I cooked a small dinner; Baked pork chops and salad. Justin still wasn’t home, and it was 8:30. I sat in the large home, thinking about Montana.
I missed the cool night air that made my hair stand on end. I missed the dead silence that was only broken with the sound of crickets. Montana was heaven on earth for Bumble and I. The wide open spaces were what we needed. I had been thinking about life after high school, and had decided I would not go to college, but instead, move back to Montana with Bumble and work at the equestrian center I rode at when I was there. I didn’t have a dad. Rick was not my dad. He was barely anything more than the man responsible for me existence. I finished my dinner angrily and dropped my plates in the sink before storming off to my room. I hated it here. I hated Rick. I hated my mom. I hated everything. I wanted to take Bumble and run away. I lay on my bed and gazed up at my ceiling. I got lost in the white that was its coating.
I awoke the next morning by my daily alarm. It was five in the morning and time for me to go to the track. I was still in my riding clothes from yesterday so I didn’t bother changing. I splashed some water on my face, put on my boots, and walked out of the house. The morning air was cool, making my arm hair stand on end. I missed Montana in that moment. I hadn’t eaten breakfast but I didn’t feel like it. I said hello to Bumble and hugged his neck. I felt so alone. I heard footsteps, until they stopped behind me. I turned to see Justin.
“Hello.” I was very hesitant to speak first. Where had he been last night?
“Morning. You will be working with Mike again today. I’ll get your horse ready.” He turned to walk away, but I caught his hand. He looked at our hands and then at me.
“Justin, I am sorry about the other night. I didn’t mean to leave you hanging like I did. I was scared.” I looked up at him with sorry eyes. I wanted him to believe me.
“Don’t worry about it Kelly.” He tried to pull his hand away but I grabbed tighter.
“But I am worried about it. I like you…” I trailed off and let his hand go. I had just admitted what I didn’t want to admit to myself, let alone to Justin.
“And I like you…” His voice trailed off. His hand came underneath my chin, pulling my eyes to his. His eyes glistened in the dull lights of the barn. He lowered his face closer to mine. His hot breath felt good on my colt skin. He gently touched our lips together, allowing our eyes to close before the kiss became real. He held my face easily in his hand, kissing me. I felt my hair stand on end, but this time, it wasn’t because of the cold. I kissed him back, not wanting to pull away. He pulled away first with a smile on his face. I opened my eyes to see his eyes, peering down at mine.
“Was that better than leaving me in the doorway?” He chuckled.
“Way better.” I smiled before Justin leaned down and kiss me again, only quicker.
“I’ll be right back. I am going to get the horses tacked up. Get your helmet in the tack room.” He smiled and rushed off. I turned to pat Bumble’s nose before collecting my helmet. I threw my hair up, put the helmet on, and saw Justin leading a big dapple grey Thoroughbred across the stable yard. He was pure muscle and danced alongside Justin. He looked like a handful.
“Kelly, meet your mount. His name is Killer Instinct.” The name didn’t ease my nerves. I gave Justin a look before walking up to the colt. I went to pat his neck but instead was greet with a nip on the shoulder. I swatted his nose and he threw his head up.
“Jerk.” Justin gave me a leg up and I adjusted my stirrups. I really did not want to make them shorter, but that was the deal if I was going to keep riding. I adjusted my stirrups, slipped me feet in, and looked ahead. Mike was in front of us on another grey horse, only his was almost completely white.
“Okay, warm him up with Mike then I want you to take the lead when the work begins. Make sure that when you guys come into the stretch, let him really have his head. This guy seems to give up when he doesn’t have a target, so even if you have to, give him a smack or two,” Justin handed me a whip. “Make sure he finishes ahead of the other horse. Got it?” I nodded and set the whip between my fingers for a secure grip. I stood up in the stirrups and trotted away with Mike. I was getting better at standing easily and balancing.
After a quick warm up, Mike hollered for me to get the work started. I angled the colt into the rail and pushed him into an extended gallop. Mike had positioned his horse to the outside, glued to our flank. I kept my body low and my face buried in the mane as we traveled into the turn. I glanced back and Mike was asking his horse for run, even tapping him on the shoulder with his whip. I turned my attention back to the track and let my mount out more. He grabbed even more ground and kept going. He was ahead at the top of the lane but I felt him start to lose momentum. I fumbled with the whip as Mike drew alongside us.
“Come on boy!” I hollered in his ear. I finally got the whip in my hand and I threw my arm back, connecting the leather to his flank. He responded and stuck his head back in front, fighting back the other horse’s challenge. I hit him again and he lengthened his stride. One more time and we flashed under the wire ahead of Mike. I had done it! I had gotten him home like Justin asked! Maybe this would be a good job for me. I stood up in the stirrups and pulled the big colt up to a trot before turning him the opposite way on the outer rail. Mike came up beside me and we slowed to a walk.
“Kelly, you have a real talent. You may not like the racing world like your father or anyone here, but you are a damn good rider. I have never seen someone pick up exercising racehorses like you have.” I smiled over at Mike, blushing a bit.
“Thanks Mike. I’m hoping I can keep my stirrups where they are though.” I chuckled and looked down.
“You have one more notch and you’ll get there. It takes time to get that balance.” He laughed and patted his horse’s neck.
“Most likely. I’ll get there. I need the money. Hoping to move back to Montana after high school.” I instantly regretted telling him. I didn’t want anyone to know.
“Well, for now, that is your plan. You will fall in love with this world in no time. It takes you a little at a time and then completely swallows you, without any warning. I promise.” Mike pulled his horse up in front of Justin and I followed suit. I just smiled at Justin, who smiled back. Mike and I dismounted and Justin handed the two horses off to grooms.
“You two are an amazing team. Kelly, I can’t tell you how amazing that ride was. I am so proud.” Justin hugged me and Mike walked off after seeing someone he knew.
“Thanks. I can’t believe I got him to keep on. I couldn’t get ahold of the whip and I thought I was going to blow it.”
“You did amazingly. You’ll be a star jockey in no time.” I didn’t want to think about riding in a race, ever. I walked to barns with Justin and headed off to take care of Bumble and his needed exercise.