my entire life. Going to live on a ranch in Australia, where they only rode in large, unfamiliar western saddles, would be an entirely different experience, for both Harley, and me.
Tina seemed to be thinking about answering my question as she squinted at me.
“I’m 99% sure he hasn’t. Which isn’t a good thing. I’ve heard bad stories of horses being too traumatized on the boat that they can’t be brought off. Oh dear, why am I telling you this?” She mumbled that last part to herself.
I didn’t respond, lost in my thoughts.
Tina spoke again. “I remember when you came to me on the day of your first riding lesson when you were just 7. You wanted to jump so badly. And then you begged me for the next 3 years.” Tina paused and studied her feet. “Now you’re moving to a western horse ranch way down under!” Tina teased me, smiling her wide friendly smile.
For the first time sense yesterday, I smiled because I wanted to. She was right. A working horse and cattle ranch in the desert was the last place someone like me belonged.
“Now you promise me that you keep on jumping that beautiful horse of yours, alright?”
“I promise you Tina! They won’t make me sit in one of those Western saddles even if it kills me!” I teased back.
“Why don’t I give you my email address so you can email me when you get down there and keep me updated, ok?”
Tina looked at me suddenly with shock, “They will have computers down there, right?”
I shrugged my shoulders. If I were to give a speech on Australia based on my current knowlege, all I could inform the audience would be that kangaroos lived down there and it was where the Sydney Opera house was located.
“Alright well here it is anyways. I left my phone number in case you can’t email me. You can also call me whenever.”
She handed me a slip of paper. “Now when are you leaving?”
“Sooner than I’ll ever be ready for.” I mumbled to myself.
“Ah Kate, I’m going to miss you so much! Make sure to take pictures and send them to me ok? And you’ll come back to visit right?”
“Make sure you come and see me!”
Tina and I finished our conversation. Then I went off to see if I had any riding buddies around. When I came down the far end of the stable corridor, I spotted a group of people down by the tack room, next to the entrance doors. When I reached them, I recognized all my friends, Derek, Kara, Cassie, and Carly. They were all chatting about something and for the first time in the past few weeks, all of us were here at the same time, which I found coincidental. Derek was the first to greet me.
“Hey Kate! Long time no see!”
My friends and I all exchanged hugs. “So what’s up with you guys?” I asked.
“We were just talking about you.” Kara stated.
“Oh? Is that a good thing or bad thing?” I responded cheerfully, trying to disguise my hurting spirit.
“Good thing!” Kara laughed. “We thought it would be fun if we could put on like a little horse day camp thing for all of Tina’s lesson girls. We thought we could have like a ride time where we can like give them pointers and let them work on stuff. Then have horsey games on foot and in the saddle.”
“And Derek here is gonna be the cook and make them all lunches!” Cassie teased poking Derek in the rib. He just rolled his eyes..
“And what do you think about this Derek?” I asked, knowing he’d appreciate a say in whatever was taking place.
“Thank you, Kate, for acknowledging my opinion,” he said loudly, sending the other girls a silly face that was supposed to be a dirty look. “I think it would be a marvelous idea….for you guys. But I don’t want to hang around with a bunch of little girls all day long! I have work to do around this place you know!”
“Hmm, that’s what I thought.” I laughed out loud.
Poor Derek, ever sense he’d gotten into horses as a boy, he’d always been teased, and treated like a girl. I tried my best not I do that to him. But now that he kept his own horse at Lone Pine with a bunch of girls, he still got teased for it. But he’d once told me that he could care less now.
Kara began talking about the day camp again, “So Kate, we were wondering if maybe you’d do a little jumping demonstration for the girls or something? Just so they can watch it for themselves, up close and personal?”
“Uh, I don’t know. I’d love to, but I’ll have to get back to you on that ok?”
“Ok sure!” Kara answered brightly figuring everything was just fine.
My friends and I talked for a little while longer before we all decided to tack up and ride together. As we all went our separate ways, I grabbed Carly’s arm before she could get too far.
“Hey, when are they planning this little day camp thing?”
Carly thought for a moment before replying. “I think next month, sometime in August.”
“Aw! Just one more thing to miss out on!” I cried quietly.
“What’s that?” Carly asked, concern flowing in her voice.
“Carly, I need to tell you something.”
Most the time, after I told people something over and over, it grew easier, but after telling Leslie and Tina, it was just getting harder to share the news of my hopefully nonexistent big move.
“Well, something has come up, and I have to go live with my step dad…..in…in
“Why?” Carly frowned. “What about Harley, and all your friends, and school? You’re only going to be a junior this year! You have two more years still before you need to go away!” she whined quietly.
“I know, I know! But Carly, I’ll be going to school down there.”
“Oh, right.” Carly said, shaking her long black hair behind her pale shoulders. She straightened out the baby blue tank top she was wearing and then asked the question I hated the most. “When?”
“The 23rd. A week and six days from today.”
“That’s hardly any time!”
“Tell me about it.” I groaned.
“Have you told the others?”
“I’d rather not.”
“But Kate, you need to! They’ll be devastated if you leave without telling…”
“I’m going to tell them! I just, I just don’t want to.” I said softy.
Carly stared at me and then wrapped her arms around me. I was only 5 feet and five inches tall, but she was so short that the top of her head barely reached my eyes when I leaned down and hugged her. I noticed Cassie watching us down by her horse’s stall at the end of the aisle way.
The rest laid out to be harder than I thought. Cassie had asked me if something was wrong and when I tried to explain, a rush of unexpected tears overpowered my eyes and then everyone came over and poured out sympathy for me. They all gave me hugs and tried to express how much they’d miss them, when all I wanted to do was tell them I’d find some way to stay here in the States and continue a normal life.
But when I went home, my grandparents were both sitting in their recliners watching TV. I felt their eyes glued to my back as I passed by them and into the kitchen to get a class of water. I knew there was no changing their minds. But I also knew the word “quitter” was not in my vocabulary. As the cool liquid ran down my throat I realized that I had been really thirsty, but I just hadn’t noticed. I figured it was probably from all that crying I’d been doing.
Before heading off to my room, I grabbed a granola bar to tide me over for the moment.
“I’m making dinner in twenty minutes.” Gran informed me. I was sure she was looking at the granola bar in my clenched hand but I pretended not to notice.
“Ok.” I replied, ignoring the slight warning I’d taken from her.
When I unwrapped the oat and honey granola square, the thing appeared to be squished. It hadn’t been brought to my attention that I’d been squeezing it so hard. I ate it anyways and flopped on my bed, taking a Horse Illustrated magazine along with me.
The rest of the evening passed. I had ended up meeting one more time with Leslie, and we talked for about an hour. Then after coming home, having a boring and quiet dinner, and after showering I hit the sack early. Staying awake at night no longer appealed to me anymore. It just gave me more time to think, which was exactly what I didn’t want.
As I laid in bed, I tried to scheme up ideas of how I could change Gran and Grandpa’s mind. But their blank unchanging faces came back to me. I figured I could tell them to return the plane ticket and use the money to buy me an apartment of my own somewhere in town near their retirement center. But then I felt bad returning the expensive air plane ticket. But just as soon as the guilt came, it disappeared. But could I override my grandparents’ decision with my selfishness? Suddenly my door squeaked open and my Gran’s face peered through the small slit.
“May I come in?”
“Yeah.” I answered dryly.
Gran came in and sat on the corner of my bed, giving me plenty of space. “Kate, I wish you could understand how hard this is to see you like this, but I think this is just for your benefit.”
I cut her off. “Gran, have you considered all possible situations? What if I went and lived with Leslie and her family. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind! Or what about Carly! She would love it have me stay with her I’m sure.”
“Kate, hon!” Gran interrupted me this time. “Have you considered all the situations?” she questioned me with her soft voice that showed her tenderness despite her obvious irritation with me. Without giving me a chance to speak, Gran continued. “Leslie’s family already has eight people in it! They don’t need another mouth to feed. And Carly is leaving for college next year! You can’t stay with her! Kate I’m terribly sorry, but I think you should at least give Tony a chance. As soon as you turn eighteen you can come back up here and live how you want.”
A defeated sigh escaped my body. There really was nothing I could do to chance Gran’s mind.
“I guess you’re right.” I said trying to make Gran not feel so bad. “
The next few final days flew by as I spent most my time spending quality time with my friends at Lone Pine Stables and at Leslie’s house.
When the last day before I left arrived, I got up early and went to the barn so I would have time to swing by Leslie’s and do some last minute packing. I took my car so I could get there faster. The barn held all the familiar smells and sights as I got out of my car. As I entered the barn, Harley had his head over his stall door and whinnied when he saw me. I felt my heart stop, as if it was feeling the same delight Harley was feeling to see me. Slipping into his stall, I wrapped my arms around him and took in his sweet horse smell that always made my day, even when I was sad or angry.
Harley seemed to understand that this goodbye meant more than the others. He looked back at me with his big and intelligent brown eyes. It seemed to me he was trying to say good bye too. “I love you Harley. I’ll see you in Australia.” I said quietly, squeezing him one more time before exiting his stall. “Good bye boy!”
I looked back every few steps while I made my last trip down the aisle. I knew I’d be back soon though to visit this place, but I was grateful that I’d brought my camera with me over the past two weeks to the stables. Every split second I got the chance, I was taking pictures with my friends and of Harley. I also snuck in some photos in of Tina’s riding facility and all the places I had made great memories at. Carly had also helped me out by taking all the pictures she possibly could of Harley and I.
One day, Carly and I came up early to set up a jumping course so she could take pictures of me while my horse and I flew over jumps for the last time at Lone Pine. She’d shot some wonderful pictures, and I was eager to print them all out.
Finally, I was heading on my way back out from Lone Pine, when a hand suddenly stopped me, grabbing my arm. I turned around to face Carly, her big blue eyes dim and lifeless, with overflowing tears. We both hugged again.
“Kate, I’m going to miss you so much!”
“I’m going to miss you too, Carly! Don’t ever let a day go by when you don’t think of me and I’ll do the same!”
“Ok, I will.” Carly replied between sobs.
I pulled it together, so she wouldn’t remember me all weak and emotional before I left. Carly sniffed too and tried to hold back on her tears. “Call me as often as you’d like, and email me too, alright?”
“Ok, and I’ll let you know when I can come back to the states to visit.”
We both slowly let go of our grip on each other. “Don’t forget about Tina, she wanted to be here before you left.”
“Oh my gosh!” I shrieked. I’d forgotten to say good bye to my one and only riding instructor who was also a wonderful friend.
I ran to her office and found her staring at her computer screen. She looked up at me when I closed the door with tear stained cheeks. She came over to me and gave me a bigger hug than any of my friends had given me.
“You keep on riding alright? And write me and let me know how things go. Tell me when you ride in a western saddle for the first time, and take lots of pictures and send them to me!” It felt as if Tina was my mother, saying good bye to her dearest child.
“Ok Tina, I promise you. And send me pictures of the new stud Carly told me about.”
“Oh that’s right!” Tina looked joyful for a second. Then her face fell again. “I’ll be sure of it!”
“Goodbye Tina.” I said with one farewell hug. Then I left Lone Pine, and didn’t look back for I knew the pain would be too great if I did.
The coffee shop was busier than ever. But Leslie had explained the situation to her manager, and so she had the rest of the day off. Although I went to the stables before hand, I wore some of my nicer stylish jeans so I didn’t look like a barn bum. Leslie met me at the front door.
“Let’s go to my house.” She said. “My parents won’t be home so we can have the whole place to our self.
Usually, Leslie and I were never left alone in her average little cottage home that she shared with her parents and five younger siblings. But for once her parents had towed all her brothers and sisters to her grandparent’s house, so we wouldn’t be bothered by anything but silence.
We both drove our cars to her house that was sort of out in the country on a few acres of property. I drove behind her as she pulled over the little bridge that expelled into a long driveway. I parked my car next to hers and caught my breath as I did every time I came to Leslie’s house. Despite its smallness, it was so unique and beautiful. It was a mix between a log cabin and a farm house that looked like it belonged on the cover of a magazine.
Leslie and I went inside and made our way through the kitchen, big open living room with the tall stone fireplace, and to the big wooden stairs that led up to a hallway with multiple rooms that belonged to three little boys and two little girls.
We made it to her room and I flopped down on the floor on her big fuzzy rug that was sprawled out on the floor in her bedroom. Leslie had her own walk in closet and bathroom with a spa tub, along with a king size bed that made you want to fall asleep on it just by looking at it. She always told me that this used to be her parents old master bedroom until they had to add another room onto the house to make room for their big family. I often wondered if her little sisters who had to share a room got jealous.
All the features of her room made my room look like a dump. Fortunately, I spent so much time over at her house, I’d grown used to it, and lost the jealousy that always seem to find its way to me when I came over.
Leslie made her way over to where I was and sat down on the floor cross legged. She took off her work shoes and locked her gaze with mine.
“So, what’s going through your head right now, Kate?” she asked me.
I hated it when people asked me questions like that. Even though I didn’t mind telling Leslie, it was just too hard to explain all the jumbled thoughts rolling around in my head. I tried to lay them out for her the best I could.
“Well, I don’t want to move, and I don’t want to live on some ranch with a whole bunch of strangers. I really don’t want to leave my grandparents behind, along with you and the rest of my friends. I want to continue going to high school here, and I don’t want to be a fish out of water down in Australia with all those freaky accents.”
Leslie nodded with a light shining in her eyes. “Kate! Why didn’t I think of this before! What if you came and lived with me! We’d be like sisters! Everything would stay the same except, you just wouldn’t live with your grandparents anymore.”
I kept my face still, not showing any emotions. I’d already thought about every possible situation.
“Leslie, if only it were that easy! Believe me, I thought about that too. But Gran has already paid for and booked Harley to be shipped, and for my plane ticket that cost 1,000 dollars. I can’t just waste those like that. And besides,” I shrugged, “I already asked my grandparents. They don’t think it’s as reasonable as staying with my step dad is.” I rolled my eyes like I did whenever I thought something was ridiculous.
I paused; making sure everything I thought through was still making sense. “But….maybe like next summer I can move back here and live with you then! That way I’ll be here for our last year of high school! That will work won’t it?”
“I don’t see why not!” Leslie’s eyes continued to stay lit. “I’ll talk to my parents and let you know! Oh and that reminds me!”
Getting up, Leslie tore from her room, leaving me behind, with a puzzled expression on my face. I leaned to the right so I could see out her doorway. When I didn’t see her, I leaned back against the foot of her bed. I was sure going to miss all this. But if everything worked out, then I could come back and live a normal life again. Australia would just be a once in a lifetime experience.
Just then, Leslie came in, with a big box. She set it down in front of me, and sat down again. “I got you something!” she said, all perked up on her knees.
“Oh Leslie, you didn’t have to! I don’t need anything.” I flung my hand up and down.
“Sure you do! At least this you will.”
I rolled my eyes. “Ok, what’s the punch line.”
Leslie narrowed her eyes at me. “Just open it.”
“Haha! That’s so funny!” I laughed out loud, just to make her mad.
She slapped my shoulder—hard—so I did as she wanted me to and pulled the big brown cardboard box closer to me. When the flaps were apart, the box was filled with Styrofoam. I dug my hands down deep so I could feel around better. What I felt was not something I expected.
Flat and square. When I picked it up it was light yet still sturdy. I was sure my eyes were a fraction away from popping out of my sockets when my hands pulled out a brand new laptop.
“Leslie!” I shrieked. “You didn’t!”
She just smiled and looked away. “Well, obviously I already did!”
I fingered the whole computer, eyeing it in every direction. I didn’t really speak well when it came to technical terms, but I could tell this laptop would be a nice one.
I knew the Robinson’s weren’t rich people, so I was even more puzzled on how they could afford something this nice to give away. “Leslie, how did you afford this?”
Shrugging her shoulders Leslie mumbled quietly as if she didn’t want me to hear. “My parents and I split the cost and I told them I would pay them back on what they spent for it.” I could tell Leslie didn’t want me to make a big deal about her spending way too much money on me because she changed the subject.
“It’s a Sony VAIO Notebook PC. It’s smaller, so you can travel with it, but it’s got the complete package with it. There’s also a carrier that came with it. My parents and I splurged a little bit so we could give you a nice going away present that you could use.”
“Leslie, I don’t know what to say! Thank you!”
I reached over and pulled her into a hug. She pulled away quickly.
“Oh but wait! There’s something I want to show you! She grabbed the laptop from me and opened it. I slid over next to her and watched her work.
“It came with this awesome scrapbook program. I put together an album of you and me, and all our favorite memories.
She pulled up a virtual looking scrapbook and began flipping through pictures that brought back so many good memories of us as kids and teens.
“Remember old Billy?” I said pointing to a picture of an old bay horse that Leslie was riding. The year we became best friends in 4th grade, we went to a horse camp that summer. Leslie learned afterwards that she didn't like horses. I on the other hand, kept pursuing them. But we both had a great time together.
A few pages later, there were pictures of us with frosting all over our faces. For her 11th birthday party, we couldn’t figure out which frosting we wanted to put on her cupcakes. Meanwhile, her older brother, Tanner, was watching a war movie. He suggested that we fight over it. So we had a war of our own in the kitchen, covering everything from our faces to the floor in frosting.
There were tons more pages, each and every one bringing back good times we had together. I slipped a quick glance in Leslie’s direction and caught a tear rolling down her cheek. Before I could give it thought, I realized a tear on my cheek too.
When we reached the last page, she looked up at me. “There are more pages you can fill in. I left a lot open so you can take pictures down in Australia and then scrap book them. That way when you come up to visit you can show them all to me.”
I smiled at her, grateful that I had my own digital camera and that she hadn’t had to buy me one of those along with the high quality laptop.
“Leslie, I will, and I’ll leave more pages open so when I come back we can make more memories.”
Leslie smiled back and we hugged again.
The rest of the evening, we talked and cooked dinner, watched a movie, and walked around her property, sharing all the last minutes we could together. Then, when the clock ticked eleven ‘o clock, I said a final good bye and headed home.
The house was dark and silent when I got home. I figured my grandparents were asleep when a dim light switched on in the living room down the hallway. I peered around the corner and spotted Gran sitting in her recliner, covered up with her rosey pink robe.
“Did you have a good time honey?” she asked me in a tired voice.
“Yeah, I did.”
For a moment I stood there, remembering how rotten I’d been to my grandparents recently, how little I’d appreciated them, and how I hadn’t apologized. I kneeled down by my grandma’s knees and looked up at her.
“Gran, I’m sorry! I’ve acted really rotten these past two weeks. I was selfish and ungrateful. I wasn’t kind to you or grandpa. I’m really sorry about that.”
My grandma wrapped her hands around my face. “Kate, it’s ok. You were upset, Grandpa and I understand that.”
“Can I make it up to you by making breakfast tomorrow and spending the morning with you guys?”
“Sure honey, that would be just great!” Gran said before smooching me on the forehead with a kiss. I hugged her and then left to my room.
Once my door was shut I sat down on my bed and looked at my now empty room. I’d taken the two days before that day to pack all the things I needed. The few things I couldn’t take with me like my furniture and homey items that were to large, were going to be kept in a storage center since my grandparents would be moving out and using the old house as a rental place. The rest of my things all had to be shoved into my three suitcases, including my horse stuff. Along with all that I was bring my English saddle with me for I knew it would be hard to find one once I was down in Australia. I luckily also had two big carryon bags that left more space for my things in my suitcases.
I put my new laptop on a box where I had put all the things I didn’t want anymore and squeezed under the covers that were being left on my bed. I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
After a wonderful morning was spent with my grandparents, I had given them the longest and dearest goodbye I could. Then, before I knew it, I was on the airplane, about to venture halfway around the world to a home I’d never known. The flight attendant had just begun demonstrating how to buckle seat belts and so on when a high pitched screeching noise sounded from behind. I turned around to see that the back of the airplane had disappeared. All that I could see now was blue sky and the paved runway.
