Onmywaytobeauty's Blog

Another snippet from my book…

January 24, 2010
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Chapter Six… 

 For once, the screams that woke me were not my own. I lay in my bed and listened for a moment, eyes wide, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. There were two voices, one low and deadly, the other truly terrified.

 “She’s gone,” the man’s low voice said, “You can’t bring her back, and that girl cannot replace her!” I heard a slap, and then a soft gasp. “If I’d wanted another child, we’d have had one by now!” 

“Please,” I heard her soft whimper.

 I climbed out of my bed and opened my door to find the Clark’s door open, their light on. I tip toed down the hall and peered around the corner, scared of what I might find. Mr. Clark’s back was to the door, Jessica’s terror-stricken face was streaked with tears, and a bruise was already forming on her left cheek bone. He started screaming at her when she interrupted him, and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He hit her again, and she slammed into the wall by their window and slumped down to the floor. My mouth fell open, making a small popping sound that caught their attention. I took one look at his face as he turned to face me, and then flew down the stairs as fast as my legs would carry me. His eyes were so much like the man’s in my nightmare, and I was instantly afraid for my life.

 The door was locked, but it didn’t stop me for long. I left it open behind me as I flew down the porch steps and across the front lawn. I didn’t know where I was headed until I got to the stable door. I flung it open, glanced back at the house to make sure I wasn’t being followed, then slid it shut behind me. I was engulfed in darkness. I could hear the soft snickering of the horses as I interrupted their sleep, and reached toward the closest one, feeling my way down the row of stalls toward the end as my eyes adjusted to the darkness.

 Annabell’s head was reaching out over the door to her stall before I reached it, her body blacker than the darkness. I put my hand on her neck as I slid the deadbolt on the door, opened it, and went inside. Annabell nudged my pocket with her nose, looking for the ever-present treat. My pocket was empty. I’m sorry, I thought at her. I trailed my hand down the length of her strong body, keeping my bearing in the darkness, and also trying to not startle her. When I found the back corner of the stall, there was a heavy blanket hanging from a hook on the wall, right where I knew it would be. I tugged on it until it came free, then settled myself onto the floor in the corner. I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and pulled my knees up to my chest.

 I was shaking, but not from cold. The images from the nightmare I couldn’t forget kept playing in my mind, and part of me wanted to go back and help Jessica. But what could I do? Call the police? They wouldn’t come if I couldn’t get words out of my mouth to tell them that they needed to. And so, I squeezed myself as far back into the corner as I could, comforted by the huge animal with me, and the sweet smell of the stable.

 Eventually, I drifted into fitfull sleep. The horses started waking and getting restless as the sun came up. The sound of their soft whinies and snorts woke me, but I didn’t move. Long after I heard the limousine come and pick up Mr. Clark, I stayed where I was.

 I was half asleep again when I heard the stable door slide open.

 “Lizzy?” Jessica called out timidly, “Are you in here?” I heard her gentle steps coming toward my hiding place, but I still didn’t move. Annabell’s head peered over her door at Jessica and bobbed up and down impatiently.

 Traitor, I thought.

 “Lizzy, please come out. Everything is fine, I promise.” I pulled the blanket over my head and held my legs tighter to myself. Her voice was so close to me now, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I could see her face, and I didn’t want to look at what he’d done to her. The door creaked open and then closed. “Lizzy,” she pleaded. “Please, come in and get some breakfast, at least.” I shook my head. “Lizzy…” She pulled the blanket away from my face, and I shut my eyes tighter. I felt her hand on my hair as she knelt beside me.

 “I’m so sorry, Lizzy. I’m so sorry.” She cried softly. Slowly, I lifted my head and looked into her eyes. Agony. Bruises covered most of the left side of her face, her eye was swollen almost completely shut. I threw myself into her arms, almost knocking her over, and clung to her with all my strength. I hated Mr. Clark so much my tiny body could hardly contain it. My body shook with rage at the very thought of him. How could anyone hurt someone as sweet as his wife?

 Jessica hugged me close, stood up, and carried me back to the house, stroking my hair and trying to soothe my sobs the whole way. When we reached the house, she sat me on my breakfast stool and set to work making my breakfast. While I ate, she went to the freezer and pulled out a bag of frozen veggetables, placing it gingerly on her left eye. My eyes filled with tears again, and I found that I couldn’t eat anymore. Even the bacon sat untouched on my plate.

