Chasing Skies - Chapter 1
Ingénue: A naïve young woman
At sixteen, one would simply say she were young and naive, far too new to the world to truly understand the ways of love. At sixteen, she had her heart broken for the first time, and though the world seemed dark and lonely, she would soon see that life would go on. At seventeen, life did move her forward, but not in the way you told her it would. She would open herself up to something much bigger than she ever could have imagined, and one would see it as nothing more than a phase. At eighteen, it would all come crashing down around her, and she would have no one to turn to with her secret. She would rot alone in her own mind, losing herself to her despair for letting herself fall for such travesties.
That girl is now twenty-six as I write this, and I cannot say for certain if she would change any of it. Ten years ago, she knew for certain what she felt for the man that came into her life. And ten years later, one would say she has moved on, bringing with her only memories of what almost was. Though she'd never bring herself to admit it today, those feelings fester in her heart, bringing shadow to doubt her mind.
This is her truth.
“How are you doing?”
I pretended not to notice, but I could feel his eyes watching me like they always did. They watched every movement, every expression, reading me better than I could read myself. I tightened the cinch on the saddle and let the flap fall. I gave three quick pats to Storm's neck and the horse sighed, content.
“Fine,” I said as I moved to the wall of the barn. Storm's bridle hung on the hook, just where I left it. I gathered the leather in my hands as I walked back to the horse, standing patiently on the cross ties. He lowered his head for me as I slipped the bit into his mouth and pulled the headstall over his ears. Jack continued to talk to me as I strapped the pieces together.
“You know you can talk to me,” he said. I still did not turn to him, but I could guess at the expression on his face. It wasn't the same look the other adults would have given me. There are plenty of fish in the sea, they'd say. Their smiles spoke volumes; silly girl, she knew nothing of love. High school romances were nothing to take seriously.
It didn't make the sting of a break up any less real.
Jack understood that. He never tried to lecture me. He never treated me less than he would have treated someone twice my age. While everyone else saw a child, he saw a human being. A friend in pain. He didn't try to cover that up with false ideas of hope. He simply let me be.
“I know,” I said. I sucked in a breath and let out a rather loud sigh in an attempt to keep myself from sobbing. I had cried enough. I was sick of crying. It was just too exhausting to keep breaking down. It had only been a week since Jesse broke up with me, and though it felt like the longest week of my life, I just wanted to be done with it all. I knew, then, how painful a broken heart truly felt. Movies and books romanticize the idea of ended relationships, but the pain only made me want to die. How anyone could find enjoyment in such pain was beyond me.
I knew I could talk to Jack about it. But I wasn't ready to talk about it at all. What was I supposed to say that he didn't already know? He dumped me. It sucked. I'm clearly a mess. There's nothing else to it.
Unless you mention the fact that I still have to see him every day in the halls, in class, and now, with my gorgeous, skinny, currently ex best friend hanging on his arm.
Nothing else to it.
I unclipped the ties and lead Storm out of the barn. The summer air was brisk and chilly this early in the morning. The only sign of the approaching dawn was a slight light tint to the horizon. The stars continued to twinkle in the sky, the last of their lights grabbing hold to the last of the night's darkness before the sun washed them away.
I had never been much of a morning person. Even now, I yawned as I brought Storm into the round pen across from the barn. But working on Daybreak Ranch brought a new appreciation to morning hours. Even though I slammed my hand down on the snooze button one too many times and grumbled through the house as I pulled on my jeans, stepping out into the cool, still sleeping world brought a sense of peace and quiet to my mind. It was a time for me to be alone and reflect on any worries or triumphs that currently busied my mind. It was a time for me to just be.
I took in every sensation I could that morning, as I did every morning. The nickers as I slid open the barn doors as the horses greeted me. The sound of them quietly crunching on their morning grain. The smell of fresh hay and dirtied stalls. The wispy clouds that swirled out of their nostrils as they exhaled warm breaths.
Toby, the barn cat, trotted beside me as I moved to the center of the pen. In the eerie quiet of early morning, I stepped into the stirrup and pulled myself into the saddle. The birds were now just waking themselves and were greeting the sun with their usual song. I turned to the gate of the pen where Jack stood, finally acknowledging his presence. He propped his arms up behind him on the top bar and he leaned against the gate, still watching me. His faded, bootcut jeans fell over his worn boots. There was a tear in one of the knees from sometime before I arrived at the ranch. His plaid shirt was untucked and fell loosely over his belt. His sleeves were rolled up, despite the morning chill, and he wore a baseball hat on his head. He smiled as our eyes met, and I forced myself to return the gesture before turning my attention back to Storm.