Terrified, I sat in my seat frozen, unsure of what to do. This didn’t happen on planes did it? I’d never been on a plane before, but from what I had seen on Movies and TV, planes didn’t suddenly break in half. Still confused, I watched as another airplane came into my view all of a sudden from behind. It was coming straight towards the plane I was on! It plowed nearer, and nearer until I could see the c*** pit at the front of the plane. There was nobody in it.
I knew I only had seconds left, so I squeezed my eyes shut, and covered my ears. Then, all I could see was a fiery orange from the back of my eyelids and hear a big boom. I screamed as loud as I could but the sound was drowned out by explosive flames. I felt nothing, but I couldn’t move when immediately, my eyes flew open….and everything was dark.
My breathing was hard and shallow, my face lathered in sweat. My eyes searched the darkness until familiar walls came to my rescue. As I was in bed, I stared at the ceiling, waiting for my trembling arms and legs to relax. Once they did, I moaned inwardly and rolled over onto my side, hoping to find sleep. When it didn’t come, I grabbed my laptop and turned it on. The bright screen made me squint until my eyes adjusted.
I searched my flight schedule and saw that I was to leave at 11pm at night, and with the time difference, arrive two days later in Australia at 6:25am in the morning, just as Gran had explained. Fortunately I would really only be traveling one night.
“Good,” I whispered to myself. Since the flight would be during the night, I could hopefully sleep. Although I was looking forward to using my new present on the plane, I’d rather sleep if I had the opportunity. I was scared to fly and anything that made it go by fast would make my day, or night less stressful.
I shut my little PC off and tried to fall back asleep. The rest of the night I tossed and turned, but fortunately, there weren’t any more nightmares about flying.
When morning arrived, the fact that I was leaving my usual life and entering a new and unknown one in less than twenty four hours bulldozed me harder than before. I moved slowly as I got up, as if slowing my movements would slow time.
Since I hadn’t changed into my pajamas the night before because they were packed, I put on some fresh clothes I had left out for today. I left my room and found Gran and Grandpa resting in their recliners. It was about 8 ‘o clock in the morning, so they were up and dressed. “Good morning Kate!” Grandpa greeted, not removing his eyes from the game show he was watching on TV.
“Morning Grandpa! I’ll get started on breakfast!” I went into the kitchen, debating on what I should make. Old people seemed to love everything, so I made blueberry pancakes, bacon, eggs, and sausage for my grandpa sense that was his favorite.
Thirty minutes later, I called my grandparents into the dining room, where everything was cooked and ready to go, plates, silverware and all.
Gran and Grandpa came into the room, arm in arm as best they could—Grandpa in his wheelchair and Gran with her cane—looking like an adorable elderly couple that they truly were. Grandpa pulled Gran’s chair out for her, as well as mine. Once he was seated, we dished up our plates and began conversations.
Half way through breakfast, I began to lose my appetite, thinking too much about the future. I had half a pancake left, but I picked at it with my fork.
Gran noticed. “What’s wrong Kate?”
“What will I do once I get to Australia? Do I need to catch a taxi?”
“Gran wiped her mouth and finished chewing. “No, Tony will meet you at the airport and pick you up. Then he’ll drive you to his place.”
“Ok, when will all my things arrive?”
“They should come the same day. But Harley will come later.”
“Gran, as badly as I want Harley to come with me, what if he won’t get on the boat? Or off it….”
Tina’s words came back to me, “I’ve heard bad stories of horses being too traumatized on the boat they can’t be brought off.”
I tried to shake it off but I couldn’t. “...too traumatized...can’t be brought off…”
Overwhelming thoughts cluttered my head. What would happen once Harley got in Australia? What would people think of him? What if he didn’t like it there? Ugh! I knew I would have to get rid of these thoughts before I went to the airport. I brought my attention back to Gran.
“Kate, are you alright?”
“Huh? Oh, um yeah.”
“Okay, well Kate, I’m sorry, but if Harley stays here, you’ll have to sell him or give him back to Tina. Grandpa and I can’t be looking after a horse.”
Ouch. That was never going to happen. Although I knew with all my heart that Tina would take great care of him, I knew I’d never be able to let Harley go. I decided that I didn’t want to dwell on things any longer. So I changed the subject.
“Gran, after I clean all this up, I’m going to take my camera down to the store to print all my pictures. But before I go, I want to get a few good pictures with you and Grandpa.”
“Hon, don’t worry about it, you can go get ready to take the pictures and then I’ll clean all this up later.”
“Are you sure?”
Gran’s white hair bounced as she nodded and I jumped up from my seat, hugging her. “Thanks!”
Once all the food had been eaten, I gave Gran another hug and then I did the same to grandpa before heading to my room to take care of my hair. Usually I always did the dishes for Gran because I didn’t want to make her do them, but I hated doing them. So whenever she offered to do them for me, I leaped at the chance.
After I was in a better looking condition with my dark brown hair straightened and my teeth brushed, I set my camera in my grandparent’s crammed living room on the fireplace mantle. Gran and Grandpa came in then and I sat in between them on the couch. I had set the timer on my camera for 10 seconds so we held our smile until the flash went off. After a few more pictures of all of us along with a couple of just them together, I took my camera and got in my car.
I went to town, taking my time, snapping a few pictures of all the places I wanted to remember and took my pictures in to the local Wal-Mart, printing every single one of my photos. It wouldn’t have surprised me it someone claimed that I was being too over dramatic by acting as if I was never coming back to America, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Once one of the ladies at the photo booth helped me, she informed me that I had an hour to wait. So I ran across the street to a shoe store where I decided to buy a new pair of stylish shoes for school and another new pair of running shoes—because my old ones were getting yucky and worn—since I had no idea what type of shoes would be for sale down in Australia.
After purchasing my shoes with the extra money I’d brought for anything else I might have needed before leaving, I strolled back over to pick up my pictures. When my photos were still not ready, I wandered around the store, looking for more last minute needs. As I found my way down a scrap-booking aisle, I spotted some photos albums. I needed another one if I was to store all my new pictures. Picking up a plain leather black album off the shelf I continued walking around the store.
I began thinking about my first job. After I’d turned sixteen in early December, I began working in one of the clothes department stores at the local mall, and earned myself some money. But unfortunately, in the middle of June, the manager explained to me politely that they no longer needed me. So my job only lasted six short months, but I hoped that I still had enough money saved that I could provide myself with the things I needed, along with buying my friends souvenirs once I lived down in Australia.
Soon, after my pictures were ready and I had paid them, I drove my way home so I could continue preparing for my flight that night. My flight didn’t leave until 11:00 pm, but Gran had insisted that I arrive at the Airport at least two hours earlier. That only left me nine short hours all together left in America, the country I hadn’t fully appreciated living in until now.
Time had passed quickly. The atmosphere at the Airport was crowded and somber, filled with low whispers and humming noises. I was useless when it came to finding my way around the airport, so my grandparents helped me check in and got me to the security area. Before I went through, I knew it was my last chance to say good bye to my grandparents that I loved so much. I dropped all my things and flung my arms around both of them, kissing them on their soft and wrinkly cheeks. Grandpa just chuckled and Gran wiped tears from her eyes.
“Kate, we really are going to miss you so much.”
“I know, I’ll miss you both too.” I told her.
Grandpa joined in, “But don’t worry about your old folks too much now because you need to be down their having a good time, you hear me?”
“Yeah Grandpa, I’ll do that, but I’m still going to call you guys, ok?”
“Ok honey.” Gran said squeezing my shoulders.
I gave them one last hug each then took my few dreaded steps toward security. I didn’t look back because I knew once I passed through, there would be no way to get back at all.
It took forever for everyone to board onto the plane so I opened my laptop and checked my email. I tried to check my email everyday at my grandparent’s house on their old monitor, but I hadn’t been lately. It read that my inbox had 8 new messages. Three were from a few of my school friends I had tried to keep in touch with during the summer, two were from Tina and Carly, and the other two were from Leslie, but the last one…was from Tony. I clicked on the email from my step dad first. I took my time, reading over his thought-out sentences. It read:
My wife Lori and I are looking forward to being able to spend time with you. I’m sure after we’ve been apart for so long, you might not feel the same way, but I hope that you can feel a part of the family and make our home feel like yours. Your Grandmother informed me that you were taking a laptop with you on the plane, so I hoped that maybe I could catch you before you arrived. I just wanted to let you know that everything here is ready for you and Harley’s arrival. Your horse will have his own stall and paddock and Lori and I have prepared a bedroom upstairs in our house just for you.
Well, I hope you have a safe flight, and I will see you at the airport! Good day mate!
I was sure he added the “mate” part just to add some humor, but it only made me mad. Was that what they were all going to call me? Mate? I sure hoped it wasn’t.
Another thought struck me. What about their accents? I was sure to stand out with my plain old American voice. But there was no way I would fake any sort of accent just to fit in. No matter what I did to myself in general, I knew I’d never fit in.
I didn’t feel like replying to his email, so I just checked the others. They all informed me to email them once I arrived in the new country and began to make myself at home.
The flight attendant began explaining that all electronic devices must be turned off for takeoff and since I didn’t feel like typing anyways, I shut down my laptop and put it away.
I tuned out the stewardess giving her speech and closed my eyes, willing the time to pass. When nothing changed, I stared out the window until the plane began to move. Then I waited for the plane to reach the air, and finally pulled out the tray stowed in the seat in front of me and laid my head down, thankful that no one was seated next to me. Before long, I fell asleep.
The plane ride went faster than I ever imagined it to. When I opened my eyes for the first time since closing them the pilot was announcing that we had an hour left before landing at our destination. Immediately after the pilot spoke the plane shook and it felt like we were riding over unremitting bumps. I attacked my arm rests and held on for dear life. The flight attendant must have seen my panic because she came over to me and informed me that we were just traveling through some slight turbulence and it wouldn’t last much longer. Trying to pretend I believed her I made an attempt to go back to sleep. When it took me a few minutes to wane off again, it felt like I had just fallen asleep when I woke up for the second time. The speakers in the plane rang again with the Pilots voice. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be arriving at our destination in fifteen minutes. Flight attendants, prepare for landing.”
I held onto my arm rests while the plane landed quicker than I had hoped. Not only because I was scared, but because I was afraid to let go and get out of my seat. Once the plane was stopped and settled, I waited until everybody had gotten their luggage and exited. My nerves were getting to me so badly, one of the two flight attendants had to come remind me it was time to leave. Reluctantly I stood up and grabbed my carryon bags from above my seat area, then trudged my way slowly to the airport where my new life awaited me.
The first thing I saw when I walked through the double doors that led into the waiting area, was Tony. He was the same dark-haired handsome man my mother had fallen in love with. He was glancing around the large crowd around him that had been on my airplane, probably looking for me. For a moment, it looked like he was going to give up and walk away, but instead he turned around and his face lit up when he saw me. As I took slow cautious steps toward him, I took in his sparkling brown eyes.
Before landing I had thought about how awkward this first meeting would be, but Tony sprawled his arms out, closing the distance between us, enveloping me in a hug as if to prove me wrong.
“Kate! How was your trip?” he asked me in his deep familiar voice.
This time as he spoke, I could see more joy in his expression from the last time I was with him when my mother passed away. I swallowed, not sure what to say. The nerves had eased a little but were still eating at me. My voice felt unsteady when I spoke. “I slept the entire way.” Appalled at how I sounded, I cleared my throat. “So it went by fast.” It helped a little.
“Well good! That’s the best way to go! Shall we go retrieve your luggage?”
As we made our way to the baggage claim area, I remembered Tony didn't’ have an Australian accent. Therefore I fortunately wouldn’t be the only one that sounded American. Although Tony had been born in Australia, he had grown up in the States, and hadn’t come back until just moving back recently.
“How much stuff you got with you?” Tony asked.
“Um…” Since I’d brought most everything with me, I had a lot more than usual. “I think three suitcases and a saddle.”
“You bring the whole house with you?” Tony joked.
“No, one suitcase has clothes and shoes, another has all my personal items, and then the largest has all my horse stuff. And then my english saddle of course.”
“So you brought the whole barn with you then!”
Tony was just like he used to be with his big sense of humor. Normally I played along with him, but today it was hard to find a mutual feeling.
After waiting ten minutes full of awkward conversations with Tony, the luggage began to show up. When mine came around, I pointed them out while Tony grabbed them. After the suitcases I’d brought with me were all back in my possession, Tony offered to carry my saddle in its bright red saddle carrier, and towed two suitcases behind him. I pulled the last along with my carryon bags.
“Are you sure this is a saddle?” Tony questioned.
“Of course. I’m sure.” I replied, puzzled.
He smiled, “It’s so light! Western saddles are a lot heavier.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I kept quiet. While we loaded my things into the back of Tony’s large navy truck, I noticed the weather for the first time. It was a little hot and humid, but the sky was a soft yet murky blue and the sun was covered by clouds.
Tony walked around to the driver’s side of the car, opened the door and waited. Confused, I waited too, unsure of what he was doing.
“Are you going to get in?”
“Oh uh, I guess so.” I said sliding into the seat.
When Tony came around to the right side of the car, I was about to ask why he wanted me to drive, when I saw the steering wheel was placed on the right side of the truck. I could feel my face fill with shock. Tony caught me staring and laughed.
“It’s different than driving in America, eh? You probably thought I wanted you to drive.”
He didn’t wait for me to respond. “Did you get my email?”
I nodded—still staring at the right-sided steering wheel—while he started the truck and weaved his big truck through the parking lot until he reached the exit. “So, as I explained, my wife, Lori, I really think you’ll like her. She’s very sweet and she loves people. Anyway, she took a few weeks and prepared one of the spare rooms upstairs in our house for you. I just want to warn you, that sometimes she outdoes thing, so in case you don’t like what she did to the room, just smile and tell her you love it, ok? Just so her feelings don’t get hurt.”
I couldn’t help the smile that snuck its way onto my face. “Okay. I can do that. I’m sure however it looks it will look better than my room back home did.” I felt a tiny spark of comfort that things wouldn’t be too bad.
“What color was your room?” Tony asked.
“Well, just plain white. I never took time to paint it.” For a moment it felt strange to be talking about my room with Tony, when I realized it would be better than another forced awkward conversation.
“Hmmm, that is sort of boring. Well Lori doesn’t deal with white, so I hope you didn’t get your hopes up of having a room similar to your old one.”
It felt weird to be talking about my room like it didn’t exist anymore. But it was only the truth.
“I’ll be fine.” Silence filled the air and I took the chance to gaze out my window. I hadn’t taken note of the scenery at all until now. Surprisingly, what I saw was not what I had expected. The airport was on the edge of the medium sized city of Kalbarri, therefore we had passed through the town and were now on an open highway. There were streams of golden red sand with a large brown rock structures standing up from the ground, but besides that there was mostly green fields stretched out around us with a few trees sprouting up in spaced out areas. The landscape pursued out for miles, framed by large mountains on the entire eastern terrain. I shockingly found myself admiring the beautiful land. It was much better than anywhere I had lived back in California.
“Did you know our ranch is about a mile away from a beach?”
The word beach struck my attention. Beaches were everywhere in California.
Although I didn’t live near one, I loved to go to them
“No. Can you ride horses there?”
“Yes. We do all the time. It’s a beautiful beach. It’s sort of hidden, so nobody is ever there. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
For the first time I was excited to be where I was. The rest of the drive we didn’t speak much, until we reached a long road that branched out to the left of the road.
“Here we are!” Tony called to me.
I found my eyes searching frantically. We pulled onto a road that could be seen through the trees. It was lined with wooden fencing and green grassy fields. In the distance was a house off to the right slightly, and farther out to the house’s left, was a beautiful red barn shadowed by another behind it.
A little further behind the house were more structures. I couldn’t make out what they were but just from the looks the property could easily be categorized as a horse ranch. On either side of the driveway were pastures dotted with horses.
I couldn’t hold back on my surprised enthusiasm. “Wow! It’s beautiful!” It was way prettier than Tina’s property. I was sure Harley would like it.
Tony smiled like a proud father would when his child just scored a goal or won an award. “I knew you’d like it. It really is a wonderful setup here. I couldn’t ask for a better place. It has arenas, two big stables, lots of acreage, and even enough room to keep cattle here. I work with the horses a little but I usually have my foreman, Kenny work with the horses. I don’t own any of the cattle either. They all belong to a friend of mine. He takes care of them and has his hired hands deal with them. I just provide the property. But Kenny has been teaching me about horses. I’m hoping one of these days I’ll be able to train one myself.”
“I didn’t know you were so into horses.” I said merely out of curiosity.
“Well I really wasn’t until I inherited this ranch from my dad after your mom passed away and built a house here. I didn’t have any horses here at the time, but Kenny suggested that I buy some and start working with him. Without Kenny I could’ve have been working with the horses like I have been, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I can understand why you like it too.” Tony explained, smiling at me when he finished.
By this point we had reached the end of the long road and drew up next to the house that I would soon be calling “home”.
The home was beautiful. Just like Leslie’s place, the house looked like it belonged on the cover of a “Better Homes & Garden” magazine. I suddenly felt terrible. I had put down everything about Australia, when now everything at this new place in Australia was putting down my home back in California. Every bad thought I had concluded about Australia dissipated into the air like sparks from a fire.
I wished Gran and Grandpa could’ve been there so I could’ve ask them what they thought of the place. But I was suddenly sure their answers would be the same as my reaction. So I pushed the thought away before it could get me down.
“I’d give you a personal tour right now, but I’ve got to finish up some work back in town. So once your all settled in your room, feel free to roam around and check out all the horses.”
As Tony hopped out of the truck I admired the house. It was also somewhat similar to Leslie’s home. It looked like it could house a decent size family of five, so it wasn’t quite a mansion. With its Victoria style, the house was a charcoal color gray and obviously looked like it belonged no other place then a ranch.
I wanted to keep looking at the house, but Tony seemed to be in a rush, so I quickly got out too. When I went to reach for one of my suit cases, my hands came up empty. Tony had already towed my entire set of luggage inside.
I walked around the truck and climbed the few steps that led up to a large front porch and an oak wooden door. Not sure whether I should knock on the closed door or just enter, I rang the doorbell. About a second later, the door opened to expose a lady the same height as me with cropped and styled strawberry blonde hair that made her green eyes stand out.
“Wow! Aren’t you just beautiful! You’re just like how Tony described you!” she exclaimed.
Wary of what Tony had said about me, I noticed her voice along with Tony’s held not even a hint of an Australian accent. So far I hadn’t met one person with an accent.
“Come in dear! You don’t need to ring the door bell anymore! Just walk through that door because you’ll always be welcomed!” Tony’s wife said, waving her hand, motioning for me to come inside.
When I hesitated, she put her arm around my shoulders, and started to lead me down a long hallway. Tony stopped us.
“Kate,” he said giving a friendly look towards his wife. “This is my wife, Lori.”
Lori suddenly looked horrified. “Oh I’m so sorry! How rude of me to not introduce myself! I’m sorry, it’s so good to finally met you!”
I just smiled shyly, not feeling like talking at the moment.
At the end of the stretched out hallway, was a big kitchen to the left. Lori buzzed away from me and into the kitchen, asking, “Are you thirsty Kate? Or hungry?”
“Um, no thanks. I’m fine right now.”
Tony was right behind me and startled me when he spoke. “Well Kate, I’m sorry. Like I said, I’d love to give you a tour, but I got to get back to work. Feel free to wander around after you get all settled.” He turned his attention to Lori. “I’ll be back at lunch!”
“Ok dear!” Lori replied.
