Mysterious Boy

[First Draft]

I am lost in my own thoughts when a chocolate lab races out from the shadows, barking as it breaks through the tree line. Shadow stops short and rears. Leaning into the stirrups, I grab his mane, “whoa . . . easy boy.” I stroke his neck as he settles back onto all fours.

“Oh man, sorry about that,” a young man jogs out of the woods where the dog first appeared.

Shadow snorts and shakes his head, stomping his hooves in protest. “Easy boy,” I try to sooth Shadow once again before turning on this mysterious intruder.

“You really need to control that dog of yours!” My words are laced with a bitterness I don’t really intend.

The young man’s easy going demeanor becomes stiff and defensive. “Hey look, I’m sorry. He wasn’t trying to hurt anybody. He’s just excited. I’m sure he just wanted to run with you.” He stands there, glaring at me, daring me to dispute his interpretation of events. His gaze rubs an already open wound. I can feel the tears starting to prick at the corners of my eyes again.

The stranger seems to soften a little. He gives a sharp whistle and slaps his outer thigh. “Come Winston.” The dog turns and races to his side, sitting obediently. I take the opportunity to shift in my saddle and look down the trail as if gauging the distance to my destination. Taking a deep breath, I push the tears back and try to look self-assured.

“Sorry, you just surprised us. That’s all.” I let Shadow draw closer to Winston, the horse dropping his head and inhaling deeply. The lab jumps back, crouching and wagging his tail, giving an enthusiastic yelp, bearing his teeth in a silly dog smile.

“The name is James, by the way.” He extends his hand in my direction. I reach out and give a timid shake while my brain tries to calculate the right amount of pressure to apply: soft and welcoming? firm and independent? Definitely not weak and uncommitted . . . too late, the action is over before my brain can decide on a tactic. James doesn’t seem to notice.

“Don’t you go to Lincoln High School?” he asks.

“Yeah.” There was something vaguely familiar about him.

“I believe we have English together . . . Ms Tuttle?”

“Oh right,” I say with a nod and a smile. I am totally faking it, but it’s not like I’m a snob. School just started last week, and as a freshman, I’m pretty nervous. As a general rule, I keep my head low and try to avoid any drama. I have the same urge to do that now, but before I have the chance to politely excuse myself, James continued.

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