 At dinner that night, I ate as fast as I could and then exiled myself to the stables and Annabell. I refused to be in the same room as Mr. Clark for any longer than absolutely necessary.

 The next day was Saturday, and Mr. Clark was home from work. I spent every moment except for meals with Annabell. She seemed to be able to sense that something was wrong, and she laid her head gently on my shoulder as I stood on my crate in front of her. It felt like a hug. I grabbed her around her silky black neck, trying to hold back my tears.

 Jessica came out to me after lunch, carrying my new riding pants, boots, gloves and helmet.

 “Shall we?” she asked with a half smile. She seemed to try not to move the left side of her face much, as it was still bruised. I didn’t move. “Don’t you want to learn to ride Annabell?” she asked. I looked at Annabell, and then the clothes draped over her arm, and then pointedly at the left side of her face. It was my fault. All my fault. I shook my head.

 “Lizzy… Come on, I’ll show you where you can change out here. There’s a little bathroom over in the corner.” She held out her hand to me, but I didn’t take it. I just shook my head again. There was no way I was going to give him an excuse to ruin her beautiful face again. She knelt in front of me and looked me in the eyes. “Please?” She asked. I put my right hand gently on her left cheek and shook my head again.

 “Lizzy, look at me. This”–she pointed to her face– “is not your fault!” I shook my head again, and then moved my hand from her face and wrapped my arms around her neck. The sobs shook me, and she stroked my hair and tried to soothe me. “Okay, okay,” she said after a moment. “No riding today. Maybe tomorrow.” She patted my back and released me. I thought I saw her wipe tears from her eyes as she walked away from me.

 When I was getting ready for bed that night, I found the riding gear on a shelf in the closet. I picked it up, careful not to mess anything up, and took it to her room. I put it on the corner of her bed and went back to my own room. Climbing into my bed, I curled up into a tight ball with my back to the door. My heart ached to learn how to ride Annabell and to make Jessica happy, but I couldn’t bear to see her hurting again. Thinking of what had happened to her, I was filled with rage again toward Mr. Clark. Next time, I decided, I would find a way to stop him and save her. Somehow. I would not let her be like the woman in my dream. I drifted into restless sleep.

 ****

 “Lizzy?” I groaned and slowly opened my eyes, only to find that the blackness didn’t fade. No light came in through the window, and none from the hallway on the other side of the door. What time was it?

 “Lizzy, can I come in?” It was Jessica; I could barely make out the shape of her face in the darkness as she peered around the door into my room. I sat up in answer, propping myself up on my pillows. I reached over and turned on the small lamp on the end table, squinting my eyes at the sudden brightness. Jessica opened the door enough to come into my room, then closed it behind her.

 There were fresh tears on her cheeks as she walked slowly to my bed and sat down. In her arms, she held my riding gear.

 “Please, Lizzy… please ride with me. It’s been so long since I’ve even had the desire to get on one of the horses, and now that you’re here…” her voice faded to a whisper as she spoke, and then she stopped. She was quiet for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Did I ever tell you about my daughter Jane?” I thought of my first day here, seeing the picture on the porch. After finding out that she wasn’t here anymore, I didn’t think twice about the pretty little girl in the photograph.

 “Jane wasn’t much older than you when she died.” Died? My eyes popped open and I started paying closer attention to what she was saying about the girl. “Jane loved the horses like you do, and she would come to the stables and brush them and feed them apples and carrots and sugar cubes. We would ride together almost every day. Her favorite was a speckled gelding named Pepper. He was young and energetic, and Jane spent as much time with him as you do with Annabell.” Jessica smiled wistfully for a moment, and then her eyes filled with tears. Her voice was thick with emotion as she told the rest. “One day, when Jane and I were out for a ride in the fields, Pepper got spooked by a snake in the grass and took off like a flash. Jane was a good rider, but Pepper was out of control. He ran for miles, and I tried to keep up. I could see Jane, her head low, her feet tight in the stirrups. She was holding on for dear life, but I imagined that she was having a bit too much fun, considering the situation. I called to her, telling her to try to turn Pepper around, but when she pulled on the reins, he reared up and knocked her off. That’s the moment he finally decided to turn around and come back home. He turned while he was still on his hind legs, and when his front hooves came down, they landed on her chest.” Her voice cracked, and she bowed her head and sobbed quietly. I wondered why she would want to ride again at all…

