Mysterious Boy

“It’s ok. I’m new. I just moved here from Chicago. Well, not ‘just.’ I – we moved here last July: Do you live nearby?”

“At Pinecrest Farm,” I can see he’s clueless, “about 10 minutes down the trail there.”

“Oh,” he seems pleased, “I’m surprised our paths haven’t crossed before. Winston loves these trails. You don’t ride much?”

“Everyday actually, but not out here.” I feel awkward as I look into his gentle brown eyes. “I do show jumping, so I practice . . . a lot.” Why do I sound like such an idiot?

“. . . you practice jumping . . . over things . . ?” There’s an edge of humor under his serious expression.

“Right,” I said, “on horseback.” I add feeling a little ridiculous.

“I see.” He smiles.

I’m trying to think of a witty comeback when a large brown mass moves between the trees in the distance. It’s slow and lumbering with muscles undulating under thick fur, and then it’s gone. I search, but I can’t see it anywhere. James turns to look in the same direction, but when he looks back at me, he’s obviously confused.

“I thought I saw something,” the hair stands up on the back of my neck.

We both pause a moment longer, watching, listening. James turns to Winston and then eyes Shadow, quietly.

“Well, the animals don’t seem to be concerned,” he says.

“True.” I still feel uneasy. I could have sworn . . .

“Still, it’s probably safer if we stick together,” his concern sounds manufactured but his smile is absolutely adorable.

I don’t think I am hiding my relief very well, but I try to appear indifferent. I already skipped jump practice, and I ignored mom’s angry text. Although I don’t relish the idea of being eaten by some mysterious woodland creature, I would rather strike off into the unknown than face the rage that was waiting for me at home. The idea of confronting her renews the tight, twisting feeling in my chest. I close my eyes, and I slowly inhale and exhale. The air stumbles in and out of my lungs in an uneven flow.

When I open my eyes, James is watching me with this intense blend of curiosity and compassion that makes me uncomfortable. I look back down at the ground.

“You know where I like to go when I need to relax?” James begins a casual stroll down the path, “The stone circle.”

“Stone circle?” I have no idea what he is taking about.

“You’ve never seen it?” He smiles in my direction. “Excellent! An adventure!” His wink promises the revelation of a great secret.

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