KATE

Brian hops over the passenger door like Magnum P.I. He eases into the seat and leans over for a kiss. I try to give him the soft lips; I know how much he likes the soft lips. He tastes like Blistex, the regular flavor.

Glancing at my riding pants and boots, he asks, “Going to the stables or coming back?”

“Going to. But I thought we could get some coffee before I head down to the valley.”

“Sounds great.”

The wind rushes over us as we head toward downtown Cuyahoga. While I drive, I can’t help stealing glances of his skinny legs, covered with the same fine blonde hair that sits on his head. He’s wearing cut-off khakis and a faded old concert ‘T’ from the ‘70’s. Someone called B.T.O.

“You checking me out?” he asks.

“Maybe. I have to ask, who are B.T.O?”

Bachman-Turner Overdrive.”

“They’re a band?”

He sings, “Nothin yet, b-b-b-baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

I shrug.

“C’mon, Kate, you’ve heard that song? They opened for Van Halen last year. I bet if I turn on the classic rock station, B.T.O. is playing right now.”

Brian reaches for the dial.

“Don’t you dare!” I exclaim, playfully smacking his hand.

He gets a devilish look and reaches again. I smack again. He reaches. I smack. The last time I go to smack he grabs my hand and pulls it to his mouth. He kisses the top of my hand, then the underside of my wrist.

Oooh.

Then my forearm.

Then…

He reaches over and begins tickling me.

I swerve the car, just miss hitting a trashcan and veering into a ditch.

“Whoa!” he yelps.

Whoa is right, but I can’t help laughing. Brian apologizes and places his hand behind my neck. He runs his fingers through my hair. We drive like this the rest of the way to my favorite hangout, Cleveland Grounds. It’s small coffee shop: five tables and a cozy little area with a fireplace, couch and some throw pillows. It’s crowded today. A lot of younger kids have discovered it and now Cleveland Grounds is becoming a little trendy. Lucky for us, when the overhead music begins playing that Jody Watley song, a couple of Goth girls turn up their noses and leave. I grab the seats while Brian heads to the counter to order us a couple of coffees.

Kate_mergedI watch him as he scrounges for change in his pockets and then starts reading the back of a cookie package. Sometime I wonder if his mind ever stops thinking, if he ever relaxes.

Brian returns to the table with our coffees and sits down.

“So what’s up?” he asks.

“Well,” I start, shaking a sugar packet, “I have some great news.”

“Really? What is it?”

“Okay, so, a couple of months ago, my mom insisted I send in an application to this summer camp for special needs kids. It’s very prestigious, and they specialize in equine therapy, horse therapy.”

“Sure, I know what that is, Kate.”

“Of course you do. Anyway, I didn’t tell you about this, because, mainly, I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of ever getting accepted. I mean, the staff is almost all college students, and each year they only take a couple high school students that meet certain criteria. But…”

Brian thinks for a second, then his eyes go wide, excited.

“They picked you?” he asks.

“Yes, they picked me!

He reaches across the table and squeezes my hand.

“That’s fantastic, Kate. This fits in with exactly what you want to do someday.”

He’s so right. I’ve been riding horses since I was eleven. My parents gave me my own horse, Kenny, when I was fourteen. I always thought riding would be this life long hobby of mine until last winter, when my friend Julie Adams spent the day with me at the stables, riding Kenny.

Julie and I used to be riding buddies during our first two years of high school. At the end of sophomore year, Julie was diagnosed with leukemia. Her doctors were aggressive and pounded her body with chemotherapy. She lost weight, her hair fell out, and she missed a lot of school. As you can figure, the medical bills were ridiculous, and her parents couldn’t afford riding lessons anymore.

In December, I invited her to spend some time with Kenny and me. She came down and was having a great old time. As she rode that afternoon, I realized how much happiness it brought her. Even though the bouncing around made her tired, I felt like she was able to forget about that shitty disease for a while and be a regular kid. That’s when a light bulb went off in my head.

Equine therapy.

All of the sudden, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I want to help kids cope with terrible things in their lives, and I can do it through horse riding.

“Where is this place? Central Ohio?” Brian asks.

“No, it’s in Vermont.”

Brian’s expression changes.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Wrong? Nothing.”

“Brian…”

“I’m just a little disappointed is all. I was looking forward to spending some quality time together. If you were in Ohio, I could come see you. But don’t worry about that, Kate. This is great. Really, it is.”

He takes my hand again.

“You can come out and visit for a weekend,” I say, “maybe the Fourth of July.”

“Maybe. You know horses and I don’t really mix.”

We sit. He stirs his drink, his mind elsewhere. I tap my foot to the music. I don’t want him to be disappointed.

“Well, we still have a week before I leave, and you know that my parents are leaving town this afternoon until Sunday. Why don’t you… stay over tonight? No climbing in through the window or sneaking around. I’ll get rid of my brother, and we can snuggle and watch a movie or…”

“Eric’s party is tonight.”

“Oh right, I forgot.”

“But afterwards, maybe. Or tomorrow?”

Maybe? Tomorrow? Shouldn’t he be leaping at the chance to lounge around naked with his girlfriend in a Parent Free Zone?

“Sure. Sounds great,” I lie. “So, what time are you going to pick me up for the party?”

“You want me to pick you up?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I thought I’d just meet you there. I didn’t ask for the car, Kate. My dad totally knows about the party. He was playing it cool when I left, but…”

“You know I don’t like to arrive to these things by myself.”

“It’s Eric’s house. It’s a party. It’s not like we’re going to some other town.”

I roll my eyes, frustrated. I’m not trying to be unreasonable, but I know Brian when he’s around Eric. The less time they spend together this afternoon, the less likely he is to be shitfaced by eight o’clock. It happens all the time; he has all the fun, and I have to be the responsible one. Brian senses my irritation, or maybe he’s feeling guilty, or maybe he’s pissed. Lately, I can’t tell what he’s thinking.

“Look,” he starts, “why don’t I have Eric drop me at your house when you get back from the stables. Is that cool?”

“Sure.”

We sip our coffees while cars pass Cleveland Grounds. I wonder where they’re all going? So many cars, so many people.

“It’s going to be fun, Kate, you’ll see.”

Eric’s damn party. Nothing I want to do more than spend the night in the same house as Allison McIntyre.

*****

 Today’s artwork is by Villamor Cruz. Villamor is a filmmaker and writer living in the Los Angeles area. For more information about Villamor and to see examples of his work, visit www.villcruzjr.com

Jody Watley’s song, “Looking for a New Love,” is found on her 1987 album, Jody Watley.

Previous Chapters: Chapter 2, Chapter 1, Introduction

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