 “I haven’t been on one of the horses since, but seeing you with Annabell, how much you both seem to love each other… it reminds me of how happy we were when we were riding together. I want to feel that again. And I love to watch your face when you’re with Annabell and the other horses, how happy you are. And when you sit on Annabell’s back… it’s always so exciting for you. Can you imagine how it would feel to have her moving under you, following your every command? It’s so amazing, and I want to share it with you, like I did with Jane.” She smiled sadly and curled her hand around my cheek, “Would you try, just once? For me?”

 I reached up and put my small hand on her battered face, and she covered it with her own. After a moment, she reached over and pulled me onto her lap.

 “This has nothing to do with you, Lizzy,” she said gently, “When Jane was killed, James took it even harder than I did. She was his little girl, and they were always very close. He became very angry and started drinking. I think he blames me for Jane’s death, though he would never say it; he shows it in other ways.” She sighed. “This is probably more than you need to know, so I wont tell you anymore… Will you please just think about learning how to ride Annabell? It would make both of us so happy.” She smiled and squeezed me gently. I wanted to make her happy, so I nodded my agreement. Her smile widened and she squeezed me again before sliding me off of her lap and standing from the bed. Setting my riding gear on the corner of my bed, she walked quickly to the door, stopping to smile at me again before she closed it silently behind her.

 I reached over and turned out my light, suddenly excited and extremly terrified at the prospect of riding Annabell. I wondered if I’d be able to fall back to sleep, but my eye lids were heavy, and it didn’t take long. I was awake and waiting impatiently for Mr. Clark to leave for work in the morning, and as soon as I heard the fancy limo pull away from the house, I hurried to the bathroom to take my shower and put on my riding gear. When Jessica came in to see me, I was waiting on my bed with my towel around my head, and the hair brush and ties on the bed beside me. She smiled broadly at my apparent impatience and came into the room. Her face was carefully covered with make-up, and I could barely see the dark bruises around her eye and cheek. There wasn’t much she could do to hide the swelling on her lower lip, so I tried not to look at it. I smiled back at her as she crossed the room and sat behind me on the bed to put my hair in the braids that curved around my ears. When she was finished, I hopped off the bed, grabbing my riding helmet and heading for the door, impatient to have breakfast and get to the stables. I ate in a hurry, then grabbed an apple from the fridge, bringing it to Jessica at the sink, where she cut it into quarters that would fit into my jacket pockets. I bounced up and down impatiently while she finished up the dishes and put them away. She laughed.

 “Why don’t you go ahead down to the stables, I’ll be there in a minute. I’m sure Annabell would like a snack before breakfast.” She winked at me, and I hugged her around the leg quickly before taking off out the door.

 When I got to the stable, Annabell was waiting for me. She seemed excited, too, her head stretched toward me, her foot pawing at the ground, her black eyes wide and shining. As I got closer, she bobbed her head up and down impatiently, and pawed the ground some more. I smiled at her and reached into my pocket, pulling out one of the apple pieces and holding it out to her before I was even at the stall. She stretched her head out even further, impatient. I ran the last few steps and she took the apple gently from my hand, chewing and bobbing her head, content. I rubbed her nose gently, then scratched the star between her eyes.

 Annabell’s ears twitched and turned toward the door; I looked up to see Jessica opening it and coming in. I grinned at her, then turned back to Annabell.

 “Do you want to help me feed the horses? Then I’ll show you how to get Annabell ready for riding.” I patted Annabell’s neck one more time, then hopped down off of my crate and skipped over to where Jessica was scooping oats into a big bucket. She shoveled some more, dropped the big scoop in the bucket, and then lugged it to the first stall. She held the bucket, and I scooped the oats from the big bucket into the individual buckets in the stalls. By this time, all of the horses were hanging their heads over their stall doors, bobbing their heads and pawing impatiently. After we made our rounds with the oats, we filled the water buckets.

