The story so far: Kate is a middle class preppy whose love of horses has led to a dream of working in equine therapy, helping sick children deal illness through riding and nature. She hoped her boyfriend, Brian, would be thrilled that she’s been accepted into a prestigious internship in Vermont over the summer. Instead, his reaction was lukewarm. Making matters worse, she’s expected to go to a party at the house of Brian’s best friend, Eric, where the one person she doesn’t want to see – Allison – will be in attendance. The year is 1987.
Just as I was about to back my car out of Eric’s driveway, Brian muttered, “Say hello to Kenny for me.”
Whenever he mentions Kenny’s name, there is a tone of derision in his voice, as if Kenny were a threat. I hate that. I think that Brian is jealous that I’ve chosen to spend my summer with my American Quarter Horse instead of him. It’s petty things like his tone that trigger a flood of bad feelings: anger, spite, and ambivalence. Our day started so great, and something as simple as one comment has pissed me off.
The worst part is that I feel like such a bitch for reacting like I do.
I turn the car into the Cleveland Metroparks, the “valley,” as it’s known, and drive down the large hill that will lead me to the boarding stables. Taking this way into the valley it reminds me of last March, when I twisted my ankle while sledding with Brian.
We whizzed down the snow-covered hills at breakneck speeds, Brian holding his arms around me. There was security and love. It’s one of my favorite memories of us. At the end of the day, we crashed at the bottom of the hill. Rolling around on top of each other, over the sled, and through the thick snow. That’s when I twisted my ankle. Even though the pain was excruciating, I was still laughing when we untangled from each other. Brian carried me piggyback style back to the car, never complaining once.
After getting me “safely” into the passenger seat, Brian ran back to retrieve the sled and my stocking cap. I sat in the quiet car, watching him trudge through the deep snow with a huge smile on his face. His nose was red from the freezing temperatures. As he started back to the car, he waved, and then acted as if he’d tripped. He fell face first on to the ground. When Brian rose up his entire body was covered with snow. The goof.
Afterward we went to Cleveland Grounds, my favorite coffee shop. Even though the pain had gone away, Brian insisted on carrying me into the coffee shop. Inside, he had me prop up my foot on an extra chair. That song, “Conga,” was playing over the stereo. Brian made a dorky, bucktooth expression and danced around like an uncoordinated old man. People stared, but we didn’t care. It was as if the two of us were the lone customers. As he continued his dance up to the order counter, I thought I could love him forever.
That was before the kiss.
Gravel crunches under my car tires as I pull up to the Rocky River stables. Other riders have their horses out in the riding ring. I suddenly get an excited feeling that runs through my body like a current. I just want to get out of my car, rush to Kenny and ride out there on the trail. I take a deep breath and let this good feeling take over.
As I approach the stalls, several girls wave, and Mike, the cute stable hand, winks at me. He’s always flirting, but he’s twenty-one. That doesn’t stop me from sneaking a peek at his butt in his tight Wrangler jeans.
Inside the stables, I have tunnel vision. I don’t even glance at the other stalls. I’m here with one purpose, and I find him in his stall, waiting for me.
Kenny’s eyes widen a little, and he trots over when I open the stall door. No sooner have I set down my gym bag than Kenny has his face against mine. I stroke his nose and pat his neck.
“Hello there. You were waiting for me today, weren’t you?”
As I open the gym bag to get a brush, Kenny tries to stick his nose in it for one of the apples I brought for him.
“Hey, that’s for later!”
He looks at me.
“Fine,” I reply. “But the rest are for later.”
I pull out an apple, and Kenny chomps on it with his enormous teeth. He goes for another.
“No way!” I exclaim and quickly zip the bag shut.
I brush his back, making sure that the hairs are flat. Then I place the saddlecloth on him. Finally, I hoist the saddle up on to Kenny’s back and fasten the straps. When I was younger, this used to take forever, and I would need my dad’s help. Kenny and I now have the routine down flat. I fasten the bridle around his face and give a soothing pat on his nose.
“Alright, let’s go.”
I lead him out of the stall and through the stable doors. Outside, I tie him to a post so I can put on my helmet and sunglasses. I look off toward the riding trails across the street.
“Ready?” I ask.
I untie the reigns and in one swift move, I’m sitting in the saddle. After securing my feet in the stirrups, I tug on the reigns and guide Kenny toward the trails that go through the Metroparks. We follow the dirt paths that take us into the lush green foliage of the valley. I reach forward and pat Kenny on the strong muscles of his neck. For nearly an hour, we walk in silence.
The two of us approach a stream, and Kenny walks up to the edge. He sips some water as I stare out into the forest, content. This is my favorite time of the day, out here in the middle of the woods. The clicking of cicadas clutters the air. The sthr thrr thrr thrr thrr thrr of a Northern Cardinal. The hammering of a woodpecker. Just the two of us, Kenny’s body between my legs, expanding with each breath.