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and turned it on. When the power was on, I viewed the time that read 8:00. I was still so tired I felt like taking nap, but truly that was the last thing I wanted to do.
“Would you like to go up to your room, Kate?”
Excited to see what my new room looked like I responded with almost the equal amount that Lori contained. “Yeah, that’d be great! Uh, where is it?”
“I’ll take you up there.” Lori said bouncing past me.
To my left was a big set of wooden stairs. Before following Lori, I was suddenly distracted by the interior of the house. It was even more phenomenal than it looked on the outside. When I realized Lori was waiting for me, I trailed behind her up the stairs to the top, then turned to the right, walking down another hallway. At the end where there was a large brightly lit window. Turning abruptly to the left, Lori was then standing by a white door a few feet in from the previous hallway. She opened the door and stepped inside. I followed her and held my breath when I took in the sight of my new room.
“Wow! It’s so awesome! Are you sure you didn’t have a professional come and do this?”
Lori laughed, “Thanks. No I used to be an Interior Designer when I lived back in America.”
Shock flowed through me for what seemed like the millionth time that day. “You used to live in America?”
“Yeah, I grew up there before moving here and meeting Tony. That’s why I don’t have an accent. But I’m sure you already noticed that.”
I just nodded.
Cool and warm colors were all around the room and contrasted nicely. The teal blue walls made the puffy dark plum purple bed spread stick out. The wooden floors looked stunning and the oak furniture just added to the rest of the room. There were two doors at the left side of the room and Lori walked over to them. She opened the one closest to me.
“I picked this room for you because it had a walk in closet.” She opened the door and exposed a closet that looked like it belonged in Leslie’s room. Then she went to the second door. “And, it has its own bathroom.”
Things seemed like they couldn’t get any better when she walked over to the right side of the room by the bed. She pointed at the window closest to me. And you can see all the horses from this side of the house.”
I walked over next to her and looked out of the square glass window. There were a few green pastures, painted with horses. Yet another thing that looked like it belonged on the cover of a magazine.
Peeling my eyes away, I sat down on the bed and felt like melting into it. Behind the headboard of the bed, was a small patch of wall. Surrounding it were a bunch of windows, the ones above it arched in a neat stylish way.
“Wow you really did an amazing job with this room. Thank you! I don’t know what else to say!”
Lori came over and gave me a big hug. “It was my pleasure Kate! Now enjoy it!” She walked back to the door. “I’ll let you be for a little bit so you can unpack your things.
She shut the white entrance door and I plopped the rest of myself back on the bed. When it was all I could do to keep from closing my eyes, I jumped off the bed before I dozed off to sleep. Tony had placed my suitcases by the door. I retrieved them and laid them out, taking my time finding the right places for all my clothes and necessities. I went into the bathroom last, ready to drool. There was a huge Jacuzzi tub, a separate shower, and a large sink and counter space. The whole room was almost more than I could handle. I left the bathroom as soon as I had put all my things in their new place and rolled my now empty suitcases into a back corner of my new lovely closet. The only thing I left out was my saddle.
Since I had nothing else to do, I pulled out my laptop and checked my email. I wrote all my friends from school, the stable, Tina, and my grandparents, informing them that I had arrived safely to my new home and things had turned out way better than I had expected. When I emailed Leslie, I teasingly remarked that I know understood what it was like to live in a luxury room. Just for fun, I took a few pictures of the room and uploaded them onto my small pc so I could send them to Leslie. After finishing up on my laptop, I decided to make my way back down stairs and explore my new surroundings.
Lori was nowhere to be seen when I got downstairs, so I headed out the front door to go look at the horses. The big beautiful red barn was a little off to the right. So I took a small pathway that looked like it led to it. When I got there, the barn seemed bigger than it looked earlier. It was in an L shape and I assumed it held at least sixteen stalls or more once you included all the tack and feed rooms.
When I first walked in, the wonderful smell of hay and horses came rushing back to me. As I took it in, a cute little chestnut horse poked its head out of its stall on my left. When I looked over at him, his eyes were curious. I eagerly went over to him and pet his soft face and neck. I could feel him leaning into my hand as I did so. I peeked into the other stalls next to him, but there were no horses in them.
Then I crossed the aisle way and checked those stalls. No horses were in those stalls either. I figured most of them must be out on pasture. I walked back over to the cute little gelding. The poor little fellow, stuck in here all by himself. I wondered why but I assumed it was probably for a health reason. ************************************************
I gave him some more attention when I heard footsteps approaching from the opposite end of the barn. I looked up to see a tough looking man who looked to be in his late thirties come from around the corner. But he didn’t seem to notice me until he was about forty feet from me.
When he did see me, his face lit up into a large smile. “Hey, can I help you…oh wait! You must be Katelyn.” he stated in a friendly Australian accent. I returned the smile and said, “Um, yeah That’s me! But please, call me Kate.”
“Alright Kate,” he stuck his hand out when he reached me. “I’m Kenny. It’s nice to meet you!”
I shook his hand, “Yeah, nice to meet you too. So, how did you know my name?”
Kenny looked confident. “Tony told just about everyone you were coming. Word spreads pretty fast around here.”
I groaned inwardly. Kenny suddenly began to move past me. “Well, I work here most everyday all day long, so if you need any help with the horses or anything, I should be around!”
He nodded at me and gave me a bigger smile than before, then ambled away.
His last sentence informed me that Tony must not have told people that I rode horses. I didn’t need help with the horses. Did Tony think I was that amateur around horses? Well I would find out sooner or later.
I continued to walk down the other part of the “L” shaped barn. There were three horses over in this section. I took time to pet them all, noticing that they were quite different from the horses I was used to. They had short stocky legs, and big muscled hindquarters. They were shorter in size and their faces were smaller and more triangular. They were pretty, but didn’t look as elegant as Harley or the other horses at Tina’s barn.
I was thinking about asking Tony if he would let me ride one, when another unfamiliar voice came from behind me. I spun around and spotted another young man who looked to be the same age as me. He was walking towards me and as he came closer I noticed that he had black hair that covered part of his face with weird metallic gray and blonde streaks that didn't’ match his pale skin and green eyes.
His appearance alone set off a weird vibe.
“Hi.” I said, trying to sound friendly. He stopped directly in front of me, closer than what a normal human would stand when having a normal conversation.
I took a step back and shifted my weight onto my farthest foot, trying to put space between us.
“Are you Katelyn?” his voice fit his looks perfectly. He had a higher melodic voice what sounded odd and out of place.
“Yeah, I am. Did Tony tell you about me too?”
The kid looked away for a second. “No…” he seemed puzzled. “But my names Alex!” he said holding out his hand. I shook it quickly, eager to pull away from his cold hand.
“So who told you about me?”
“I don’t know. I just heard people talking.” he said defensively.
I groaned inwardly again, feeling a little uncomfortable.
“Do you ride here?” I asked.
Alex looked taken aback. “No! Never! I just volunteer here because my dad wants me to. So you’ll never see me on one of those things.” he pointed to the black horse that was in the nearest stall to us. The sweet little horse looked innocent. I didn't’ understand how anyone couldn’t like horses that were as cute as these ones.
I really felt the need to escape, so I tried to open up a door. “Hmm. Well, ok.” I replied awkwardly, “I uh, gotta go now. Maybe I’ll catch you later.”
Alex chirped back immediately. “Where are you going?”
Annoyed, I replied in a way that would hopefully make him back off.
“To find my step-dad.”
“Oh ok, well I’ll see you later!” I was already walking away when he said that. I quickly glanced back to see Alex standing casually, staring after me. I’d never been in a weirder situation with a person I’d just met ever before.
While I tried to walk somewhere that would make it look like I actually had a purpose for going there, I realized that I probably looked horrendous from my all night flight. I headed back to the house and up to my room so I could freshen up.
Soon after I showered and changed into fresh clothes and applied some make-up, I made my way back to the pastures. I hadn’t quite finished exploring around.
I walked out to a few of the pastures to look at all the horses at the front of the property, when I heard a gate open. I peered over one of the fences to see a young African American girl walking in with one large mangled ball of halters and lead ropes. I watched for a moment as a few of the horses came towards her while the others kept on grazing.
She petted each one as it came to her while trying to pull a mangled halter from the stash. Frustration froze itself on her face and I hoped over the fence to lend her a hand. When I walked over she looked up at me, a little embarrassed, but not sure what to think.
“Hi!” I said. “I’m Kate! Do you want some help?”
Once I offered assistance, the girl looked relieved. “Yeah sure, Thanks!” she replied in a light Australian accent. The sound of it made laugh quietly to myself. It sounded so much different, yet it was unique.
I pulled each halter from the mess and kept two of them with me.
“Are you bringing the horses in?” I asked.
“Yes! But only these five.” she said pointing to the specific horses.
“Can I help?”
“Of course! By the way, my name is Tanya!” Tanya said, smiling for the first time.
“It’s nice to meet you Tanya! Which horses should I get?”
Tanya pointed to a palomino first, and then a bay paint. “Sassy and Olly.”
Sassy and Oliver were two of the three horses that didn’t come over to greet Tanya. I slipped the pink halter over Sassy and the green halter over Olly.
When I started walking towards the gate, Tanya had already opened it letting the two horses she was leading through. I hurried out with mine and she shut the gate.
“I’ll come back for Topper in a minute.” Tanya gestured towards me.
“Oh. Ok. So do you ride here?” I asked.
“I exercise a few of the horses every once in awhile, but most the time I just volunteer here.”
“What about you? Are you going to ride here?” Tanya asked back at me.
For a moment I was glad that at least somebody around here didn’t know who I was.
“Well yeah, but actually, my horse is being shipped here from America.”
“Oh yeah, Tony told me about that.”
“He did?” I asked, getting the feeling that I had been wrong. Tanya probably had already heard all about me.
“Yeah! He told everybody.”
“Great.” I muttered.
I felt like telling Tony off about this, but as frustrated as I was, Tony truly didn’t deserve it. After all, he had only been excited. I realized it also wasn’t quite so bad having everybody already know who I was since I didn't’ have to keep introducing myself as a stranger.
Soon we had all the horses back in their stalls and I said goodbye to Tanya as she left to go fetch Topper. I continued to give myself a quick tour of the place. I checked out all the other horses, walked to the cow barn, hay barn, and feed barn, leaving as soon as I got there because not much of it interested me. The second stable was also the same as the first one, big, new, and beautiful. But it was evident that this second barn wasn’t quite as used as the first. They were the kind of barns every horse owner would gawk at.
As I made my way from horse to horse I had already picked out my favorite. The pasture closest to the barns, which I could see from my new bedroom window, housed a very adorable small paint. There were a couple other paints in some of the farther pastures, but this one particularly stood out to me. She was a little palomino paint with big sweet eyes and a beautiful golden mane and tail. She had one white splash on both sides of her stomach and one on each side of her rear end. Her legs were wrapped in white stockings, and her face was decorated in one white blaze that flared out to her nostrils.
When she had first seen me, she nickered and trotted over to me at the fence. Her soft coat felt good on my hands and I wished I knew her name. It was just one of the few things I had thought about to ask Tony.
When lunch rolled around, I went back to the house to eat and see if I could catch Tony. He was already eating when I got inside. He was standing in the middle of the kitchen, leaning on the island that was covered with lunch supplies in the middle of the room.
His mouth was full when I approached him, but I asked him one of my questions anyway.
“Hi Tony. What’s the name of that palomino paint mare out in the pasture next to the barn?”
Tony swallowed and gave me a knowing look. “Camorra. She’s a pretty little thing isn’t she? I just recently got her. Her owners sent her to me for 3 months. They want Kenny and I to train her to be a reining horse. She’s built perfectly for it.”
Disappointment washed over me. “She has owners?”
Tony looked sad too. “Yup. I wish I could keep her. She’d be a great little horse. But you can still ride her sometime if you want to!”
“Ok! How old is she?” I asked, more exuberantly.
“She’s three. She’s broke, she just needs all the training.”
I moved onto another question. “So, is this like a volunteer ranch or something? I met some kids today who claimed they were volunteers here. I was just wondering.”
“Well, it’s not really a volunteer ranch, but I let kids who need the community service hours for scholarships, school, projects, or whatever else, volunteer here so they can get some hours; or unless they need something to do for the summer. I can always use the extra help.”
“That’s cool.” I was just noticing that Lori wasn’t anywhere around when a toddler rushed into the room and ran to Tony’s leg, squeezing it with all her might.
I looked down, shocked. Tony caught me locking eyes with the little girl and tried to push away the awkwardness.
“Kate, this is my daughter, Addison.”
I couldn’t help myself, but I looked from Addison, to Tony, and back again.
“Oh, um, sorry but I didn’t know. My grandparents didn’t say anything.”
“Hmm, that’s strange.” Tony said bending down next to his little daughter. She had his same big brown eyes and dark hair, but she looked like Lori. She stared at me as I bent down too. Tony spoke, “Addison, this is Kate. Can you say hi?”
Addison leaned into her dad. “She’s a little shy.” He said with a smile.
“That’s ok. Hi Addison!” I said. Since I had never been that good with little kids, I was hoping that maybe it would be a little easier knowing Addison was sort of part of the family. Lori came in then and Addison rushed to her mom. The two cooed at each other while I made a sandwich. As I ate it, Lori chatted happily about Addison and her favorite pastimes. I tried to nod along as if I was interested, but as I took small bites from my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all I could think about was sleep. I wasn’t sure if my tiredness was from traveling, but all I knew is that if I didn’t catch up on some sleep now, I’d be tired the next day. So I quickly excused myself from lunch and went up to my room to take a nap.
I woke up about an hour later, so it was still early afternoon. I meandered downstairs and couldn’t find anybody. Boredom was starting to eat at me. I decided to go find Kenny and see if there was any work to do around here. The least I could do was help out a little. I walked out front and stood on the porch, gazing around the property. I heard some commotion going on near the hay barn, so I let my ears guide me to the location where Kenny might have been located.
When I arrived, there was a big black truck with a flat bed trailer behind it carrying many bales of hay. Kenny was nowhere to be seen. But I sighted a guy in the truck.
He was unloading bales form the back of Kenny’s truck when I first saw him. Forgetting my original motives of coming over to talk to Kenny, I stopped in my tracks. The young man stood there tall, striking, and handsome. Probably just a few years older than me, he was wearing a dark blue shirt that exposed his muscular arms. Despite the sun shining down on him as he worked, he was hardly sweating.
Suddenly I became very self conscious of myself. I caught myself standing in a stupid position. Trying to fix myself before he looked over at me, I stumbled over my feet, almost falling to my worst case of embarrassment. Of course, he looked up at me and I thought for sure I saw him take a disapproving once-over look of me before turning back to unloading. Irritated at myself, I soon angled it at him when I thought he was going to ignore me completely. But to my delight, he didn’t. “Can I help you?” he asked in an American voice. I noticed his lack of accent right of the bat.
“Oh yeah, I was looking for Kenny.”
The young man pointed to the opposite side of the truck. “Thanks.” I said before ambling my way over to Kenny. As I walked I thought I felt him watching me, but then that was most likely just my wishful thinking.
“Hey Kenny, is there anything I can do around here to help?”
To my surprise, a snicker sounded from the bed of the pick-up truck. I demanded myself to ignore it, and focused on Kenny. “Well…” Kenny paused briefly, probably brainstorming up something for me to do. “There are a few more horses that need to be brought in from the farthest pastures up at the front of the property. If you walk down the driveway, at the very front I’m pretty sure there are three horses in that right pasture. You could bring those guys in for me.”
Willing to take any job at the moment, I nodded vigorously. “Alright, sounds good.” With that I squared my shoulders and walked away confidently without looking back.
The long driveway took more time to walk then one could ever expect. By the time I got down to the three horses I felt exhausted. After a few minutes had passed, I’d finally captured all the horses and was now finally trying to manage the task of leading all three of them at once. I’d done it before back at Tina’s barn, but not for such a long stretch.
Luckily all the horses behaved nicely and didn’t put off a fuss for anything. Once we finally made it to the barn, I put each horse in its own stall with much difficulty. Wiping my hands on my pants, it came to my attention that I was in need of something to drink. Making my way back to the house, I saw the young man who had snickered at me earlier messing with something small that looked like a radio on a bench next to the tack room.
Debating whether or not I should ignore him, I continued to walk out. I hadn’t even glanced in his direction when he said something that struck my attention.
“So tell me, what’s a stylish town girl like you doing out here on a horse ranch? Shouldn’t you be shopping right now?” he asked in a humorous way. With that cocky I’m-so-funny smirk on his face, I could tell he was trying to be funny. To me it came across differently.
Taken aback, I pushed aside all politeness than what was common for me when meeting a new person and replied more defensively than what was probably necessary.
“For your information, I’m not a town girl. I’ve never lived on a horse farm, but that doesn’t make me an automatic prep, thank you very much!”
I swept a quick glance down at the outfit I was wearing. I wasn’t wearing what I usually wore to the stables. I had a nicer shirt and pair of jeans on than I didn’t regularly wear when I worked. But I didn’t think it was enough to consider myself “stylish” as the young man had. The guy put down what he was holding and held his hands up. “Whoa, whoa, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it like that! I was just joking! Honest, I think it sounded way worse than I meant it!”
I still stood where I was and just stared at him. “Yeah, sure. Oh and just for the record, I hate shopping, in case you didn’t know.”
“Hey look, I’m sorry, I was only kidding! I had no idea that you would respond like this! I thought you were just another volunteer trying to get some hours!”
I threw up my hands and slapped them back down on my thighs, trying to control my rising attidute. “Oh yeah? Well of course you didn’t know! That’s why you don’t accuse people you don’t know!” I paused, continuing before it was possible to be interrupted. “Speaking of that, I don’t even know you, so why am I talking to you?” I said more quietly before stalking off.
As she stormed off I realized just how stupid I’d sounded. I had insulted her without even thinking. Never was I rude to strangers, until now. I imagined banging my head against the wall. Yeah she hadn’t been all that nice and I could tell she was mad, but she had every right to be. Although it would’ve been nice if she could’ve at least tried to understand that I truly hadn’t meant it.
I checked the clock behind me. I had awhile before Kenny was back, giving me a good amount of time to finish his radio. Before returning it I was going to make sure that I made it clear to Kenny that he needed to take better care of his stuff rather than just chucking it away when he was done with it.
As I worked in solitude, my thoughts kept drifting back to the girl. I hope she hadn’t been too mad that she would never speak to me again. I was hoping that the next time I saw her I could introduce myself to her properly without any more rude insults.
I was about to get up and move to a new location when I realized that if the girl wanted to come back to the barn she would have to pass by me which give me another opportunity to make myself clear about what I’d said earlier. Unfortunately for her, she would have to face me whether she liked it or not.
After I had cooled myself down with some water, I began to replay in my head what had happened. Still biting onto the frustration within me, I realized that I hadn’t been too pleasant to the young man. Sure he shouldn’t have accused me, but he didn’t deserve my snobby attitude ratting him out like I did. As much as I desired not to, I shuffled myself unwilling out the door an attempt to go bind the loose strings that I’d shredded to pieces.
I looked at the first place that came to my mind and luckily had picked the right spot. He was still sitting on the bench & I quietly walked closer, leaving a good five feet in between him and me. When he didn’t bother to look up from his work, I decided to speak up first.
“Look, I came back to apologize. I didn’t act very nicely after what you said. In fact it was rather rude and obnoxious.”
A few awkward seconds passed by until he looked up with a frown on his face not meeting my eyes. I expected him to bite my head off, but instead, he sighed and shook the frown off his face.
“No, I’m the one who should apologize. I kind of accused you of being something you weren’t and I didn’t realize how dumb it sounded.”