 I watched her carefully as she put the bit and bridle on first her horse, Jasper, a golden-brown Arabian, and then Annabell. When it came time to buckle the saddle, Jasper pushed out his gut stubbornly, not letting her get it tightened around him it wouldn’t slide sideways later. Jessica turned her back to him, hand still on the buckle, pretending that she’d given up. The moment he relaxed, she tugged on the belt and latched it in place. Annabell was more willing for the saddle, excited and anxious as I was. When she was finished, Jessica moved my crate close to Annabell’s side and instructed me on how to climb on, giving me a little boost when I wasn’t quite tall enough to step up on the stirrup and swing my right leg over Annabell’s huge body. Jessica adjusted the stirrups to fit my short legs, showed me how to point my toes downward to keep my feet locked in, then taught me how to hold the reins.

 The first few times around the field, Jessica led Annabell by the reins, giving me tips on how to pull on the reins to slow her down, and kick her in the side with my heel to speed her up. That was difficult for me to do, not wanting to inflict any pain on Annabell. It took several tries and lots of encouragement and promises that I wasn’t hurting her from Jessica before I kicked her with enough force to get her to move from a walk to a slow trot. After a while, she gave me the reins and walked beside me, one hand still on Annabell’s shoulder, close enough to grab the reins if needed. The feeling of Annabell’s huge body moving under me was exhilerating, but I wanted to go faster, wanted more excitement. We walked back to where she’d left Jasper tied to the fence, and she climbed up on him. Jessica smiled at me, and I beamed back at her.

 “Ready?” I nodded enthusiastically, and she took off on Jasper, trotting in front of me. I loosened Annabell’s reins, and she followed close to his tail as Jessica led him out of the open gate and down one of the trails that led into the back fields of the property. I’d been here for two months, and I had no idea that all this land was theirs.

 The afternoon passed quickly, Annabell seeming to feel as invigorated and excited as I did, and the sun was starting to sink into the western sky before I realized it. Jessica and I were walking the horses slowly for a moment when my stomach growled. Jessica glanced at me and I giggled. I hadn’t realized I was hungry until just then.

 “How about we head back to the house, get the horses brushed down a little bit, and then have some dinner?” Jessica asked. “Mr. Clark will be home soon, and he’ll be hungry, too.” The sound of his name sent me into a panic. We stayed out too long; what if dinner wasn’t ready when he got home? Would he be angry? Angry enough to hurt Jessica? I kicked Annabell into a trot, then kicked her again, not wanting to waste any time.

 “Lizzy, slow down! You haven’t been riding long enough to go this fast!” She was right beside me, one hand reaching toward me, as if she could slow me down my sheer will. She was right, though, I didn’t feel in control of Annabell at this speed. I pulled lightly on her reins and she slowed immediately, reacting to my slightest touch. I walked her up to my crate, then swung myself off of her back, landing squarely on my feet on top of the crate. I felt pride and terror mixed together. Pride at how well Jessica seemed to think I did for my first day out riding, and terror at the though of Mr. Clark coming home. I refused to let him ruin this most perfect day, and determined to get the horses in their stalls and dinner on the table in record time.

Jessica didn’t seem to be as anxious as I was. She took her time taking the saddles off the horses and hanging them over the stall door leading into the tack room. The horses stood lazily as she took the bits from their mouths and the harnesses from over their heads and ears. They walked into their stalls without the slightest bit of encouragement. Jessica walked out of the stable and came back a moment later with my crate, placing it gently on the floor of Annabell’s stall.

 “Here,” she said, handing me a big brush. “I’ll show you how to brush her, and then I’ll go over and brush Jasper.” She smiled at me as I took the brush and climbed onto my crate. She placed one hand on Annabell’s back, just behind her front shoulder, then rubbed down the length of her body, following it with her own brush. She moved her free hand back over and repeated the motion in another area. “Just keep one hand on her at all times, and she wont be startled. You try.” I repeated Jessica’s movements, but my arms were so much shorter; it was going to take me twice as long to brush Annabell as it would Jessica to brush Jasper. I didn’t care. I’d much rather spend the night in the stable with Annabell than in the house with Mr. Clark.

 “Good job, Lizzy! That’s perfect.” Jessica seemed so pleased to be out here, showing me how to take care of the animals she so clearly loved. I smiled at her brightly. She patted my shoulder and left me to my work.

Again, any comments and constructive criticism would be appreciated!  Thanks so much!

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