“It’s nice, huh, Kenny? Wouldn’t it be great if life was always this peaceful?”
Kenny snorts. Sometimes I really think he understands me. Other times I believe he’s just reacting to the timbre of my voice. Either way, he’s the only male who’s never let me down; the only one who is always there for me.
Everything is still. I can hear the hum of traffic crossing the Rocky River Bridge somewhere in the distance. Then, on the other side of the stream, a buck walks up and stands directly opposite me. We stare at each other, mesmerized. Is that deer the same as me? Is it worried it might fail and get kicked out of the herd? Does it worry about its girlfriend… its doe-friend? The buck turns and walks back into the deep green of the forest.
I take a breath.
“What am I going to do, Kenny? I mean, I love him and all, but it’s, like, getting so complicated.”
Kenny keeps his head down, avoiding the answer.
“Fine, be that way.”
Tugging on his reigns, I guide him down the trail to the stables. There is still plenty of activity around the barn. Girls riding horses. Moms gossiping. I dismount and begin walking Kenny back to his stall.
“Hear you got some good news,” a voice behind me calls out.
It’s stable hand Mike, approaching me and wiping his hands on his jeans.
“Congratulations,” he says, extending his hand. “I assume you’ll be taking Kenny with ya all summer?”
“Thanks! Yes!” I exclaim, shaking his hand.
“Well, I’m really happy for ya, Kate. I can’t wait to hear ‘bout it when you get back.”
Am I blushing? Because I feel like I’m blushing. And my cheeks are getting tight from smiling too much.
“Awesome. I’ll be sure to fill you in. When I get back. After this summer. Yes!”
Dear God, I’m such a goober.
“Well,” Mike starts,” I hope to see ya a coupla more times before ya go.”
“You will. Yeah. Uh huh. I’ll probably be down here, like, every day.”
Mike just grins and nods before heading off to go help some little girl on to her horse.
“C’mon, Kenny, let’s go see what kind of snacks I have for you.” And I lead him back into the barn. Once there, I remove the saddle, saddle cloth and bridle. Kenny shakes his body, loosening the matted hair on his back. I like this routine. Nothing changes; everything is set. I brush him for a good ten minutes, then I cool him down with water from the hose. Finally, I dig out the apples and carrots from the gym bag and feed him.
I’m so lucky to have Kenny and to be able to come down here whenever I like. Next year, it’s going to get tougher finding the time. There are going to be so many challenges being a senior. My grades, for one thing, sure could use a boost, and I’m going to have to get a better paying job. The stables are raising their fees in August, and I know that Mom and Dad don’t have the money to cover it. I sometimes think about whether I should even be in a relationship at this time in my life. I have to study my ass off, work my ass off, and you know I’m going to ride my ass off. That doesn’t leave much ass for a boyfriend.
I do love Brian, though. When he isn’t indecisive, self-centered and a complete “guy,” he can be one of the kindest, warmest people I know.
“I’m all out,” I tell Kenny, showing empty hands. He stands still while I stroke his nose. Then, I leave the stall, closing the gate behind me.
Fishing through my pockets, I find a quarter and approach the stable payphone, which smells like onions and has the word PENIS carved in the receiver. I dial Eric’s house and wait. Eric picks up after five rings and quickly sets the phone down to go get Brian. A minute later, he answers.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hey,” Brian replies.
“I should be home in an hour or so.”
“Okay. We’re going to the mall.”
“Eric wants to pick up his paycheck, and we’re going to buy Petty tickets. You sure you don’t want to go to the concert?”
“Positive. I can’t stand his voice.”
“Okay. How’s Kenny?” he asks, in that tone.
“He’s fine, Brian,” I say, seething, and I can’t hold back this time. “You have that tone again. Why is it you always get that tone? Do you know how much that tone pisses me off?”
There’s a long silence. He feels bad. Good.
“Sorry, Kate, that was rude.”
“It’s fine,” I lie.
I look off into a wide open field where other riders are bringing their horses into the stable.
“Anyway,” I say, “meet me at my house like we planned?”
“Great. See you, then.”
“I love you.”
We hang up, and I stand there, leaning against the barn, wishing I was back out in the forest with Kenny where everything seems so simple.
Today’s artwork was by Tammy List. Tammy is an avid animal lover who volunteers and is on the Board of Directors at the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, CA. She also volunteers at a cat sanctuary called Heaven on Earth – The Perry MacFarlane Sanctuary. When she isn’t working or volunteering Tammy spends her time outside taking pictures of wildlife.
Miami Sound Machine’s song, “Conga” is found on their 1985 album, Primitive Love.
Read Chapter 7 of Legendary