I thought about saying something like, “Yeah you probably shouldn’t do that again,” but instead I tried to play nice in order to make up for my earlier behavior. “No I totally overreacted and it wasn’t necessary. So I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine! Don’t’ be sorry! I shouldn’t have said what I did! I’ll have to do something to make it up to you!”
“No you don’t have to…oh whatever it’s a done deal, just a big misunderstanding obviously.” I said trying to end the whole thing.
The kid just didn’t seem like he wanted to let it go, but he did. He shifted once almost as if he was trying to come up with something to say. He put down the little mechanism he was working with and stood up. “Alright forget I said all that and I’ll forget what you said. My name’s Ryan. And you are…?” he said clearing offering a proper introduction.
I raised my eyebrows. “Wait, you mean you don’t know?” I asked excitedly.
A confused frown appeared on Ryan’s face as he pulled his right hand back to his side from where it was in mid air after waiting for me to accept it. “Why would I know your name?” he asked me, the confusion still frozen on his face.
Ignoring the question, I introduced myself for the first time that day to someone who didn’t know me. “I’m Kate!” I said holding out my hand. Ryan shook my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Kate.”
Ryan sat back down and perched the little radio- looking thing back on his lap. “How old are you?” he asked bluntly.
“Sixteen. How old are you?” I returned the question.
He smirked. “I’m seventeen, almost eighteen.” Ryan seemed to ponder momentarily. “So then are you working for Tony?”
“Actually no, I’m his step-daughter. I’m going to be living with him for a year until I can move back to the United States.”
“You’re from America?” he asked looking up at me.
“Sure am, and proud of it! It probably also explains why I don’t have an Australian accent.”
Ryan smiled but kept working on what he was doing. “That makes two of us.”
“You used to live in America?”
Ryan nodded before his face twisted as he tried to shove something up into the mechanism he had.
“I assume you work for Tony then?” I questioned, trying to keep the conversation interesting.
“It’s been almost two years since I started.” Ryan changed the subject again. “You must be the girl Tony was telling everyone about.”
I rolled my eyes and looked away for a second, biting my lip. He had known who I was after all, he just hadn’t known my name.
“What is it?” he asked running one of his hands through his dark brunette wavy hair.
Ryan scooted over to the side on the bench he was sitting on. “Sorry I should’ve offered sooner, would you like to sit?”
I thought for a second. “Sure why not.”
“What are you working on?” I asked leaning slightly to get a better look at what he was doing.
“I’m fixing Kenny’s radio. He can’t stand to work without it.”
“Well it’s a good thing he asked you and not me. It should be illegal for me to deal with electronic stuff other than camera’s and computers.”
“Technology isn’t your thing?”
“It’s not mine either, but I do know how to work with it.”
Holding up the radio, Ryan turned it in a circle, examining it. “Done.” He said before standing up. “I’m going to go return this back to Kenny.”
Ryan walked away but before disappearing completely he turned back around to face me.
Hey I noticed you were looking for something to do earlier, would you like to help me feed the horses?”
I felt a smile break out on my face. “Sure!”
Evening came around and Lori came in to announce that dinner would be ready in a half hour. Once I was at the dinner table, the time passed quickly, and after helping Lori with the dishes, I said goodnight and went up to my room. I checked my email again and saw that Teresa had emailed me. She asked if she could call me. I replied fast, telling her that she could call, but gave her specific hours, since she lived in Virginia, which made both our days different from each other. Only Tina had emailed me back, so I told her about Camorra, then shut down my computer. I got ready for bed and then rolled under the covers. The bed seemed to swallow me, but not in such a way that was uncomfortable. It was nothing but comfy. I nestled against the soft pillows and found myself not tired anymore. The nap probably eased all my sleepiness. So I laid awake for at least another hour, wondering if tomorrow would be just as good as this day had been.
The next day came fast and when I awoke I wasn’t sure what my body’s time clock registered. I was tired, but not enough to feel drowsy. It was an easy morning as I got ready and met Lori in the kitchen downstairs for breakfast. She offered me cereal while she fed and played with Addison. The little toddler was the happiest thing I’d seen in awhile. She never stopped smiling. Lori informed me that Addison was two years old and once she turned four, she and Tony were going to give her a pony to ride around the ranch.
I followed the same schedule as the day before. I wandered around the place, looking at all the horses again, stopping longer than usual at Camorra’s pasture to pet her. I was going to head back to the house a little earlier to meet everyone for lunch when I saw Ryan coming towards me with a halter in his hand.
When he reached me, he smiled.
“Is Tony going to let you ride one of the horses today?” he asked with curiosity.
“Maybe, but I haven’t asked.” I hadn’t really thought about asking Tony until then.
“Let me know if he says yes, ok?” Ryan asked with innocence.
“Why?” I questioned.
Ryan just shrugged. “I don’t know, should there be a reason?”
“Yeah, most people would have a reason.” I replied suspiciously.
Ryan didn’t seem to mind that I was mystified by his questions. “Well I’m not most people.”
“Ok. What are you up to now?” I said motioning toward the halter he was holding.
“Oh I was just on my way out to get one of Tony’s horses that Kenny wanted to work with.”
“Do you ever ride?” I wondered with deep curiosity.
“Sometimes, not as often as I would like, but I usually help Kenny with the horses when I get the chance.”
“Cool, I’m hoping Tony will let me work with Camorra a little bit.”
I caught a flicker of doubt race across Ryan’s face. “Have you talked to Tony about that yet?”
“Nope,” I said casually.
“Well, I need to go get this horse for Kenny. I’ll see you around!” Ryan said quickly before dashing away from me.
When I got to the house, Tony was on the phone. Tony saw me and motioned me to come next to him. He hung up quickly and turned towards me. “That was the people who are shipping your horse. They said he should arrive here sometime tomorrow or the next day and once he gets here they’ll load him up in a trailer and bring him here, to his new home.”
“We can’t go pick him up?” I asked.
“Kate, it’s easier if they bring him here, ok?”
I sighed. “Right.”
I waited to ask if I could ride until Tony and I were seated at the table with our sandwiches made by Lori who was still dilly dawdling and humming a tune I was unfamiliar with.
“Hey Tony, do you think I could ride one of your horses this afternoon?”
Tony chewed for a minute before responding. “Sure. That’s fine. Who do you want to ride?”
I suddenly felt hesitant asking about riding Camorra. Doubts filled my mind and I began to it wouldn’t be such a good idea. But soon I changed my mind and asked anyways.
“Could I ride Camorra? Just, you know, a little bit.”
“Yes! That’d be great! She’s fine in an arena and she’s good on the trails too. The arena is behind the barns and there is one trail that goes on the outside of the property. You can take her on that if you’d like.” Tony offered with enthusiasm.
“So I can?” I asked, giddy with excitement.
“Sure.” Tony said in his laid back tone before taking a big gulp of his drink.
“Great!” I said giving him a small hug and dashing to the stairs. “I’ll go change into my riding clothes.”
I was already up the stairs when Tony reminded me about my sandwich.
“Are you done eating?”
“Oh no, I’ll be down in a minute!” I answered out of breath.
When I got up to my room, my phone began to vibrate. I pulled it from my pocket and viewed the caller ID. It was my sister, Teresa.
“Hello?” I answered as if I didn’t know who it was.
“Hey little sister! How’s the new country?”
“Uh, good. What’s up with you?”
“Oh, not too much. Well, I guess I shouldn't say that because then I’d be lying.”
“Ok come on what is it this time. Tell me the big news.”
There was a pause for a moment. “Ok, well this is serious big news.”
“Alright, I’m waiting.”
“Well, Grandma told you that I was dating somebody, right?”
“Sure. Keep going.”
“Ok, well I didn’t think things would go that far, but they went farther than I thought. We started to get pretty serious, and well Kate, I’m in love that’s what I am. And guess what happened yesterday.”
I didn’t reply, anxiously waiting the news I knew was bound to come.
“Kate, I’m getting married.”
Most sisters screamed and cried when they heard big news like this, but I just sat on the bed quietly, happy and excited for Teresa, but just a little worried. She still had a little more of college left to go through at the State University in Virginia. I tried my best to speak enthusiastically.
“Congratulations Teresa! I’m really happy for you! But what’s his name? I don’t even know his name!”
“Matthew Davis! Oh Kate he’s so handsome and so perfect!”
“Teresa that’s wonderful! But, what about college?” In a way, I was the older sister. I was always on the lookout for my older sister as I always had been.
“Oh well, I’m graduating next year, so the wedding is planned for next summer. Are you going to be able to come to my wedding and be my maid of honor?”
“Awesome! I can’t wait! I’ll send you a picture as soon as I can so you can at least know what he looks like!”
“Sounds like a plan! Does he have any siblings?”
“Oh, yeah he said he has a younger brother. But that’s all.”
For another ten minutes, Teresa and I carried on a conversation about the future. We hadn’t spoken for awhile, and I realized that we hadn’t had such a good conversation with one another in a long time.
Soon I remembered my sandwich was still waiting for me. So we both hung up and I went downstairs to announce the news after changing. Tony wasn’t surprised, but Lori was very excited even though she’d only seen one picture of Teresa. Lori began to ask me a little bit about the wedding when I suddenly caught Tony giving me a weary look. “You’re not going to ride in those are you?” he asked pointing to the pants I was wearing. I looked down to see myself wearing my tan breeches. “Oh, I guess I’m so used to riding English.” I said embarrassed.
“You could try riding Camorra in your English saddle if you want.”
“Nah, that’s ok. I want to try riding western.” I rushed back up the stairs for the hundredth time and put on my old jeans that hadn’t been used in so long I was sure they had rust on them.
When I got back to the main level again, I gobbled up what was left of my sandwich.
“If it’s alright with you guys, I’m think I’m going to go ride now.”
Tony offered to come along and assist me, but I told him I’d be alright and that if I needed anything, I would fine Kenny or Ryan for help.
“Oh have you met Ryan already?” Tony asked me.
“Yeah, we met the other day.” After we had a big argument first, I added to myself.
“He’s a good kid!” Tony mumbled before I decided it was time to leave.
I walked quickly to Camorra’s pasture, but once I got there, she wasn’t. Hoping she was in her stall, I went back to the barn. I was right and Camorra nickered when she saw me, sticking her pretty head over the half stall door. I grabbed the halter of the hook on the door and put it on her, leading her to the cross ties that were closest to her stall. I was about to go retrieve grooming equipment when it was brought to my attention that I had no idea where anything was at all.
Ryan came to my rescue when he walked down the far end of the aisle way, leading a big black horse that looked like it belonged on the race track. He put the big black in the cross ties across from Camorra and came over to me. “I saw you come in here so I went to get this big guy.” Ryan nodded toward the big black.
“Wow that horse is pretty big. Doesn’t look like a quarter horse.” I commented.
“He’s half Quarter and half Thoroughbred. His owners brought him here for Tony and Kenny to start him as a ranch horse. He’s only three and Kenny’s excited to work with him even though he doesn’t have any cow bloodlines in him.”
“Hmmm.” I replied nodding my head. “So uh, where are the brushes?” I asked with half a smile.
“Oh!” Ryan walked past Camorra and led me to a big room that was full of saddles and other tack and grooming supplies. There was a grooming tote with all the necessary brushes by the door. Ryan grabbed it and walked out.
“We can share.” he said to me over his shoulder.
He placed the box in between the two horses. We both grabbed a brush and began to work on the horses. “I see Tony agreed to let you ride Camorra.”
“Yeah he did. You weren’t planning on riding her were you?”
“Oh me? No. Have you ever ridden a young horse before?”
“What’s it to you?” I asked, irritated at his unending questions.
“Just making sure you know what you’re getting into.” I heard him comment. I dropped my hands from Camorra’s sides and sighed.
“Ryan, I know how to ride horses. I’ve taken riding lessons all my life. My own horse is even being shipped here from America and is either arriving here today or tomorrow. So, I know what I’m getting into, ok?”
“Oh, ok.” Ryan replied, sounding like he’d just gotten slapped in the face for no reason. “Sorry, I didn’t know.”
Once they had been groomed and taken care of, Ryan led me back to the tack room. When we got there I took one look at the saddles and remembered something very important. I spoke my mind, and the truth. “I’ve never ridden in a western saddle before.”
“What, are you an english rider than?” Ryan asked in a teasingly fashion.
“Well, yeah.” I replied certainly.
“Oh, I didn’t know that either. Well, then.” Ryan said, picking up a big light brown western saddle with a huge square skirt and big horn from one of the saddle racks embedded in the wall and handing it to me “Here you go.”
The long fenders and stirrups clashed at my legs and as I tried to grab hold of the saddle awkwardly. Ryan let go too soon and my clumsy arms lost my hold on the saddle, making it fall onto the floor. Ryan looked back over at me, picked up the saddle and handed it back to me like it was no big deal that I dropped it. Once I for sure had it in a weird position on my arms, he turned back around as I lugged out of the tack room, trying not to fall over. When I reached Camorra, I let the big saddle drop from my arms.
“These saddles are ridiculously heavy!” I mumbled to myself. Just then, Ryan appeared and in one solid motion lifted the saddle I had dropped to the ground and flung in onto Camorra’s back like it was a feather all the while maintaining his hold on another saddle in his other hand.
“Oh come on, tell me I’m not that weak.”
Ryan’s smile flowed into his sentence. “You’re not that weak. You just aren’t used to it I guess.”
“Phew” I exaggerated, wiping my brow.
“Alright,” seriousness filled Ryan’s voice. “I don’t want to assume wrong things yet again, so, do you know how to cinch this old thing?” he jerked his head toward the old saddle placed perfectly over the saddle pad on his horse’s back.
Frustration picked at me. I hated admitting to not knowing how to do things; especially something as simple as saddling a horse with a saddle that wasn’t too different from my own.
“I could give it a try!” I said, not giving up.
Ryan nodded once and began to cinch up his own horse. I tried to watch him saddle the horse discreetly so he wouldn’t see me cheating, but the horse was blocking my view so it was hard to see. I guessed at how the latigo wrapped around the saddle and then tried to cover it with the stirrup.
Before long Ryan came back over, lifted up the stirrup, and laughed at my poor job. “Well, it seems logical that it would be a knot, but it’s just a little more complicated than that.” Ryan said calmly like he was trying not to mock me.
He undid the tie I had done and wrapped it back up in a few swift movements that looked like the same way I had done it, but obviously in the correct way.
“There, like that. Now let’s get these horses bridled. You know how to do that, right?”
“Yes sir!” I replied following him back to the tack room.
Ryan led the way to a humongous outdoor arena that was empty, but I followed behind him very slowing. He was already on his horse, but I waited until we were in the arena to get on board. I mounted up into the Western saddle on Camorra’s back, holding back a grunt as I came in contact with the hard seat. I stretched my heels down in the stirrups, but it felt awkward since my leg was already extended all the way down. I placed the reins in both of my hands, and clucked to Camorra. If Camorra was a person, I knew that she would have been laughing at me this whole time.
Just after the first few strides of Camorra’s walk, I could tell these horses at the ranch were going to be so much different than what I was used to. I could barely wait for Harley to arrive because when I tried posting to Camorra’s slow gentle trot, I felt like I didn’t know how to ride. It probably looked that way too, but fortunately Ryan wasn’t paying attention to me at all. He was doing some fast footwork with the horse he was on. I admired the way he rode. He didn’t ride like he was a cowboy. He actually rode with good equitation, quite hands, and seemed to know what he was doing.
I didn’t want to walk the entire time, so I sat to Camorra’s trot rather than try posting because sitting the trot was something I did when I rode english. For a few more minutes I rocked back and forth with Camorra’s slightly bumpy jog, enjoying it. Then I brought the palomino mare back to a walk and decided to keep it at that pace for the rest of the time. I would experiment with these horses later.
After a little while, when I though Ryan was about to send his horse into another series of circles, he came over to me, patting the big black horse who was sweaty all over.
“What’s that horse’s name?” I asked.
“Asher. I think it fits him.” Ryan paused for a heartbeat but then spoke again, but this time more reserved as if I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. “Do you want to go for a trail ride? There’s one that outlines the property.”
“Yeah, Tony told me about it. Sure that’d great and I’m sure the horses would enjoy it too.”
For what felt like the hundredth time that evening, Ryan led the way to the trail while I tagged along a few feet behind him and Asher. We had exited out the opposite side of the arena that we had entered and weaved our way past the large hay barn and round pen until we found ourselves on narrow dirt road only wide enough for two horses.
“Do you have a horse Ryan?” I started the conversation, bringing Camorra up next to Asher who made me feel really short.
“Nah, but Tony usually let’s me ride any of the horses I want. I guess you could say it is part of the benefits of my job.”
I didn’t want to make Ryan uncomfortable by asking a lot of questions, but I had a few that I was dying to ask. I decided not to hold back unless he said something.
“You said you used to live in America. Why did you move here? If you don’t mind me asking.”
I was a little worried that I’d asked too deep of a question. But to my comfort, Ryan looked more relaxed than ever.
“Well, I live with my mom. I was born here in Australia, but when my dad’s work called him to live in the states, my family and I moved to America when I was a baby. Then I was raised there and became an American citizen. After my parents got separated, I moved back here with my mom because most of our family is here. I still go visit my dad every once in awhile. But I don’t see him too often any more. I think he dates a lot of women and doesn’t stay in one place for long because of work.”
After Ryan told me this I was silent. He’d told me more than I’d ever imagined he would and sense the story was also sad, I didn’t know what else to say.
“What about you? How come you’re here in Australia? If you don’t mind me asking.” Ryan smiled before throwing in the last part.”
At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to be as open and detailed about my life as Ryan had, but soon I dismissed the feeling. Maybe it would be good to tell about my life.
So I started from the beginning, where Tony was involved, then explained the death of my mother, and the reasons for me coming here.
Ryan reacted the same way I had. He didn’t respond for at least a minute.
“Wow, I’m sorry Kate! I had no idea, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No Ryan it’s alright. You’re not a physic, I don’t expect you to know much about me. And if I didn’t want to tell you, I would have said so. It’s only fair anyways. You told me about you, so I told you about me.”
Ryan smiled, “Ok.”
For the rest of the trail ride we chatted about simpler things. When we were nearing the end of the trail, I began to think, not understanding why I’d just told my life story and many other things to a guy I’d met just the day before. I’d never been that open my entire life. But no matter how shocked I was at myself, I didn’t feel uncomfortable about any of it. It felt as if Ryan and I had been lifelong friends.
I’d all but forgotten about Camorra who happily padded along the soft dirt road until she snorted, making me jump subtly. Two minutes had passed and Ryan and I hadn’t said anything. But then I remember one more question we hadn’t covered.
“Do you have any siblings?”
Looking in my direction but far past the visible horizon, Ryan appeared as if he was watching something. “Yeah, I’ve got an older brother. But I haven’t talked to him much because last time I heard from him he was busy with work, the business he’s starting and…other stuff.”
I wasn’t quite sure what Ryan meant by the “other stuff” but I could tell that whatever it was, he didn’t like it. He also didn’t sound very excited about any of it. Even though I wondered why and was sure he’d be willingly to tell me, I didn’t want to push it.
“I have an older sister. She’s getting married next summer.”
“Are you glad she’s getting married?”
“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Ryan shrugged. “I can only imagine how busy my brother is going to get once he gets married someday and has a family. We used to be close when we were boys, but after he left for college five years ago, we didn’t really speak much anymore.”
There was a sliver of sadness in his voice, but I could tell he was trying to hide it. There seemed to be another reason why he didn’t want his brother to get married because Ryan didn’t seem like a selfish guy. I tried to push my thoughts aside.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be the same with my sister.” I replied, more to myself.
The barns were in sight, so Ryan and I wrapped up our conversation and took the horses back. Shortly after we had put the tack away, Camorra was back in her stall and so was Asher, munching happily on their late afternoon meal.
