Once Rose is saddled up and I’m changed into my tall boots and breeches, we’re off, galloping through the paddock, soaring over logs, prancing around the other horses. Though I’m allowed out of the paddock (but no more than two miles down the road), I am not permitted in the woods. This rule, as I see it, is pointless, but I can see where Ms. A was coming from by setting it: so that I would not get lost in the dense wilderness. However, the woods stretch only for a good half mile, and are not quite as dense as Ms. A had described. If I did not break this rule, I would have nowhere to go when I feel upset or unwanted. In other words, I spend all my free time in these woods. I’m sure to wait until Ms. A goes around the back of the farmhouse to take care of the pigs before I jump the fence and canter through the meadow and into the woods. Carefully picking our way through the brush, Rose and I make it to the stream. It’s not huge, only a little creek, but it’s amazing. The trees part above it, a hole in the tapestry of the canopy, allowing golden rays of sunlight to dance on the water like a thousand diamonds. Birds of all shapes, sizes and colors play on the soft breeze, some of them diving to catch insects and some, namely the hawks, for other birds. Under the calmly drifting water reside crayfish, tadpoles, and all manner of alien creatures: water bugs the size of your big toe and other oddities, both creepy and fascinating. For me, it’s a paradise.

After tying Rose to a tree, I find a seat on the lush green patch of grass extending along this side of the creek, and suddenly take an interest in my reflection in the water. Who am I? There’s got to be more to me than the thin, crazy-haired, wild eyed girl looking back at me. I’m afraid I’ll never find out those things.

Suddenly, I hear the brush crackling behind me, and I spin around, startled. Rose’s ears are pricked, standing straight up in that magnificent, regal pose only Arabians possess. I flatten myself on the grass, waiting. Ms. A doesn’t know I come here, does she?

A buckskin horse comes into view, and I immediately recognize him as Simba, one of Ms. A’s two Andalusians. Sitting astride him is a boy who I’ve never seen before, but he sees me and seems to have been looking for me. He dismounts, walking toward me slowly. I know he’s seen me, and it’s pointless to hide, so I stand up, brushing the dirt and moss off myself.

“Who are you?” I ask, trying my hardest not to take too much notice of his sparkling blue eyes – the bluest I’ve ever seen – and slicked back dark hair. There is a noticeable tremble in my voice, and I realize I’m a little shaky.

He leads Simba next to Rose and ties him up there, coming to stand in front of me. He then sticks out his hand in kind greeting, but I don’t take it. All I can do is stare, wondering who the heck he is and where he got Simba. I’ve never seen him around Ms. A’s, and she won’t be happy to hear a random person just came and took her horse. My questions are answered soon enough.

“I’m Chase,” he says, his hand still hovering in the air. “Miss Ashton hired me last week to help around the farm, but today’s my first day. She sent me to get you. Said I’d find you here.” So she does know I come here. Why hasn’t she said something? Perhaps it’s because she knows this is where I go to be alone?

I slowly take his hand and shake it, dropping it rudely after only a small shake. “Why did she send you?” I demand. I see no need to introduce myself – Ms. A probably already told him my name. Why didn’t she tell me she was hiring a new hand?

He smiles. “She’s got a surprise for you. Come on, let’s get back to the farm.”

As we ride back silently, I can’t help but wonder why Ms. A hired Chase. After all, I had assumed she and I were doing just fine. And a surprise? Maybe that’s why she was so excited this morning?

When we break the boundary between forest and meadow, Chase breaks the boundary of our silence as well. “By the way, I’m 17. Just thought you oughta know. Give us a little something to have in common.”

“I’m 16…I think,” I say quietly. Judging by the way he smiles at me, he’s falling for my shy girl act. Really, there’s nothing in my heart but anger for him. Why? I’m not sure, but it just doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s because I know he knows about my amnesia and is treating me like a normal person. Or maybe I’m not mad at him…maybe I’m mad at myself for appreciating the fact that he’s not acknowledging my amnesia. I think it’s the latter, since everyone I’ve met since I came here has treated me like some freak show, staring curiously at me every time I go out in public, exchanging whispers about the girl who knows nothing about herself.

Maybe neither of these things is it; maybe I’m mad at myself because I feel something for this boy, and I don’t know what to do about it.

______________

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