I wake up at seven, having slept hardly at all. Yesterday when Ms. Ashton came back, I told her I wasn’t feeling good and wanted to sleep in. I couldn’t find it in myself to tell her I’m leaving.

My bags are packed. I have only two small ones, one containing two clean shirts, pants and underclothes, and the other with all of my other various things (toiletries, mostly). I’m also bringing my breeches, the ones Ms. A got me for the competition. I get out of bed, get dressed, comb my hair, and go downstairs to find Ms. A making me oatmeal, as if nothing were different. It breaks my heart that she doesn’t know, she thinks I’m sick and going to get well.

“How are you feeling?” she asks as I sit down. The answer is that I feel sick to my stomach, I’m scared and I feel guilty, but I just say I’m feeling better. She smiles, sets down the oatmeal and tells me to take the day off before running outside to tend to whatever she has to do.

It’s eight when I finish in the house, and I walk out to the stable and say goodbye to Rose. I’ll miss her, but there’s no way I can take her. I decide to go for one last ride, and Chase joins me on Simba. We’re silent as we gallop bareback through the meadow and into the forest, and when we get to the stream we wade in on the horses, following it downstream. I never explored this area before, but as we go further and further, Chase becomes more and more excited, telling me he has a big surprise. After a short time of wading, we come to an opening in the trees, and the stream pours down in a small waterfall (only about 4 feet) into a sparkling, clear pool.

“Oh my God…! It’s beautiful!” I jump off Rose and tie her to a tree before running down the slope next to the waterfall and down to the edge of the pool. Chase stands beside me, smiling. I’m not wearing my bathing suit, but I don’t care. My t-shirt and shorts can stand a little water. I don’t say a word to Chase, I just throw off my shoes and hop into the water. It’s only about 2 feet deep, but just deep enough to swim in. Chase yanks off his t-shirt and shoes and jumps in after me. It’s somewhat awkward, since he has no shirt on, but we have a blast.

At nine thirty, we’re on our way back, and I realize I still haven’t said anything to Ms. A. Guilt is eating me up, and I feel like crying. How am I supposed to break the news to her? It won’t be easy for either of us, and I’m not sure that she’ll let me go. But I have no choice. If I don’t go, I’ll die for sure.

When we reach the fence separating the wild meadow and the pasture, Chase and I pull our horses close so our legs are squished between the horses’ sides. We stand like that for a minute, and I lean on Chase’s shoulder. This is the life. Why can’t it just stay like this forever?

Chase kisses my forehead, and I feel as if I’ve known him forever. It’s strange how we’ve only known each other for four days or so, and we’re already this close, but knowing that you might die soon tends to speed things up.

We return the horses to the stable and I hug Rose’s neck one more time, a silent tear escaping.

“I’ll come back, I promise,” I whisper into her ear. Then I turn around and throw my arms around Chase’s neck, and I tell him the same thing. He smiles and tells me he knows I will, he’ll watch the end of the road until I return. I never told him I don’t know what will happen if I do succeed. I think he thinks everything will be fine, but I don’t see how it could. There’s no way for me to permanently exist in two places at once. Before I break away from him, I hand him something: a small, silver heart pendant. I show him my matching one. “I found them in an old trunk in my room. This way, no matter what happens…” I can’t finish. I hug him one last time and head for the house. I can only hope Ms. A will take this as well as Chase did.

My hopes are dashed when she has me sit down and announces that she is going to contact Dr. Hailey, my psychiatrist. I insist that I’m fine, jumping up from the chair only to be forced to sit again. The clock reads five minutes to ten, and I can’t wait much longer. Though I’m scared, I have to be honest; I’m pretty excited, too. Miss Ashton walks out of the room, chatting away on her cordless phone about my health, and I hear one of Rachel’s family’s pickup trucks pull up. Hurriedly, I write a brief note saying I will return and explain it all in more detail later, that right now I have something very important to do. I dash up to my room and grab my bags, sneaking back downstairs and out the door.

Rachel is in the front seat of her truck, and attached is a horse trailer. I wave and haul my luggage into the truck.

“You bringing Magic?” Magic is her seven year old English thoroughbred.

Rachel smiles, but shakes her head. “No. It’s for Rose. Since you’re a part of the Keepers’ plan…well, it has to have something to do with a horse.”

I’m overcome with happiness. So I won’t have to leave Rose behind after all.

“I’m not a Soul Rider…am I?” I have heard all about the Soul Riders from Rachel, but she shakes her head and explains that the Keepers of Aideen center their life around horses, that all that happens and has to do with them has something to do also with horses. I’m not sure where Rose fits in, but I gladly lead her into the trailer, careful not to forget her saddle, bridle, blanket and leg wraps.

“Ready to go?” Rachel asks once Rose is safely in the trailer. “And where’s Ms. Ashton? I expected she’d be seeing you off.”

I steal a glance at the house. Ms. A is probably engaging in a long conversation with Haley and she has more than likely forgotten about me. I shake my head, hiding the fact that I am disappointed. A real mother would never forget her daughter.

We’re pulling onto the road, and I look back one last time at my home. Maybe it’s not my real home, but it’s all I know.

I finger the small heart pendant hanging from my neck, and I glance out the window. Fading into the distance is the house, and there, on the side of the road, is Chase, watching. I stare back until we go over a hill, and then I realize that I do have something to come back for: love.

Whether or not I’ll ever see the boy I love again is all up to me. Me and a stupid clock that’s counting down from 10 to 0, and getting closer every day.

I close my eyes and stumble into visions.

______________

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