I checked the time. It was just a few minutes after four ‘o’ clock. Not sure with what else to do, I decided to go back up to my room and call Tina. She’d be dying to know about my first experience in a western saddle.
It was very early in the morning when I awoke, and I had a terrible feeling though I wasn’t sure why. I tried to sleep for the next few hours, but only found myself stirring restlessly. It was as if some sort of peace inside me had broken and was replaced with turmoil. For the first time since I had arrived in Australia, the morning dragged on, and it seemed too quiet around the property. Tanya and Alex hadn’t shown up at all and Lori had gone to town with Addison. Tony was at work and I was about to wonder if I was completely alone when I went into the barn and saw a stall door open with a wheel barrow sticking out of it. I popped my head in to see Ryan mucking the stall with a pitchfork. He looked up when I peaked around smiled softly. “Hey there!”
“Hi! Do you want some help?”
Ryan stopped for a brief moment. He looked very serious, like he was debating whether or not he should let me.
“Nah, it’s ok. I got it.” I could see he was trying to be nice. He was only on the second stall in the first barn. He was going to need help if he was to accomplish cleaning all the stalls in both barns.
“Ryan, I’ve got nothing better to do and I don’t mind helping you out. Are you sure?”
He stood up again and looked like he was reconsidering. “Are you sure you can handle it? I mean lugging these pitchforks around is a lot of work!”
At first I thought he was serious, but when I saw the teasing expression on his face I played along with him. “Well I’m pretty weak since I can’t even carry a western saddle, but I should probably start working my arm muscles so I can change that!”
Ryan smiled and tossed the pitchfork at me.
Surprised, my arms lunged out to catch it but instead the pole rammed right into my face. I heard Ryan try to suppress a laugh. “Maybe you should work on catching too!” He said before trying to escape past me. I slapped in on the arm half heartedly.
“I’ll pretend like that hurt and say “ouch!”!”
“It wasn’t supposed to hurt!” I whined at him.
“Oh, like I’m supposed to believe that! Girls just can’t hit!” Ryan joked.
I slapped his arm with all my might and burst out laughing when his jaw dropped and he grabbed his arm. His face twisted in pain but he still couldn’t stop smiling. “Now hitting is one thing you don’t need to work on!” he yelped.
“Oh are you sure? I thought girls couldn’t hit?”
Ryan finally released hi hold on his arm. “Girls can’t, but you can!”
I grinned from ear to ear. “I’ll take that as a compliment!”
“You do that along with finishing this stall! I’ll go grab another pitchfork and wheelbarrow and start on the next one!” Ryan called before running off.
Either Ryan was very fast at cleaning stalls, or I was very slow. When I was about three fourths of the way through with my stalls, Ryan appeared at my current stall door.
“I’ve finished up my stalls, so I’m going to head over to the other barn and clean up. You got it ok here?”
“Yeah I’ll be fine! Wow your fast! I’ve mucked stalls all my life but I don’t think it has done me any good!”
Ryan made a funny grimace. “No, maybe my stalls just weren’t as dirty as yours.” he smiled. The sight was beginning to come very familiar. “You’ll be done before you know it.”
Ryan was right. We both had finished with all the stalls in no time. Ryan had some errands to run, so he left soon after. I thought I saw Tony’s truck parked outside the house, so I made my way over. I went in the house to fine Tony wandering about stressfully. At the sight of me, a flicker of relief filled his stiff features.
“Kate, there’s something I need to tell you!”
When I saw Tony’s expression, I knew that whatever he was going to tell me was not good.
“But, you might want to sit down.”
My whole body began to thump with the rhythm of my accelerating heartbeat. I cautiously sat down on a comfy leather recliner next to Tony, never leaving his troubled eyes.
“Kate...” Tony looked as nervous as I felt. So many thoughts raced through my head in the one second it took him to get his words out, “the ship with Harley has arrived, but there’s a problem.”
Before he went into any more detail, I could feel my insides crumple beneath my stone-still frame.
“They can’t get him off the ship. He’s too freaked out after the boat ride. They tried to sedate him, but no one could get near him. So they thought that maybe if you came down to help, they might be able to get him off. We need to leave now.”
As if I were a ghost, I stood up and in a determined monotone voice said, “Let’s go.”
The entire way to the shipping docs, which consisted of about two awful hours, I remained silent, and so did Tony. The horse trailer thumped quietly behind the truck. Luckily the trailer had already been hooked up before we left from previous use. As each slow second ticked on, I’m sure neither of us knew what to say. All I could focus on besides menacing thoughts was the landscape that we were racing past way slower than I wanted.
When we got there, my heart lodged into my throat. Because the dock was empty except for one ship, I saw the boat in the distance and I tried to keep myself from picturing my beloved horse in there, thrashing around, panicked, and trying to escape. I was already halfway there by the time Tony got out of the truck and raced to catch up with me. Since there was no need to go to any sort of front office, I managed my way around busy workers, and even ignored a few of the men who told me I needed ID in order to be on the dock. I could faintly hear Tony explaining to them what was going on when I reached the ship that contained something inside it that was a sporadic shipment, one full of movement and fear.
There was a man standing there also with a clipboard and a calm expression on his face.
“Excuse me sir, that’s my horse in there, can I please go in?”
The man looked as if he’d dealt with crazy people before. “May I please see your ID?”
Unable to control my emotions anymore, anger swept over me as tears threatened to stream down my face. “Look! Without me that horse isn’t getting out! I need...”
An arm suddenly pushed me out of the way and I jerked my head violently in the direction, ready to shove back when I saw Tony showing the man his ID. The man nodded and I sprinted as fast as my legs would carry me up the wide and sturdy ramp and into the ship.
My eyes searched until I saw him. Never in my life had I seen a horse so furious and petrified. He was enclosed in a sturdy metal box that went up to his tall sides. His tormenting whinnies were obnoxious and unremitting. Two ropes were hooked to either side of his halter, and my legs automatically made their way toward him. His muscled chest pushed violently against the metal door and his head was higher than I thought possible while his eyes were wide and rolling around. A hand grabbed my arm and strongly pulled me back.
“Are you the owner?” he asked me with a weary voice and wide eyes.
I nodded my head. “We’ve tried to sedate him, but no one can get within 5 feet of him. The last worker that tried got bit.” The man said nodding over to the corner where a man full of painful moans tried to keep grabbing his head that had a gnarly and bloody gash on it. The lady attending to him seemed to have heard us and glared up at me with piercing eyes. “That horse needs to be put down!” she snarled unpleasantly.
As terrible as I felt, I ignored the back-stabbing remark from the lady and took slow steps to Harley, mumbling the gentle voice I always used when I talked to him. For a moment I thought I caught him showing a flicker of recognition when he lowered his head slightly, but my next step caused him to fling his head up again. I saw that despite the metal door, there were many massive dents Harley had made that looked like they had been created by something more powerful than just a horse’s two front legs.
As I neared him, I could hear the people surrounding me talking in hushed whispers, probably agreeing how insane I was. I reached up to stroke Harley’s face when he struck his hind legs against the wall behind him along with intentionally reaching down with his teeth and caressing my skin in what seemed to be an attempt to bite me. Horror struck, I backed away a step before making my way towards him one last time. Only this time, when I was close enough to grab hold of his halter, I saw the top latch on the door fiercely snap. Within the blink of an eye, Harley lunged at the door forcing it outwards toward me, and all I could do was watch Harley frantically jump his way up and over the destroyed metal door. Before anything else could be done, Harley’s hooves crashed down on the same floor I was standing on and I dove out of the way before his pounding hooves and massive body collided with my own. Tony was next to me for a second before he dashed off to where Harley was. I got up quickly, just in time to witness Harley striking his hind legs at one of the workers. His hooves threw the guy back fiercely. With a big boom, the man clashed with the wall and slumped to the floor as what seemed to be the whole population on the ship ran toward him.
Despite the tragic sorrow I felt for all the terrible trouble Harley had caused these innocent people, the raging terror, agonizing fear, and breaking sadness I felt, overruled my good judgment. I hopped back up on my feet. Harley was in the distance and I caught sight of Tony holding onto Harley’s halter, but this only made things worse. Harley threw his head up, taking Tony with him, and reared as higher than seemed attainable.
Suddenly a gunshot was heard, and Harley’s movement slowed. After a second fire was made, Harley fell to the ground.
“NO! HARLEY!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. With the rest of my might I sprinted over to Harley where he now laid quietly, taking quick shallow breaths. My legs collapsed with the rest of my body when I reached him. I could hardly see for every ounce of water in my body was flowing out of my eyes. Harley had been shot once in the chest once in the side. I didn’t know enough about the anatomy of the horse to know whether or not either of the shots penetrated his heart or any major organs. When I reached for Harley’s face and began to stroke it softly, he looked directly at me, and nickered. My heart broke and shattered to pieces in that tragic moment, for in the end, he had recognized me!
Tony was at my side. “Kate, the vet is on the way, he’s going to try all that he can!”
“You’re going to make it Harley boy! You’re gonna be alright!” I shrieked. I wasn’t sure if anybody could hear me and I didn’t really care. I poured my heart out to my beloved horse who was suffering unbearable pain. Harley’s gentle spirit didn’t show it, but I knew he was hurting. I pulled my shaking body toward my horse’s face. I cradled his head in my lap for the entire time we waited for the vet to arrive.
When the vet did arrive, he spoke to Tony immediately while he began to work. He let me stay by Harley’s side as he checked over the non-moving horse. Harley’s breath had grown even slower and the way the vet mumbled I couldn’t tell if the outcome would be good or bad.
Finally, the vet came next to me and looked me in the eyes. He spoke in a soft, sympathetic, practiced tone. “Kate, I am so very sorry, but the first shot hit one of his lungs, and the second hit one of his intestines. There’s too much internal bleeding. And he’s lost too much blood. Would you rather wait for him to pass, or give it to him in a syringe?”
I knew what the vet was asking, and being my selfish self I wanted to keep my horse with me as long as possible, but knowing he was in misery would cause me even greater grief. Therefore I knew what had to be done.
“A syringe. But please, let me say goodbye first!” The vet nodded, but I didn’t notice. I looked down at Harley. His eyes were half closed and his faced was covered in wet spots from my tears.
“Harley! I love you! You were such a good horse! No horse will ever replace you!”
The vet came over and injected Harley. Ten seconds later, Harley closed his eyes for the very last time.
Harley was now gone. I was stuck on a ship with my step-dad and many other strangers who were all staring at me. My only desire at the moment besides ridding all the constant painful tears I couldn’t control was to go find the man who had shot my horse and return him the favor. But I knew I’d never be capable. And once all the action had passed, Tony ushered me out to the truck quickly. He told me he was going to make a few calls before taking me home.
The trip back went fast, for I was totally engrossed in all the heartache I was trying to subdue. Tony glanced in my direction every few minutes, but I hardly noticed. When we arrived home, I dashed for my room. I flung myself onto my bed, and cried myself to sleep, surprised that the agony hadn’t yet destroyed me.
Two days had passed sense Harley’s death, and I hadn’t left my room once. Lori had been kind enough to bring me my meals and anything else I needed. But all I had spent my time doing was weeping and mourning. All I had been able to manage was a few quick emails to my friends and family back home, telling them of what had happened. Until now, I didn’t have the strength or motives to do anything else. But as I remembered the pictures I had taken back home in my last few days with Harley, I searched vigorously for the copious package of printed pictures. When I found them, I took a minute to look at each one.
The first picture I pulled from the large stack was of me, sitting on the ground in Harley’s favorite pasture while he was there beside me, sniffing my tousled hair. The expression on my face showed I was laughing. Surprisingly, no tears came at the sight of it, until I reached for the next picture. Then a gallon of fresh tears flooded my eyes and streamed down my face while my teeth chattered as I looked at the picture. I was sitting on Harley bareback with my arms around his neck and smiling at him as his head and neck were craned back toward my leg in the picture. His ears pricked forward and calmness shone in his eyes.
I continued to cry throughout the rest of the pictures. I jumped when there was a knock on my door. Lori peeked her head in. “Mind if I come in?” she asked?
At this point I didn’t care who saw me the way I was. “Sure” I squeaked.
She came in and sat down next to me. I sort of ignored her a little as I kept looking through each of my pictures, but she didn’t say anything either. She only looked at the pictures with me. When I came to the last few dozen pictures, I stopped crying. I gasped quickly, for I realized that these last photos were the only ones that held hope and a future. They were of Harley and me flying over jumps. I glanced over at Lori and smiled. She had a single tear down her cheek as she looked back up at me and returned the smile.
Despite the sadness they brought, these pictures had hope because although I would never jump again with Harley, I would jump again. And it gave me a future because even though it wouldn’t be Harley I was jumping on, it would be a new jumping horse, one to make more memories with. Lori hugged me and I hugged her back.
“Want to come downstairs with me?” Lori offered.
I stood up and led the way out.
Lori finally talked the courage into me to go outside and get some fresh air. I hurriedly made my way out of the house and over to the barn in hope that no one would see me. I walked down the aisle way, and when I reached the end of the “L” shaped barn, I sat down on an unbroken bale of hay next to a cute little red roan horse’s stall. The horse stared at me with interest, but when I didn’t move, he lost his curiosity and went to find something better to do. A few minutes later, I heard footsteps, but I didn’t look up.
Ryan came over. I could sense that he wasn’t quite sure what to say to me.
“Hey, how you doing?” he asked gently, seating himself next to me on the scratchy bale of hay.
I shifted uncomfortably while holding my tongue, even though his presence comforted me. I thought of something to say. Ryan was the last person I wanted to be rude to.
“I’m not sure I can answer that right now,” I stated glumly, “but thanks for asking.”
“Sure. I’m really sorry about all this. I know that doesn’t sound all that sincere, but I know it has to be hard.”
“Yeah it really is,”
Listen, I know it might be a little soon, but Tony wanted me to tell you that when you’re ready he’ll buy you a new horse.”
This news disturbed me, and because I was so emotional, I didn’t see the kindness in it, only my selfishness. My burst of anger grew quicker than I could contain it. “WHAT?” I stood up. “I just lost my horse and he’s already offering to buy me a new one?”
I fell back onto the bale. “Does anybody understand how it feels to lose something you love?” I meant to say that in my head, but I accidentally said it out loud. I grinded my elbows into my knees and covered my face with my hands. There was a brief silence.
“Hey, hey, I’m sorry,” Ryan said apologetically. “I don’t think Tony realized it was still too soon, I should have waited.”
“No, it’s not you at all Ryan. It’s Tony!”
There was a brief pause of silence before one of us spoke. “You asked if anyone knew what it felt like to lose something they loved. Many people do, Kate, including me.” Ryan stated in a painful voice.
I looked up and saw a small flicker of anguish flash across Ryan’s face. “And actually I’m sure Tony knows too”
“What are you saying?”
“Kate, you weren’t the only one who suffered the death of you mother. Tony was married to her. He must have felt to the same pain.”
Guilt washed over me like a waterfall. “Oh, I hadn’t even considered Tony,” I mumbled quietly.
“I think he’ll…
“But, what about you?” I interrupted him. “How do you know what it feels like?”
Ryan didn’t respond and for a moment I thought he wasn’t going to at all. Ryan’s entire presence changed. He hung his head a little and fiddled with his fingers.
“I had a little sister once.”
“Yeah, but she died from Leukemia when she was seven years old. I was eleven at the time. Believe me, as young as I was, I know what it feels like.”
I didn’t say anything for a moment until I worked up enough courage. “I’m so sorry, Ryan! I, I…I had no idea.”
“It’s ok, of course you didn’t. I never talk about her.”
“What was her name?”
With Kate next to me on the brink of tears I thought about Maleah. The pain came rushing back. I started to remember that horrible day we rushed to the hospital to be there for her when the nurses said she had broken out in an awful fever and was going downhill faster than they could stop. With a slight unnoticeable shake of my head I glanced back over at Kate. She looked sadder than a lost puppy. I wanted to reach out and hold her, for I did understand the pain she was feeling. But since we had only known each other for such a short time I didn’t want to cross that boundary.
Kate stood up. “Um, I think I’m going to go find something to do, ok?” she said quietly. “I need to do something to occupy myself.” She added to herself.
“Ok, but Kate, just so you know, if you ever want to talk, I’m here.”
She nodded and her hair fell around her face. “Ok, thanks.”
As she walked away, I just waited and watched her go. Ever since we had first met, I knew there had been something different about her. Our personalities seemed to click right away. On that trail ride when I rode with her, I had told her way more than I ever expected too, almost like she had been one of my lifelong friends. That same sense made me feel the urge to treat her like one as well. I couldn’t help but wonder if she felt the same way.
As I walked away from Ryan, I felt worse than before. All the pain Harley’s death had caused me, was forcing me to be swallowed up into my own personal bubble of hurt. As much as I wanted to change that, I decided to give myself just a few more days to mourn for my horse.
Around the corner I saw Tanya in the distance. I made my way over to her when Alex stepped out in front of me. I could see the confusion on his face as he looked upon my own red, puffy, tear stained face. The first question out of his mouth surprised me and I wasn’t quite sure why.
“Hey, what happened?” He reached his arms toward me like he was going to hug me, but I stepped away slightly. “Nothing.” I stepped around him and headed towards Tanya. He followed me.
“C’mon something’s gotta be up. I haven’t seen you around much!” Alex said to me.
I tried to reply politely. “I’ve been kind of busy lately. What’s it matter to you?” My last comment made him back off for the moment. We had reached Tanya then and I was shocked more by Tanya’s response than Alex. She took a few steps towards me and embraced me in a big hug. I hesitated, not sure whether to hug her back or not. When she pulled away she gave me a small sorrowful smile. “Tony told me what happened. He feels awful.”
I was still angry at him and highly doubted that Tony felt bad. He was probably looking forward to picking out another horse for me just so he could have another pretty horse to decorate his property.
“What happened?” Alex pulled himself into the conversation.
Tanya glared at him. “Alex, go find Ryan and get some stalls cleaned!”
Alex, who seemed suddenly intimidated by Tanya, obeyed her command and rushed off. Tanya rolled her eyes.
“Sorry about him, he can be a little annoying.”
Tanya seemed to understand that I wanted to go back to the house, so she dismissed me kindly. “Ok, well I’ll let you go.”
When I got to the house, I searched for Lori. As I walked, my strides felt lethargic, as if the life had been sucked out of me. Lori was busy bustling around the living room with Addison. “Lori, is there anything I can do for you, any chores that need to be done or something?”
Lori stopped whatever she was doing and thought. “Um,”
Lori seemed to be the type of women that loved to do house work and carry on things by herself. But when she saw the desperate look on my face, she must have understood that I needed something to do. “Well the dishes can be put away, but you don’t know where the dishes go.” Lori seemed to be talking to herself more than me.
Well, you could babysit Addison for me while I run to the grocery store, then when I get back you can help me put the food away! Does that sound good?”
“Sure!” I said exuberantly as I could possibly force myself. An idea suddenly struck my head. I would put in a movie for Addison while Lori was out, and call Leslie. I could use a phone call to a good friend.
Lori gave me the details I needed in order to take care of Addison, and then left to go food shopping. The second Lori was out the door, Addison got painfully shy. When she saw me, she screamed in a kind of joyful way, and ran behind the couch. Confused, I waited for her next response. I didn’t want to frighten her, so when Addison didn’t move I made slow steps towards her.
“Addison, it’s ok. My name is Kate. I’m going to be your friend, ok?”
Addison peeked around the corner of the couch and hid deeper. But when I caught the expression on her face, it wasn’t fear, it was happy and mischievous. That’s when I realized that Addison wasn’t hiding from me because she was scared, she was hiding because she wanted to play hide and seek!
I played along as best I could.
“Hmm, where could Addison be?” I heard a soft giggle.
