Rm w/a Vu(171)

By: A. D. Ryan

Dad reaches out for me, noticing I’m in the middle of a panic attack, and the second he takes my left hand and loops it through his right arm, I feel a little better. Not completely, but I accept the slight reprieve.

“Just breathe, Jules,” he whispers, placing his left hand over mine and patting it.

I do as he says, taking a deep breath in and then releasing it. I repeat this a few times, and then hold my breath when the doors swing wide and I’m met with almost two-hundred sets of eyes all on me.

“Breathe,” Dad repeats.

Then my eyes find Greyston’s, and my panic melts away when his smile stretches across his face. While he wasn’t what I was looking for when I answered that ad two years ago, he has been there for me in more ways than I can count. He helped me find myself after being betrayed, and more importantly, he showed me what real love is supposed to be like.

A wave of calm rushes over me, and I step over the threshold anxiously, more than ready to start this next phase in our life together.

I sank into the supple leather saddle, and with a sigh, I was home. We walked around the arena for fifteen minutes to warm her up, and I counted the perfectly spaced beats of her gait. One. Two. Three. Four. She wasn’t favoring her leg, so I decided we would pick up into a trot. One. Two. One. Two. I rose on every other beat, and Hayley flipped her head slightly and snorted with delight. When I felt she was ready, I nudged her forward into a steady lope.

As we cantered around the arena, I kept my seat in the saddle, keeping her going by pushing forward. When we hit the corner, I turned her so we could change direction. She instantly flipped to the opposite lead, the change graceful and seamless. We moved smoothly around the low cross-rail that had been set up for last night’s beginner jumper class and continued on.

We made a few more laps around the arena, and as we approached the entry I saw a man with a head of unruly brown hair watching us. I instantly recognized him as the man who had met with Dad this morning. His body was relaxed as he leaned over the top rail of the fence, and his right leg was bent so his foot could rest on the bottom one. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a sleeveless white tank that showed off his muscular physique.

As Hayley and I drew nearer, I took in the deep blue color of his eyes and the way they sparkled like sapphires in the sun. I was instantly mesmerized. We continued to lope around the arena, and when I caught the stranger’s gaze again I got lost in his eyes once more. There was something in the way he was watching me that made me smile, and he returned that smile with one that caused a flurry of butterflies to erupt in my belly. Completely distracted by his smirk, I hadn’t even realized that Hayley was headed for the small cross-rail just off the trail until we were nearly upon it.

On instinct, I leaned forward in preparation for her to take the jump, but as I did, Hayley stopped…and I kept on going. The ground came up to meet me far too fast, and all I felt was pressure in my head as I landed hard on my back.