I clucked gently and nudged my heels into his side and the horse stepped forward. We moved to the rail where I encouraged him into a forward walk. I tested the breaks a few times, then encouraged him to step backwards, then to the side, before pushing him forward once more. After a few moments, we changed direction and repeated the process. I threw in a few circles to wake up his brain, then asked for a trot. Storm obeyed, his ears perked forward as he moved into the two step pace. After two directions at a trot with a few circles, I pushed him into a canter.
I let my mind quiet as I focused on our bodies moving together. My hips moved forward in the saddle in time with Storm's steps. I moved my arm up his neck slightly, giving him his rein, and he stretched his head out eagerly. The cool air stung at my eyes and they watered slightly, but it felt refreshing compared to the water that they had become so used to over the last week. I let my vision blur without hesitation, trusting only in Storm to continue to follow the rail around the pen. Not like he had anywhere else to go, anyway.
After a few laps in both directions, I let Storm slow to a walk and took the opportunity to wipe my sleeve over my eyes. Steam billowed from Storm's nose, but his breathing was not heavy. A trail horse his whole life, a few laps around the round pen was nothing to him. He knew his job, and he did it well every time with enthusiasm. Which made him the ideal guide horse for someone younger, like me. They preferred horses with less enthusiasm for the tourists that came to ride, since most of them had never even seen a horse in their life.
Plus the fact that I was their youngest trail guide. “She bounces,” they would say, as if it were a reasonable enough excuse to put me on their new horses like some test dummy.
I never minded it, though. Perhaps I lived for the thrill of it. Nothing says living on the edge like being on the back of a bucking horse who will do anything he can to get you out of the saddle.
They never succeeded.
That wasn't to say that I never had my share of falls. Or bites, or kicks; you name it.
“You taking the first group out this morning?” Jack asked as we made our way around to the gate. I let Storm stop and Jack scratched at his ears.
“If that's what Russ wants. He is the boss.”
“Who you dragging with ya?” He smiled up at me.
I thought about this for a moment. Something I should have done last night when Russ put the schedule together. Split between all the trail guides, we had a busy weekend ahead of us and would be out riding most of the day. I had two advanced morning rides and two intermediate afternoon rides, which meant a lot of cantering, and then a lot of trotting around, which was fairly typical, since a lot of the older trail guides preferred the slower paced rides.
Which meant it was unlikely they'd want to come on my rides with me. Jack already had his hands full with the advanced afternoon rides. Which really only left a few options for me. Their names were Kerry and Joe.
Kerry. Eighteen. Best friends with Jack (which always seemed strange to me). Probably jealous that she is no longer the youngest trail guide. Also probably jealous because Jack and I are friends. In other words, she hates my guts. And I hated being stuck on rides with her.
But at least there was Joe, who would likely join us on the afternoon rides, which were bigger groups and would require three guides as opposed to two. Joe. Twenty-two. The youngest male trail guide and son of Russ, the owner of the ranch. Despite his ranch-styled upbringing, Joe is the furthest from a cowboy as possible. Trail guide by day (the family job), computer whiz by night. In fact, this was his first year back after coming home from school where he got some kind of degree in computer technology. He tried to explain it to me once. All I know is that he's really good at fixing my laptop.
Regardless, that meant I would have two morning rides to deal with Kerry, alone. I hadn't even realized that I groaned out loud when I came to this realization.
Jack smiled. “You and Kerry, then?”
Jack was not unfamiliar with our relationship. Though I tried not to bitch about Kerry much, I was almost certain that Kerry took every opportunity she had to bitch about me to Jack, judging by the way she would leer at me when she and Jack walked by together. I would be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of their friendship. They were friends long before I came to the ranch, despite their age difference. It was likely because Jack's family was close to Kerry's family, and it was Jack that introduced Kerry to the ranch where he worked closely with Russ, who had also been a long time family friend.
Connections helped in this business, apparently. It was my father who was friendly with Russ as well that brought me in as their newest trail guide last year. Jack was one of the first people to really welcome me to their ranch family. He took the time to show me the ropes and really became my first friend on the ranch.
Despite that, I felt like a nobody when Kerry was around him. He never picked sides, but it was clear that Kerry was trying her best to keep him for herself. I learned to appreciate the times we were alone together, without Kerry breathing down our necks.
“I can probably drag Joe in this afternoon, at least,” I said with a sigh.
“Don't let her get to ya.”
“Easier said than done,” I muttered.
Jack's smile grew into a grin. “I know.” He straightened and tipped an imaginary hat to me before letting himself out of the pen. He shoved his hands into his pockets and whistled as he made his way back into the barn to retrieve his own horse and get ready for the day.
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