I played along for a few more minutes before I “found” her. Then I hid while she looked. This took place the entire time Lori was gone. Unfortunately I hadn’t been able to call Leslie, but I had kept Addison happy the entire time, with no fussing and whining, so I was pleased with myself. As I helped Lori put away the groceries, I felt as if a small thumb tack of pain was lifted off my back. Playing with Addison must have helped with that. But it didn’t last long because once we had finished with the food and Lori had no other chores for me to do, I went back into my depression mode and walked around the ranch a few times. I took time to stop and pet each horse. I had so much time on my hands, I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to survive without a horse to call my own.
That night when Tony was home and reading some magazine by himself in the living room, I stomped my way over to him. He looked up, “Kate! You’re out! It’s good to finally see you! Hey I’m really sorry…”
“If you’re sorry then why’d you offer to buy me a horse so soon?”
“You know what I’m talking about, Tony!”
Probably never having dealt with a trouble-making teenager before, Tony looked stumped when I began to raise my voice at him.
“Why did you offer to buy me another horse right after mine died? Don’t you realize how hard it was for me to lose Harley?” As I yelled Tony just sat in front of me looking down like he didn’t’ know what to say.
As I tried to continue speaking with even more emphasis I suddenly crumpled to the ground in sobs and Tony rushed to my side, picking me up and hugging me. Suddenly my snobby attitude departed from me and I wept into his shoulders. “I’m so sorry Tony! I didn’t mean any of it! I’ve been so…so, so selfish lately! I’m sorry!”
Tony just held me tight, “It’s ok Kate, it’s ok.”
I was sitting on the railing of Camorra’s paddock one day, studying the way she ate. I had begun to lose track of each day, for I could hardly care anymore. At first Camorra had been pleased with my attention but after a little while she grew bored and set off to graze. I was starting to stare at the big blue empty sky that mirrored my face when the fence shook. I looked over my right shoulder so see Ryan making a seat next to me.
He studied the sky momentarily before speaking. “Look Kate, once I got to know you better on those first few days you were here, you were so full of life and excitement. I know Harley is the reason for this, but lately you’ve been so drained. I understand that. You have every right to be sad for losing Harley. But I just wanted to remind you, that someday even though the pain will still be there, you are going to have to move on. So I was wondering, would you feel up to coming somewhere with me?”
Listening to Ryan’s words, I knew he was right. But I wasn’t quite ready to admit that just yet.
I waited a few moments before reply. “Not now, Ryan. But thanks for offering. Maybe later.”
Ryan understood. I could see that much when I looked into his eyes.
“Ok, but when you’re ready, come and get me and I’ll take you somewhere.” With that he left, leaving me with my untamed thoughts. I had no idea of where he intended to take me, and I had no plans on trying to figure it out.
Later on that night in my room, I decided it was time I at least try to get over myself, despite all the pain I was still feeling. No matter how much time passed, the pain of losing Harley would never leave me. But I still had to live. Like an animal in the wild that always had that never ending hunger, yet still managed to survive.
When the sun awoke in the early morning, I sought out after Ryan. I found him in the cattle barn.
“I’m ready to go, Ryan, whenever you’re ready.” I said it with an amount of confidence I hadn’t felt in awhile.
He knew what I meant and smiled brighter than I had seen him smile in awhile. Within a half hour we were both in his brown truck, pulling away from Tony’s property. This was only the second time I had gone off Tony’s property, and the last time I had, it had gone terrible.
We drove in silence at first, but soon we picked up on a small friendly conversation, which we hadn’t had in awhile because of me. Finally we started to pull onto a quiet dirt road. When we drove past a sign that read, “Smithton’s Horse Sales”, I finally understood where Ryan was taking me. “Ryan, what’s this?”
“Well, Smithton was one of my dad’s good friends when he lived back here. People basically pay him to sell their horses for them. He’s always had good horses for sale. So I thought I’d bring you here and let you take a look.”
I sighed. If I had known where we were going, I could’ve saved Ryan a trip. “No, Ryan. I’m sorry, but I thought I’d already told you I would just stick with one of Tony’s horses for now.”
“You never told me that.” He informed me.
“Well, I’m telling you now. I’ll just stick to one of Tony’s horses.”
Ryan stopped his truck in front of a decent looking barn with many extending turnouts filled with horses. He wasn’t giving up, that was for sure.
When I looked back at Ryan he locked his eyes on mine. In a sincere voice he said, “Please Kate. Just look.”
At that moment a tall burly man with a big bushy beard appeared at Ryan’s door. He reminded me of Santa with a brown beard instead of white. Ryan stepped out and hugged the guy as he let out a jolly roll of laughter. The two talked while I stayed in the truck with my arms crossed. The big weathered man peered at me through the window and waved. I tried to smile.
I looked back at the horses in the turnouts. None of them caught my attention. Ryan and the man disappeared when I turned back in their direction. I glanced around the place and caught sight of a small pony being led by a little girl. She walked it along happily, speaking to it like it was a friend. I got out of the truck and made my way over to her. She saw me and stopped.
“Hi!” I called. “What’s your pony’s name?”
The little girl brought her finger up to her chin and tapped her face a few times. “Well, I’m deciding between Cupcake and Muffin.”
I reached my palm over to the pony for it to sniff. The girl looked to be about seven and she seemed quite friendly. “Lucky died a little while ago, so when I found this sweet girl at a horse sale, my Papa let me take her home.” The child said happily.
I smiled for the first time in awhile. “Well, good luck with naming her! I think she’s going to make a great pony!”
The little girl smiled confidently. “Thanks, me too!”
As she walked off, I thought about how the little girl and I were quite similar. Both of us had lost a horse, yet she had the courage and brave heart to step out of that sadness and look for a new furry friend. And I, had not. The reality check set in immediately. Ryan was right once again. I needed to look at these horses because Harley was never coming back.
I took long strides over to the barn where Ryan had parked in front of. I peered into the first couple of stalls, not too pleased with what I saw; a small red roan mare, a scraggly old bay, a shy pretty little paint, and a big palomino that looked wild. What I was looking for probably wasn’t in Smithton’s selection. I was curious to know if Ryan knew what I would really be looking for in a horse, one with amazing power and grace that could carry its self and a rider over large jumps. None of these horses fit that description.
But as I continued looking into the stalls, the horses continued to improve. By the last stall, I had picked out two favorites, a tall shiny black that looked like she had thoroughbred bloodlines, and a big muscular chestnut that adored my attention.
“See anything you like?”
I turned around to see Ryan walking toward me. His face was lit up and I assumed it was because I had taken his advice.
“Um, yeah, this black here and the chestnut a few stalls down. Do you know if he has any jumping horses?”
Ryan nodded. “I’m sure he does. He always has some of those. In fact jumping horses are the majority of what he sells. That’s why I thought I would take you here. You and Harley were jumpers, right?”
I nodded. Hmmm, so Ryan did know what I was looking for.
Smithton appeared around the corner. “Hello, Kate. I’m Smithton, a friend of Ryan’s dad.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Smithton.” I replied politely.
Smithton’s face grew business-like. “So, what are you looking for? Reiner, gamer, jumper, trail horse?” he pronounced each one slowly as if giving me time to think about each one.
“Ah, that would be these two,” Smithton said pointing to the black and chestnut I had picked out to be my favorites. “Would you like to try either of ‘em?”
Since I hadn’t known where Ryan was taking me, I had thrown on a regular pair of jeans and a comfy pair of shoes. “I would, although I didn’t bring riding clothes.”
Smithton seemed amused by my comment. “So you come to look at horses, but you don’t wear riding clothes. How does that work?” It was meant as a rhetorical question, but I answered it anyways.
“I didn’t know I was coming here.” Neither Ryan nor Smithton had heard me, for they were both making their way over to the chestnut across the aisle a few stalls down. “Well, if you don’t mind riding in those clothes, you could give it a try.”
“Alright, I will.”
Reggie was the name of the chestnut. It seemed to fit him. He stood patiently while Smithton tacked him up. Once we had been taken to the outdoor ring, I mounted up onto Reggie’s tall back and asked Smithton if he could set up a few small jumps for me. He got right on the task as I began walking Reggie around the arena. It felt good to be back in the saddle even though it wasn’t on my favorite mount. My jeans were riding up and giving an uncomfortable feeling, but I focused mostly on Reggie and how he moved. The gelding pulled on my hands every few strides, wanting to stretch his head down. Each time I aggressively pulled back, but Reggie didn’t seem to understand. When I trotted him, I could feel his legs stretching out into his strides. It was a decent trot, but I couldn’t stop from comparing him with Harley and his elegant flowing trot. At the canter, I tried to relax but instead found myself trying to keep Reggie at a controlled speed on the rail. Although it felt wonderful to be jumping again, when I popped him over the two small jumps, his balance was slightly off, and his footing was just a little clumsy. If I were looking for a young jumping horse that needed work, Reggie would be the one, but because I wanted an experienced jumping horse, Reggie wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. After a few rounds of cooling the horse off, I walked back over to Smithton. “Do you mind if I tried the other one?”
Smithton didn’t seem appalled at all that I wasn’t thrilled with Reggie. He quickly took care of the sweet gelding before pulling out Juliet, the big black mare.
As I rode Juliet around the ring, I could feel her tense beneath me. Her trot was springy and her canter was quick and bouncy. When she jumped she had power and even over jumped most of the small obstacles, but before each jump she tended to lean to one side or the other. I jumped her a more times to see if she was only jumping crooked for the first few times, but when it didn’t stop, I cooled her down.
I walked back over to where Smithton and Ryan stood. “Thanks for letting me ride your horses Mr. Smithton, but they aren’t quite what I’m looking for.”
Smithton threw his hands up, “Ah! Well if you want to come back in a few weeks I’ll most likely have some new critters to sell!”
After I got off and given Juliet over to Smithton, Ryan came over to me.
“Hey, I didn’t know you could ride like that! You’re really good.”
I blushed, for no one besides my friends and family ever told me anything like that. Ryan was a friend of course, but coming from someone that I hadn’t known for very long, it meant a lot more.
“I’m really bummed I didn’t get the chance to see you and Harley in action. That would’ve been something else.” Ryan sounded almost embarrassed and shy when he said that, but something about the sincerity in his voice showed his confidence.
“Huh, yeah. Too bad that won’t ever happen.”
Ryan put both his hands on either side of my shoulders. He was only gripping gently, but it felt strong enough, that if I were to collapse, his arms would hold me there in place where I was. A shock jolted through me when he touched me. Surprised at my unexpected reaction I tried to focus on what he started to say.
“Hey I’m really, really sorry about all this. I’m going to try and help you as much as I can, ok?”
I stared into his deep hazel sea blue eyes and nodded. When he let go I felt as if I’d been dropped to the ground. His hold on me had made me feel like I was flying. Suddenly I longed for him to hold me in a more passionate way than before. But then I realized my thoughts were taking me down unnecessary impossible roads so I brought myself back to the present.
Within the next half hour Ryan and I were back in his truck heading home after an unsuccessful trip. I wondered if Ryan felt bad that I hadn’t found a horse I liked, because he didn’t say much on the way home. When we got back, Ryan claimed he had some more chores to do before he went home. I figured he probably just wanted to get away from me since I was still quite a mess.
Once I had told Kate I had a few more chores, I strolled to the cattle barn with long strides to make an important phone call. That was probably a place she wouldn’t go to very often, and that’s why I chose it. When I got there, I checked to make sure no one was there, and then I dialed the phone number. I felt bad that she hadn’t found a horse she was happy with, but I was determined to change that at some point. A familiar gruff voice answered. “Hello?
“Hi Smithton, it’s Ryan, here. Can you do me a favor?”
“Sure, whatcha need?”
“Well, I really want to find a good horse for Kate, can you look around for a good experienced jumping horse? I have a feeling Tony’s price range will go pretty high on this one, so it better be a nice one. Sound good?”
“Sounds just like my kind of job!”
I was out wandering yet again when I ran into Ryan in the horse barn in the late afternoon. “Hey, I thought you had gone home already!”
I thought I saw a sheepish expression flash across his face before he spoke. “Oh, no I guess my chores took me longer than I thought. But I forgot I’m going to go pick up my buddy Eric. We’re going to go downtown, meet with some friends and catch a little dinner. Do you want to come?” Ryan drew out that last question as if he thought I would say no. I felt like saying it, because I didn’t think I could handle hanging out with Ryan and a bunch of his friends who were probably all older than I. But something inside me urged me to say yes.
“Uh, well it would be fun,” I said while Ryan’s eyes lit up slightly, which made it harder for me to say the next few words. “but I don’t want to interrupt your time with your friends. Besides, I was gonna, uh,” I looked around the farm for something to do. “I was gonna help Lori with Addison!”
“Aw come on Kate! “You’re lying! My friends won’t mind if you tag along!” Ryan swung his arm out a tad like he wanted to reach for my hand. I wanted to do the same, but he put both his hands in his jean pockets instead. Tagging along was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be in with the group if I was going to go at all.
“Let’s go!” Ryan said nodding towards his truck.
I smiled and I couldn’t resist any longer. “Ok! But give me five minutes to get ready!”
As I dashed up the stairs, I felt a rush of excitement, which was something I hadn’t felt in awhile. I was finally moving on after Harley’s death and beginning to except life the way it was, although, that was a subject that would only bring me back into a depressing puddle of muddy quicksand if I were to think about it for too long. So instead I brushed my long untamed hair, threw it up in a messy but stylish bun, slipped on some skinny jeans and my favorite turquoise baby doll shirt with a white lace tank top underneath. I put on a simple pair of silver flats and raced back down the stairs after applying a small dab of mascara. The weather had been quite pleasant so I didn’t bother to get a jacket.
I jumped in Ryan’s truck while he waited patiently behind the wheel.
“Wow! That only took you three minutes. Impressive! Most girls it takes at least an hour or two!”
“Ah, let’s just say I’m not a typical girl.”
“No you’re not!” Ryan laughed. I didn’t know whether Ryan meant that to be good or bad, so I just smiled.
Despite the fact that Ryan was still in his work clothes, I was beginning to wonder if he had zipped home and changed in the three minutes it took me to dress. His dark jeans weren’t dirty from the looks of them, and he had his long sleeve plaid red and white shirt’s sleeves rolled up to his elbows, with a dark grey shirt underneath. It was simple, but appeared to be a casual everyday outfit a normal American teenage guy would wear.
A little ways down the road from Tony’s there was a small neighborhood that looked out of place with its fancy homes with acreage. We pulled up to a house that looked like all the rest, and a tall young man with dark curly hair and an oval face with dark brown eyes walked out and hopped into the back of Ryan’s truck. He and Ryan grabbed hands and exchanged a few friendly hand motions shake type things which I assumed meant “hello”.
Eric turned in my direction. “Finally got a girl, eh Ryan?”
Ryan gave me an apologetic glance before glaring back at his friend. “Uh, no we’re just friends, Eric. Now get over it.”
Eric didn’t seem to have heard him. “So who is she?”
I didn’t appreciate how he was talking like I wasn’t there. “Eric, this is Kate. Kate, this is Eric.”
“Hey Kate baby, what’s up?” Eric said with a flirty upward jerk of his head.
I cleared my throat, “Excuse me?”
“What, you don’t like being called baby?
“I turned around sharply ready to reply but Ryan laid a hand on my shoulder. He gave me a look that said “chill”, and then turned to Eric. “Hey man, lay off will you? And don’t get started with all that “baby” stuff, or I’m dropping you off on the side of the road and you’re walking!”
“Sorry!” Eric said defensively, throwing up his hands in surrender.
“Sorry Kate, Eric acts stupid like that sometimes when he’s around pretty girls. He can’t seem to help his flirtatiousness.”
I felt terribly awkward and turned my face away, hiding my blush. “Oh.”
I looked back at Ryan and he didn’t seemed fazed by what he’d said until he caught my expression, then he clenched his jaw a few times before turning back to Eric.
“Alright I won’t drop you off on the side of the road, but behave yourself tonight, ok? The girls don’t want to be around immature guys like you!” Ryan said teasingly.
Ryan and Eric kept slipping playful bantering remarks back and forth, but I ignored them. The girls? I hadn’t known there would be other girls there. But then that was stupid because first of all, what was I expecting, a bunch of guys? And second of all, how would a guy like Ryan not have any girl friends? Whoa, that thought had come out of know where. I ignored Ryan and his friend the rest of the way there besides the few attempts Eric tried to make conversation with me.
When we reached the town I was drawn to my new surroundings. I hadn’t yet been in town much and I watched intently as we passed small business and shopping stores. The town was quite large, yet had a cozy and cute well designed look about it. Ryan drove us to a street that was lined what looked like for a mile with shopping stores, restaurants, and maybe more from what I could see from all the hanging signs. He parked along the street in front a restaurant called, “THINK!”
We all got out and Eric came over to me, walking in a sluggish clumsily sort of way. “Hey, I’m sorry about early, I didn’t mean to be such a jerk. I was just having fun with you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” was all I could say.
A group of two girls and a guy were waiting in front of the door. Having been a very social person all my life, it felt strange to feel awkward around a bunch of new people. Usually I always leapt at the chance to meet new people, but many things had changed in the past few weeks. Two pretty girls, one with brunette hair and blue eyes, and the other with strawberry blonde hair and green eyes, looked at me when Ryan, Eric, and I came up next to them. The guy with them reminded me somewhat of Ryan. He was good looking with blonde hair and tall, he was lean but looked really fit. I noticed he was holding hands with the brunette. That was fine with me of course. But when I looked back at the strawberry blonde, I saw her eyeing the very little space between Ryan and me. I thought I saw her sneak a quick glare in my direction, but she turned back to the brunette and smiled before I could really tell.
“Hey guys!” Ryan exclaimed. “I want you to meet Kate!”
The brunette was the first to greet me. She took hold of my hand with both of hers. “Hi Kate! I’m Miranda! It’s good to meet you!” Miranda said with a rich Australian accent. She put one of her arms behind the blonde guy and pushed him forward as he held out his hand. “This is Josh!”
“Hi Josh!” I said enthusiastically as I shook his hand.
“Hello Kate!” He replied in the same manner.
“And this is Olivia,” Miranda continued pointing to the strawberry blonde.
Olivia stepped forward and shook my hand with an actual genuine smile on her face. “Hi!” she said pleasantly. I smiled back.
Ryan, who seemed to be the center of attention with his friends, led the way in as the rest of us followed. A kind waiter sat us down at a table booth by the front windows. I squeezed in first so I was against the wall. Miranda slid in next to me with Josh at her right. Ryan sat in front of me with Olivia next to him and Eric at the end.
We, mostly they, chattered about simple things while we waited for the waiter to come take our orders. I noticed how flirty Olivia was with Ryan. Fortunately he didn’t seem to have a mutual feeling. Soon, once we had received our food, Ryan and all his friends started talking about something that didn’t involve me. Because the topic excluded me, I begin to watch outside the window as I ate my simple salad and chicken sandwich. I watched all the people go by, wondering what their lives were like here in Australia. Before I knew it, Miranda pulled me back into the group conversation. “So Kate, you came here from America?” Eric asked.
“Really? I was going to ask why I hadn’t ever seen around!” Miranda questioned. Everyone suddenly seemed interested in me.
I didn’t mind talking about my big move, but I didn’t feel like going into detail. “Yeah, I did. I came here to live on my step dad’s ranch. Have you guys ever been there?” I left out the part where I didn’t want to come here.
Eric raised his hand like a giddy little school boy. “I have!” I let out a small giggle.
Olivia chirped in, “Eric, you’ve been everywhere in this town, but you’ve never ever set a foot outside of it.”
“Name one place you went outside of our town.” Olivia challenged.
“Well, I went to my cousin’s house a few miles south of Kalbarri. That’s counts!”
We all laughed. “Hey Eric, you should come to America with me!” I stated jokingly. I had warmed up to him after that whole awkward session in the truck with him.
“Yeah I should! I’ll start losing some weight so I’ll fit in your suitcase!” he teased back.
We started to talk about America. Well for the most part I did all the talking since they were the ones asking all the questions. Ryan and Miranda seemed most interested in my life in America. Olivia even looked like she had some depth of curiosity. After we paid for our meal—I offered to pay for mine, but Ryan insisted that he cover it—the rest of the night we all dilly dawdled around in all the stores, shopping a little, but mostly goofing around. I got along well with all of Ryan’s friends, although I still felt a disconnection with Olivia, despite her attempts to be nice to me. I tried to be equally nice, but she didn’t seem to view it that way. I didn’t know what her problem was, but I had a feeling her reason had to do with Ryan.
The night had finally come to an end at 10:00. Ryan drove Eric and me home after we had said all our goodbyes. I told Ryan how much fun I had had and that I was glad he made me come along. Then I went up to my room and crashed.
A week had gone by narrowing it down to two weeks left in August before school started. Life continued on, I continued to see Ryan every day along with Tanya and Alex. I helped clean stalls every once in awhile and went shopping for school clothes when Lori absolutely insisted that I go. Besides that nothing else really had happened.
One afternoon when I was bored and had made my now daily trips around the horse barns I ran into Alex who was leaning against a stall door playing with a pitchfork.
“Hi!” I said hoping I could just pass by without saying much more.
“Hey come here for a minute!” Alex called to me. I regretted speaking instantly. I turned in his direction and walked over to him, keeping a good distance between us two.
“So, what have you been up to lately?” he asked casually.
“Um, well not a whole lot.”
The eagerness in Alex’s eyes made me wish I hadn’t said that.
“Oh, cool.” Alex commented before biting his lip. He glanced around nervously. “Well I was wondering, if maybe you wanted to go do something with me sometime.” Although I was a little shocked at what he said, I was somewhat expecting him to say something similar anyway.
“Uh, sorry Alex but uh I think I’m going be getting busier, you know since school is starting,” I tried to make my reason sound convincing.
“Oh it’s ok!” Alex said energetically as if he was trying extra hard to make sure I knew it was ok. “I can wait until you’re free again. I’m not that busy of a person. When you’re free you can just give me a call.”
“Well I’m going to be busy for like the next whole month, every day.” I said slowly. I was hoping he would get the hint that I didn’t want to do anything with him. He was as clueless as a two year old who was told not to go outside.
“That’s ok whenever works for me, really.”
“No, Alex, listen!” I said with a little too much force.
Just then an arm fell around my shoulders and I jolted to my right.
Disbelief filled my face as Ryan appeared next to me with a silly expression on his face. “So you ready for our big date tonight?” he said as if we’d had it planned for over a year.
When it took me a little while to respond, he winked to me with the eye that Alex couldn’t see. I finally took the hint and understood what he was up to. “Oh! Uh yeah! Definitely! In fact I should probably start getting ready!” I chirped with as much enthusiasm I could scrape up before slipping out from underneath Ryan’s arm and walking away. When I was almost of hearing distance, I took a side trip and walked into the tack room across the aisle way and listened to what Ryan started to say.
“Stop hitting on my girlfriend alright Alex? It’s not cool and if you do it again, you won’t be wearing that dumb smirk on your face any more! You hear me?” Ryan said with a mean tone of voice I hadn’t ever heard before.
Alex sounded suddenly like a little kid who just got a scolding from his dad. “Sorry! I didn’t know you two were…”
“Of course you didn’t!” Ryan said aggressively, “Now don’t do it again.”
“Alright!” Alex said defensively before I heard him scurry off. I stepped out of the tack room just as Ryan was passing by and I almost ran into him.
“Whoa what was all that about?” I exclaimed putting my hands on my hips, demanding an explanation.
The aggressive voice and stance Ryan had had a second ago changed back to his usual self. “Yeah sorry about that, hope that wasn’t a big misunderstanding, you know in case you thought I was serious or something. But I could tell he was getting on your nerves so I decided to get him off before he could annoy you much more.” Ryan said half serious half teasing.
“He’s been on my nerves!” I laughed.
“Alright then, you can thank me later.”
“Thank you later? I can’t thank you now?”
“Nah, just save it for another time. It was my pleasure getting after that little creep.” Partly puzzled at why he said that I watched him stalk off quickly before I could wonder much more.
Since Alex had ran off to somewhere unknown, I hung around waiting for my mind to come up with something to do. Ryan appeared back sooner than I thought and he had his phone in his hand. He shoved it in his pocket as Tanya passed by and waved while I waved back. I watched her go to the back side of the barn assuming she was probably going to go bring some horses back to the barn. I was ready to dash off after her and offer some assistants when Ryan spoke up before I could. “Kate, do you feel up to going somewhere with me?”
Last time Ryan had asked me that, it hadn’t turned out too well. “Oh I don’t know, Ryan.” I said discouraged.
Ryan gripped my shoulders again, but more firmly this time. He had a passion in his eyes I hadn’t seen before, almost a longing look. “Please, Kate! Just come with me. Please, if I’ve gotten to know you like I think I have, you’ll like this.”
“Are you taking me to look at horses again?” I questioned.
He didn’t answer. The desperate look in his kind young eyes made my heart automatically say yes, but my inner conscious was telling me no. But in order to get away from the boredom that had temporarily overcome my sadness I was feeling, I closed my eyes. “Fine, take me.” Ryan looked satisfied with himself as he took my hand and led me out to his truck. I didn’t want to let go of his hand when he pulled away to get on his side of the truck.
He drove me down a familiar rode, and I felt my heart break into disappointment and sadness as we passed that old sign that read “Smithton’s Horse Sales”.
Instead of trying to be stubborn, I willingly let Ryan toy with me as he wanted. There was no sign of Smithton, so Ryan led me into the barn where Juliet and Reggie had been. Inside there was a horse in cross ties with an English saddle on his back. Nobody was around the horse, so I walked over to him. The second I saw him, there was something about him that drew me to him. I felt the eyes of my heart pop open when I studied his structure. He was a large athletic dapple grey with a beautiful face that reminded me of…Harley. But he wasn’t quite the spitting image. Harley’s coat was sleek and shinny, this horse’s coat was dull despite his pretty dapples. He stood very calmly when I petted him, as if he was too tired to really return the attention. He was about the same height, maybe bigger. His muscles didn’t look as tone, and you could see a few of his ribs. But the biggest different was the look in his eyes, for there was no look in this horse’s eye. No life or spark of interest. All his eyes held were dull brown irises and black pupils. Ryan hadn’t said a word since entering the barn, so I glanced in his direction. There was a reserved happiness on his face I couldn’t piece together that made me curious. “Kate, meet Quince.” He said as if he were introducing someone to the president of the United States.
“Hi Quince.” I said quietly to the gelding as I patted his forehead underneath his think blackish gray forelock. “How do you know his name?”
Ryan looked like he was hiding something. “Well, I asked Smithton if he could look around for another jumping horse, and he found this guy. He’s doesn’t look too great at the moment, but with some good care and conditioning, he could be a beautiful horse someday soon.”
I knew Ryan was probably expecting me to jump for joy and I felt bad that I wasn’t, but something was bothering me. “But there’s no life inside of him. He’s as dull as his coat.” I stated blandly.
Ryan came over to me, stroking Quince. “Here’s the catch. His owner claimed that he was a magnificent jumper some time ago. She said that she’d just had him turned out into her pasture for the past two years and she hardly ever worked with him. That’s why she’s selling him. He’s a great jumper that needs to be worked, not just kept in a pasture for the rest of his life. She said he’s like a totally different horse when he’s going over fences.”
I thought about what he was saying. When I didn’t respond he continued. “Don’t you see Kate? He’s just like you! You lost your horse, and it seems like you’ve lost your purpose to live. Quince was turned out into a pasture, and lost his purpose to live. You’re both talented jumpers! So put you two together and I’m sure you two can find your passion for jumping again!” Ryan seemed more exuberant about the whole deal than I did, but I decided to give it a try.
“Ok, well he’s all saddled, so if Smithton would just show up we can bridle him and I can take him for a ride.” I said hesitantly.
As if he’d heard me call him, Smithton appeared with a bridle. “There you are! I heard you two talking, so I fetched his bridle!” He said in his deep manly voice, dropping the English bridle into my hands. I slipped the bit into Quince’s mouth easily and hopped on.
Once I was hoisted on Quince’s tall back, I had an inner feeling that Ryan was going to be right. The way Quince moved reminded me of Harley’s elegance and grace, even at the walk. As I warmed him up in the ring, starting at a normal posting trot and then working my way into an extended trot, Quince felt a little stiff with a slightly hard mouth, but I was sure it was because he hadn’t been worked in a very long time. Therefore I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Because he hadn’t been ridden much lately, I only warmed him up quickly each direction at the trot then followed that with a few large canter circles in each direction so I would have enough horse left to jump with. His canter felt just like Harley’s and the longer I rode him, the more I felt his real spirit kick in. It came time for me to jump. Smithton had set up another small jump for me, and as I guided Quince toward it, it was as if I had hit a magic button. An entirely different horse from the Quince I had first met kicked in and glided effortlessly over the fence with enough power for three horses. With a small playful buck at the end, I sensed that Quince had enjoyed that as much as I had. A big smile broke out on my face. Ryan had been right. Quince was the one.
After Smithton gave me the opportunity to take care of Quince myself, I truly saw that Quince was two different horses. Like him, I was also a different person when I jumped. And once the two of us stopped, reality kicked back in again, and we found our places as boring lifeless creatures. That must have been the connection that I had felt when I first saw Quince. But the pain of Harley disintegrated to a tiny spec, all but forgotten, and a pure joy filled me its replace. Together, I knew the two of us were going to become one horse and one person again.
I had called Tony, Smithton called Quince’s previous owner, and the two were on their way to sign paperwork and fill out the check. While we waited, I spent time with Quince while Ryan looked at the other horses. As happy as I felt to finally have a horse to connect with, I felt guilty, as if I were trying to replace Harley. But no matter how much I came to love this new horse, it would never measure up to the love I had for Harley. And I had to make sure I left it at that.
Quince soon lost his interest in me. Knowing something had to be done about this, I decided to create some ideas to help the broken horse become a lively young and spirited horse again. After all, Smithton had told me he was only eight years old. If I had heard Tony correctly, he was bringing the trailer to pick up Quince. I would start working with Quince as soon as we got home. I would work with him as much as each day allowed me before school started.
When I met up with Ryan in Smithton’s office, a middle aged lady about in her fifties, with light blonde dyed hair, was working on some paper work. Noticing my presence, the lady looked up. “Hi! You must be Kate! I’m Karen!” She didn’t shake my hand, just went back to working on the paper work.
“Karen, do you know much about Harley’s background?” Smithton urged.
Karen looked up. She frowned for a minute. “Well, as I told you, Quince used to be a great jumper. I’ve never jumped him. The lady who gave him to me did though because she bought him as a yearling and trained him. Those two together were like watching a movie from heaven. I was a good friend of hers and I didn’t understand why she wanted me to take him from her without giving her any money. Then she told me about the accident she’d had. I found out later that she hadn’t told many people at all. While at a stadium show jumping show, she was in a class when Quince took off too soon. She almost stayed on, but she lost her balance and fell off as Quince was going over it. Quince was fine, but she broke her hip, got a concussion and fell into a coma for two weeks. After that she was deathly afraid of riding him and too embarrassed to compete again because apparently she was at the top of her game for awhile”
Karen took a moment to ponder the story before continuing.
“And because of her hip replacement, she didn’t feel up to taking care of him, so she gave him to me. I kept him for awhile in case she ever wanted him back, but she only came out to see him once or twice a year. I think she kept him for so long because she was hoping one day she’d be able to ride him, but she eventually gave up. So that’s why I’m selling him now. I’ve got nothing for him, but you look like you do.” Karen said the last part to me.
This story made me feel sad, sorry for the lady who got hurt, and sad that Quince had been put away in a pasture for nothing, wasting two years of his life. The lady must have known he had talent and even more potential. At least it sure seemed that way to me when I rode him. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t sell him to someone who could’ve used him. Tony showed up then and greeted Karen and Smithton. As I soon came to find out Tony and Smithton were like brothers and they gave each other a big embrace. Tony informed me later that he had purchased many horses from Smithton awhile back.
As the arrangements were being made, I took Ryan out with me to get Quince ready to load. The only things I was taking along with me besides Quince, was a turnout blanket to use for him in the winter, an old halter (that I was going to replace), and a stable sheet the was embroidered on the side with the words “Autumn Jumpers Fall Show Jumping Classic Reserve Champion”. Quince must have won this with his old owner. I wondered why she hadn’t kept it, but I overheard Karen later saying Quince’s old owner had plenty of trophies and prizes that she had kept from her time with jumping Quince.
The best advantage of Quince being mellow was that he was very easy to control. He was almost so calm he could lead himself over to the trailer.
I led Quince to the trailer and Ryan opened the door, exposing the small crammed place that could hold three horses. When the door opened, it was like opening the door to the past. An image of Quince rearing up in the trailer and then falling to the ground appeared in my head. Although it wasn’t Quince anymore, it was
Harley. I felt my eyes bulge open wide. “No!” I screamed and I let go of Quince’s lead rope in order to race forward and slam the trailer door shut. Quince hadn’t moved and barely jerked his head upward when I grabbed his lead rope and pulled him away from the horse trailer. I heard Ryan rush after me.
“Kate, he has to go in there.” He said politely but yet in a comforting manner.
“No there has to be another way!” I said with determination. “I’m not risking my horse’s life again!” I hadn’t thought at all about the risk of him traveling to and fro from Smithton’s to Tony’s.
“What if I load him while you wait in the truck? He’s going to be ok. We aren’t going to let anything happen to him.” Ryan spoke to me as if I was a crazy person. Not sure what I was feeling anymore I crossed my arms.
I had calmed down some as my brain started to kick in for what seemed like the first time. He was right. This was how Quince had to get home. And Karen had informed me that he had been hauled many times in a trailer. I nodded my head. “Ok, I’ll wait in the truck.” I handed Ryan the lead rope and headed toward the safety of the truck. I’d been such an idiot lately, I felt ashamed.
I waited for the time to pass and soon Tony hopped in with me and I remembered Ryan had brought his own truck.
“So how did you find this horse?” Tony asked.
“Ryan asked Smithton to search him out for me.”
“Hmm. You like him?”
“Yes. Do you?”
“Well, he looks like a magnificent horse. I don’t know much about Irish Sport horses but he’ll suit you perfectly, I’m sure. What do you like about him?”
Suddenly we went over a slight bump and a sharp gasp escaped me as I jolted around and eyed the trailer carefully to make sure everything was ok. I turned back after the trailer still looked like nothing had changed and Tony was staring at me in between intervals of looking at the road and back at me.
“Are you ok?” Tony asked with care. “Maybe you should’ve ridden with Ryan.”
“No, I’m ok. I’m just a freak about this kind of stuff now. This is just harder than I realized it would be.” I let my loose hair fall around my face. “Anyways I was sort of drawn to him from the moment I saw him. And when I jumped him he was amazing.’
“I’m excited to see you two in action.”
The rest of the short way back we didn’t talk. It was probably because I was too busy twitching and flinching at every movement of the truck and glancing back at the trailer every ten seconds. Once we were back, Ryan was already there waiting outside his truck. He automatically headed to the back of the trailer to get Quince out when we stopped. I was about to get out of the truck when Tony grabbed my arm.
“Kate, I just want to let you know, that I’m very, very sorry about what happened with Harley. I feel terrible, and I’m sorry I offered to buy you a new horse so soon. I just…I just wanted to help you out. And I’m glad you finally found a good horse to help you overcome what happened. If you ever need anything, just let me know. And I’m always here if you need somebody to talk to. I know we don’t have the best of relationship with each other, but I hope that improves.” As awkward as it sounded, I knew he was being sincere.
“Thanks Tony. I appreciate it. And it’s really ok, I understand.” I replied with an attempt for the same amount of sincerity.
“Great.” Tony’s face changed from sad sincerity to a quiet excitement. “Now, let’s get Quince taken care of.”
Ryan had brought Quince over to the barn. It was usual for horses to be prancing around and excited when brought to a new place. But Quince just stood there without neighing or pawing.
“I’ll take him, thanks Ryan.” I said reaching out for the lead rope. “Tony, which stall is he going to be in?” I asked.
“Down at the end of this first barn. Tanya and Alex prepared a stall for him. He should have hay in his feed bin too.”
The minute we entered the barn, the few horses that were still in their stalls whinnied and stretched their necks out in order to greet the new horse. Quince however, ignored them all. At the end of the barn, a stall three down from the end wall had an open door. I assumed that was Quince’s new home, so I let him go inside, slipped his halter off and watched him for a moment. He looked settled in already. He slowly went over to his food, dragging his feet as if he dreaded doing so, and began munching like he’d been living there all his life. With no worries about Quince, I decided to go up to my room and email everyone about my new horse before coming back down and working with him.
Because of my frequent boredom when there wasn’t anybody on the property, I had checked my email almost every day. Teresa had only emailed me once, saying that she was going to email me a picture of her and her fiancé soon. It never came. Leslie had emailed me every day also along with Tina, Carly, and my grandma. The hardest emails for me to read were from my grandma because each email she apologized at least two times because she felt responsible for Harley’s death.. Although it had been her decision, I didn’t hold it against her, because it wasn’t her fault. She was only trying to hold my best interests at heart and I knew that.
Today as I viewed who the emails were from, I had one from my grandma, one from Leslie, and one from Teresa. I quickly clicked on the email that read “Picture” from Teresa. She had written a brief message, and I clicked on the attachment after reading it. Once loaded, a picture popped up on the screen of my sister with a young man standing next to her. Their arms were around each other and it looked like the picture had been taken at a dance. Teresa wore a simple and short flashy red dress with high heels, and the guy wore a black tux. Teresa had explained that the picture was taken at a special award ceremony for 4.0 students at her college. They both looked stunning in their outfits. When I studied Teresa’s fiancé, Matthew, he looked very familiar, as if I’d already met him. It was like somebody had taken a picture of somebody I knew and changed their appearance slightly. He was very handsome in my opinion. He was tall, athletic, with bright green eyes and light brown spiky cropped hair. He and Teresa together made a striking couple. Suddenly I was very happy for Teresa. She looked so happy with her bright smile exposing her white teeth. Her brown eyes were still big even though her smile caused them to become squinty. Her crazy curly dark brown hair—it looked just like mine—had been curled properly and fell behind her back naturally.
As I was eager to work with my horse I quickly replaced my laptop in my room where it belonged and rushed back down to Quince. When I reached the stables, I found Tony leaning against Quince’s stall door watching him eat. I wasn’t sure if he noticed my presence or not so I cleared my throat. “Mind if I work with him a little bit?”
Tony backed away from the stall slowly handing me the halter that was on the door. “Go ahead, he’s all yours!”
It felt good to hear someone say that, but it didn’t seem quite right yet.
“He went home. Got a call from his mom when we got here and said he had some family issues he wanted to work out.”
As Tony said this, it was clear to me that he cared about Ryan, but he seemed oblivious to his worker’s personal life, which was maybe was a good thing.
“Hmm, well I think I’m going to lunge Quince a little bit and get him going.” Right after I said that a crazy idea hit me. I’d read it in many fictional books and was suddenly curious to find out if it would really help.
“Tony, what would you think if I spent the night in Quince’s stall with him tonight?”
Tony gave me a complete wary eye as if he thought I was insane.
“Is that an American thing now?” Tony teased.
When I only smiled he turned serious. “Well sure, if you want. I can grab a mat and some blankets for you. But why would you do that?”
“I’ve read it in books where girls have stayed in horses’ stalls all night when they was sick or something and it helped them bond with the horse. I want to see if it really works. Consider it a experiment and don’t call me crazy.”
Before walking off Tony said one last thing, sounding somewhat doubtful. “Don’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t work, Kate.”
I took Quince out to the round pen and let him loose. I hope he would spring forward and kick his heals up a little bit to show some spirit, but instead he just walked away from me, sniffing the ground. I flicked the end of the lead rope towards his hindquarters in order to get him to move and he took off for a few strides at the trot. I had to encourage him with many more flicks in order to keep him moving. Finally he broke into an easy canter. When I stopped driving him on, he immediately stopped. I walked towards him aggressively and urged him to continue moving. When Quince didn’t budge I slapped him with the lead rope and he sprung back into action.
After Quince finally had a consistent momentum going around in the large circular pen without me chasing after him, I eased off and let him relax. I was hoping my horse would begin to lower his head and lick his lips, the signs that showed he was ready to trust me and quit working, but when he only seemed to accumulate more energy I tried reversing him. He was only worse in the other direction. Adding in a few bucks Quince completely ignored me. Now, he had spirit, but with the wrong attitude. I let him run until he began to at least show signs of tiring. It wasn’t very noticeable when I caught it, but Quince lowered his head briefly and I stopped him so that he would end on a positive note.
Settling right back into his stall once I was finished exercising and brushing him, Quince seemed more relaxed than any other horse I’d never known. But almost a little too relaxed, I thought to myself, as if he just didn’t care about a thing. I stroked his face, as I tried to puzzle together what was wrong with Quince’s personality. I still couldn’t see any life making its way into his eyes. They were still boring and dull. I was beginning to wonder if life was ever going to find its way back to Quince.
I woke up with a stiff neck and back that worsened when I tried to sit up. The aches and pains that flowed through my body made me tumble back to the ground. I squinted and peaked up through my eyelids. Surprisingly, Quince was right there with his big nostrils directly above my eyes. He let out a big sigh right into my face, sweeping all my hair aside from my face. “Hello boy,” I greeted the horse while trying to reach up and touch him. He jerked away slightly before leaning down to sniff me again.
Not sure whether or not my wretched and uncomfortable night had helped my horse become more familiar with me, I got up and dashed to the house to use the restroom thought I had considered using the stall for my desperation. Since nobody else was awake after I went in, I checked the clock. It was still somewhat early and I crawled into my nice comfy bed and fell asleep. The next time I opened my eyes, the sun showed through.
Fervent to start my day, I took an early morning ride on Quince. Just like my first ride Smithon’s, Quince was dull from the start until I popped him over some low fences I had made from some old barrels that were behind the horse barns.
Once my ride was over and Quince had been taken care of, I searched around the stables calling out Ryan’s name because I knew he was working that morning. I finally heard him call out from behind one of the stalls. I peered in the one I thought I heard him calling from and found him kneeling beside Asher. He was wrapping the tall dark horse’s front left leg. “What happened?” I asked with sudden worry.
“Ah,” Ryan didn’t seem worried, but then again, it was Ryan. “He must’ve gotten his leg caught in the fence or something because there was a decent size gash on fetlock, so I put some medicine on and just wrapped it up. He should be just fine in a few days.” Nodding along to what he shared with me, I quickly changed the subject. “So, would you like to help me with something?”
He grabbed his chin and began to pull at a fake beard. “That depends on what that something is,” he replied with one eyebrow raised.
“Well, I don’t know if this will work, but I thought maybe if we turned Quince out with some cows it might get him curious at least or something. I would assume that he probably hasn’t seen many cows before. It’s worth a shot at least.”
“So, what do you need me for?
“Your assistance with the cows.”
“You aren’t planning to ride one are you?”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I haven’t exactly been around cows much either. Just go with me for now.”
“How much are you paying?” he said eyeing me again.
I rolled my eyes at him, spun on my heel, and walked away, not even daring to look back to see if he was going to follow.
That night at dinner Tony quizzed me about Quince in detail but I only had negative results. The cow idea hadn’t worked and for the next three days I solemnly rode Quince hoping to gain more ideas but nothing came.
Finally the first day of school arrived and dread enclosed my mind. I had never gone to a new school before. I had always attended a local school community for elementary through partway of high school. Now I understood how all the new kids at my school felt on their first day.
It took me about an hour to pick out what I was going to wear. It had been sunny lately but there had been a crisp breeze in the air. I decided on a light pair of skinny jeans with pair of black flats and a loose fitting navy blue top over a white tank, matched with a soft black scarf. I had no sense of style when it came to modern fashion, but fortunately Lori had taken me shopping and bought me every style of clothing for whatever fashion I desired. It took me a half hour to do my hair up in a messy stylish bun, makeup and everything else a girl has to get done before going to school. Tony was giving me a ride to and from school, which I was very thankful for because I did not want to ride on the bus. Other days I would have to, but I was grateful for this one day. I knew what it was like to ride the bus, and it was not fun unless you had a friend by your side.
Tony kept up a light chatter filled conversation, asking me about my old school and preparing me for the new one. When we arrived, there were tons of kids—which somewhat surprised me—hanging around the front of the school. Roughly estimating the size compared to my school, I was sure there were plenty more kids inside as well. So far it looked like Lakeview High did back in the States, but I hadn’t even set foot out of the car yet.
My first step out of the car, however, caused me to lose my two school binders as my shirt snagged on the seatbelt in Tony’s truck. A few snickers sounded from my right, but I didn’t bother to glance in their direction as I picked up my binders. “Have a great day!” Tony called before driving away. I tried to single out faces that looked familiar as I walked closer to the building but I realized it was just a ridiculous way to make myself feel more comfortable.
I made my way in and out of groups of kids. I tried to puzzle out where my locker—that Lori insisted on me haivng—was located. Once I found it and maneuvered my way to my first class, I chose a seat in the middle of the room between a young looking brunette who looked like a freshman instead of a junior and a petite golden brown haired girl with shattering green eyes. I sat in the hard desk. Neither of the two girls next to me were making conversation with anyone around, so I made an attempt to be friendly.
“Hi!” I said exuberantly to the golden brown haired girl who was now to my left. The girl returned the smile I had given. “Hey! Are you new? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before!” she said in a strong Australian accent.
“Yeah, I’m new here. I’m surprised you can tell in a school as big as this one.” I sighed. “This is my first day here.”
The girl stifled a smile and I wasn’t sure why.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Your accent! It kills.” She scrunched her nose up in a peculiar way which I assumed was a gesture she used to express sarcasim.
Confused I gave her a funny look. “I don’t have an accent!”
“Sure you do!” When she didn’t explain any further, I didn’t respond and she dropped the subject.
“Anyways, my name is Amber! That’s Kim over there!” She said pointing to the dark haired brunette on my other side.
“Hi!” Kim said somewhat shyly to me with a timid smile as I looked over at her.
“Hey, I’m Kate!” I said nodding first to Kim then to Amber.
More students filed into the room as a few came over every few seconds to say something to Kim or Amber. Only one other person acknowledged my presence as “the new person” and in many ways, I was fine with that. The bell rang and a slim older man with frazzled graying hair who reminded me of an evil scientist waltzed in, introducing himself as Mr. Gritten. After writing his name on the bored, he started class. According to my schedule that I had received first thing this morning from the student office, Physics with Mr. Gritten, was my first class. Next I had English Literature, then my Japanese language class followed by Australian History. After lunch I had General Math, and last Health and Human Development. I wasn’t sure how many of my classes I would enjoy.
Before long the dismissal bell for the first class rang and everyone dashed out of the room. I exited out behind Amber. She said something that sounded like “See you later!” before going in another direction. I made another successful trip to my locker without tripping or running into anyone and was soon seated in my next class, English Literature with Mrs. Chime. The seats all around me were empty until Amber appeared through the door with a bleached blonde with dark colored roots at the top of her hair implying it was dyed. Amber spotted me and chose a seat beside me while the other girl sat behind her.
“Hi Kate! This is my best friend, Nicole. I call her Nikki but she prefers to be called Nicole.” Amber said, sending a quick flashy smile in Nicole’s direction. Nicole rolled her eyes and responded to me instead. “Nice to meet you, Kate! Feel free to call me whatever you’d like!” She gently nudged Amber’s arm.
Two guys appeared and sat down in the desks ahead of Amber and me. They both immediately turned towards Amber and Nicole, ignoring me, which felt nice in my predicament.
“Long time no see!” called the dark haired boy who sat in front of me.
“Hey! How’ve you guys been?” Amber didn’t give them the chance to answer. “Cade, Drew, meet Kate! She’s new this year!” She said pushing her hand in my direction.
Not knowing which guy was which I smiled at the one in front of me. He gave me an odd look of astonishment.
“Hey! I saw you this morning as you were getting out of your car! You uh, dropped your stuff.” His smirk told me that he was more than happy to be bringing up the incident. I gave a quick snicker like the one he had given me earlier that morning.
“Yup, that would be me! And you must be the one who laughed at me I suppose.”
He shook his head as if he were proud to be saying what he said next. “Nope that would be Drew!” he said pointing toward the curly headed blonde guy in front of Amber. Drew muttered something under his breath, looking away from me, probably embarrassed to be found out.
Amber looked at me and said, “Kate, don’t ever listen to what these two idiots ever say or do, they don’t know anything, okay?”
I gave a small laugh and the boy in front of me who I assumed to be Cade turned around and frowned at me. “Who’s laughing now?” I teased. He shook his head and turned back around as Mrs. Chime called the classes’ attention to the front.
The class flew by just as the first had and before long I was in my Japanese class. The only person I knew amongst the students in that class was Drew and I didn’t feel like sitting next to him, so I chose a spot in the back. Fortunately I had Australian history with Amber and Cade, so I sat with them. When Amber invited me to sit with her at lunch I felt like an official new student. I agreed, but when we reached the school’s large cafeteria during our free period for lunch I searched vigorously for Ryan or at least one of his friends. When I didn’t spot him I reluctantly followed Amber to a table where Nicole had saved us seats.
Seconds later Cade, Drew, and another tall beefy African American kid came over and sat with us. None of them bothered to introduce me to the new comer and that gave me a slight feeling of awkwardness, but I soon came to realized that he was Troy, who was with Drew when he snickered at me. I ate quietly, listening to their fresh Australian accents and talked at small widely spaced intervals. The rest of the time all of them chattered about something which I had no clue about until Amber turned her attention back to me.
“So Kate, do you know anyone here besides us?”
“Um, well I know Ryan Davis. But that’s about it.” Amber had looked away briefly but when she looked back at me her eyes popped open and her jaw dropped as if I had just offered her a million dollars.”Ryan Davis?” she said it as if he was a movie star.
“Yeah, he works on my step dad’s horse ranch.” I was confused by Amber’s anxious reactions until Cade clarified for me. He folded his hands, leaned across the table and looked me straight in the eyes. “Amber has a huge crush on Ryan!” he said emphasizing the word huge. I thought I saw a hint of teasing in his expression but when I looked back at Amber, she was blushing.
“I can see why,” I muttered accidentally out loud. The others heard me.
“Ooooh Amber! Looks like you got some competition!” Cade said half-heartedly, taunting my new friend. I wasn’t quite sure why he said that, but whatever he meant by it, Amber didn’t like it.
“Shut up Cade!” she retorted before he turned to say something to Drew and Troy.
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t listen to him, I hardly know him.” I said to Amber, though it wasn’t necessarily true.
Lunch ended and I soon found out that of my last two classes I had, only one was with Nicole, and the other with Cade. By the end of the day I was feeling tired but I was eager to get home and see Quince. Fortunately Lori called to say she was picking me up from school instead of Tony and was already outside waiting. I searched for her golden colored car when someone began calling my name. I turned in the direction of the voice, and to my relief, it was Ryan.
“Kate! Hey I didn’t see you at all today!”
Eric and Olivia trailed up behind him. “Yeah! Separate classes and all, no surprise really!” I said somewhat stupidly.
Olivia looked like she was ready to move on after a quick hello, but Eric and Ryan stayed put, both putting their hands in their pockets simultaneously. “So,” Eric nudged my shoulder, “How was your first day?”
“Good, I think. I made some friends and all my teachers seem pretty nice.”
Ryan chirped in, “Do you have Mrs. Chime for anything?”
Trying to rethink through all my teachers, I tried to recall Mrs. Chime. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Why?”
Eric nudged me again, “Watch out for her! She’s a brute!”
Ryan laughed. “She is not!” he said to Eric before giving him a knowing look and then turning to me and saying, “She’s just a tough teacher.” Leave it to Ryan to make everything seem better than it is, I thought.
Olivia began to look annoyed & I saw Ryan glance in her direction. I was wishing at that point that Lori would pull up when I heard a honk behind me. Ryan leaned to peek around my shoulder before saying, “Lori’s here.” He said politely.
I turned around and sure enough, Lori was there with her usual bright smile and gave a quick wave. When I looked back at Ryan he was waving at her. “Alright, well I’m not working tonight, Kate, because it’s my mom’s birthday so I won’t see you.” I couldn’t help but feel the disappointment surge up inside of me. As Ryan walked with me to the car, he opened the car door for me like a gentleman.
“Ok, well I hope you enjoy your time with her.”
“Thanks, I will! See you tomorrow, Kate.” He shut the door with a sweet smile, and turned back to his friends.
The second day of school had arrived and I wasn’t positive whether I was excited or worried. I picked neither as I made my way to the school bus at the end of Tony’s long drawn out paved drive way. The bus ride could have been worse on the way to school, but I found an empty seat next to a girl who looked out the window rocking out to music the whole time. In my first class I had a few small conversations with Amber along with Nicole and Cade in most all my classes.
Once again I hunted the cafeteria with my eyes for Ryan at lunch time. For the second day in a row—though that wasn’t really saying much—I wasn’t successful in finding Ryan, so I sat with the crowd I had sat with on the first day. At the end of lunch period I did end up spotting Miranda, but she dashed off before I could reach her.
The following day turned out to be what I thought would be the same as the last, but to my delight, I spotted Ryan sitting with a group of seniors by the windows in the cafeteria. I practically had to hold myself from sprinting over there before giving my new friends a brief excuse. I thought I saw Amber give me a look of disgust but if she did, she shielded it immediately and smiled before fluttering her hand at me. I tried to give her a warm smile in return but she didn’t seem to care as she turned her back to me.
Ryan and his friends seemed to be glad to see me. A sure feeling of comfort and confidence ran through me as I ate with them. I didn’t run into them again until after school.
Before that however, Cade had come over and invited me to a “back to school” party at his house that weekend. I told him I didn’t know but I would get back to him. Strangely, right after he said goodbye, Amber came over and asked me if I was going. She told me to bring Ryan if I came.
I didn’t have much to say to that and at the time I thought it odd. She then soon left and finally I found Ryan leaning into Tony’s pick up as they chattered. I hustled over quickly and Ryan opened the door for me. “Hey have you been working with Quince much?” He asked. I bit my lip. “Yeah, sorta. I tried turning him out but that didn’t help, then I jumped him over some fences last night but it was the same result. I’m running out of ideas, and I didn’t even have any to start with.”
Tony butted in and suggested, “Think of some more ideas and then maybe you guys can figure something out to do with him tonight.”
“Uh yeah,” Ryan took a step back so he wasn’t leaning on the truck anymore. “Sounds great. Brainstorm some ideas Kate. I’ll see ya tonight!” He backed away and spun on his heel. I watched him stride back into the building and immediately began thinking of ideas.
“Do you mind if I ask what you’re doing?” Ryan asked, motioning to the jumps I had set up in one of the pastures.
Wiping my hands on my pants I turned back around to look at him. “Well, I was going to turn Quince out and make him jump over these so maybe he’ll like associate them with fun, you know? Being out in the pasture and all...I don’t know. Instead of just coming out here to eat maybe he’ll perk up or something” I ended my sentence with detained hopelessness. The idea had sounded better in my head.
A grin crawled up on Ryan’s face as he shook his head and laughed. “You think that’ll work?”
I bit my lip. “It’s worth a shot I guess.”
“Want me to go get him?”
“I’ll come with you.”
Before I allowed Ryan to let Quince loose, I made sure all the jumps were pushed up against the fence and the distance in between was close to an accurate length. I couldn’t help but smile with excitement. I just had a feeling that this would work.
Taking my horse from Ryan, I slid his halter off and flicked my hands at Quince to move him away but he didn’t do anything. He dunked his head down and began nibbling grass. “Aw com’on!” I yelled, flicking the halter at him. His head shot up, he shied away and then broke into a lazy trot in the other direction.
I gave Ryan a shrug. “It’s a start.” I said it more as a question than a statement.
“Look Quince, it’s not that hard.” I informed him as I made my way over to a jump. I looked back to see Quince’s head dunked down to the ground again as if he weren’t in the least paying any attention at all. Continuing on anyway, I began cantering like a horse and leapt over one of the jumps and bounded over the second. “See?”
My horse was looking at me now with grass hanging out the side of his mouth as if to say, “Yeah, so what?”
Ryan was laughing behind me and I heard him call, “That was beautiful! Let’s see some more!”
I did as he said and bounded back the way I’d come over the wooden poles and up to the fence.
“Man if that doesn’t make ol’ Quincy jump I don’t know what will!” Ryan teased.
I put my hands on my hips. “Alright let’s see you do it.”
He shook his head. “Nah…”
I grabbed the rag he was toying with in his hands and slapped him with it. “Do it!” I scolded him playfully.
“No, you’ll just feel like more of an idiot after you see what I can do.” He annunciated the “I” with pride.
“Oh yeah? Well I want to feel like an idiot. Now go.”
He hoped over the fence easliy. I could tell he was reluctant, but yet too eager to show me up and embarrass me. I braced myself when he took off at a goofy imitation of a horse canter. He made it effortlessly over the first one and flew over the second. But he landed funny on his feet which caused him to stumble. Before another thought could run through my mind Ryan completely face planted into the ground. I began choking with laughter as he got up, picking grass off his shirt. “So much for feeling like an idiot! At least I didn’t eat it like you did!” I laughed. Ryan was laughing as well and covered his face with one of his hands after rolling to his knees. I trotted over to him and had all but forgotten about Quince.
“Alright, alright I failed. Just don’t’ let anyone hear about this, deal?” he pleaded in between breathy chuckles.
“Ohhhhh, you’re in trouble now! I’m going to go tell everyone!” Ryan’s eye grew wide. A smile grew on my face. I turned around as if to sprint off but Ryan reached his foot out and tripped me. I don’t know why but I screamed and fell down onto my hands. Quince happened to be standing near but he didn’t seem to notice what was going on. I wouldn’t have expected him to do anything but fling his head up and spook. Surprisingly though, he did that just before breaking into a canter and flying along the fence. He was heading towards a jump but instead of jumping it like I hoped, he veered away and came back towards us. Ryan stepped out of the way while I stayed on the ground and just as he did so Quince popped easily over one of the jumps and flew by us over the next, throwing in a playful bucks at the end. A few of the horses in the neighboring pasture were startled and one of them began to buck playfully. Quince whinnied and stopped at the end of the pasture, snorting like a bull. The bucking horse cantered over to Quince and the two stood at the fence sniffing noses. Quince let out another whinny and then walked away licking his lips, but with more interest in his face then before. He then picked up a flowing trot and hopped over the first jump that he had veered away from.
Shocked, I looked up at Ryan who was frozen in place and smiled. After a few seconds he looked over and matched my smile with wide eyes.
“Am I still an idiot?”
He stretched out his hand to help me up. “I never called you an idiot.”
“But you implied it.”
“Yeah, yeah whatever.”