Chapter 4: Over Jumping

Two weeks hadpassed since Abigail first sat next to me on the bus. Now, she sat by me on the bus and in the cafeteria every day. AlthoughI constantly warned her that if she hung around me she would become a social outcast, she refused to listen, and I discovered that she could be as stubborn as me. She continuously tried to get to know me and become my friend, and I had to admire her tenacity. There were some days when I think she might have regretted her efforts, though.

"They're so mean…" Abigail said, staring at her tray of food.

I looked up from my lunch, giving her a sympathetic smile. "That bad?"

She shook her head. "No, it was worse." She swiped at her eyes, removing the tears that had fallen from her face.

I felt bad for Abigail. It was impossible to ignore the Foursome. The things they said really got under your skin, and their harsh words were very hard to forget. Apparently, the Foursome had cornered Abigail yesterday and had been really, really mean to her. I'd eavesdropped on a group of girls gossiping about the encounter when I was going through my locker, and they'd described the language and words the Foursome had used when confronting Abigail, which caused me to flinch. Several times.

The Foursome pretty much dominated the school, and you did not want to get on their "I-don't-like-you" list. Abigail seemed to have skyrocketed to the pinnacle of their top-people-to-hatelist simply by talking to me. In the Foursome's eyes, anyone who associated with me was an outcast and loser. Since I'd moved here last year, I had been known as the number one loser girl in school. Now that Abigail was associated with me, she had become the newest member of the outcast club. I'm sure there were nice kids at this school, but I really couldn't blame them for avoiding me. They were too afraid of getting on the Foursome's bad side. Abigail was living proof of why.

"Ugh," Abigail sounded disgusted. "Why doesn't someone stand up to the Foursome or tell on them?"

I sighed deeply and straightened in my seat a little. "Because people like me don't want to deal with the ramifications of messing with them. Besides, if anyone ratted them out, they would pay all of us back tenfold."

Abigail continued to stare at her food, as if seeking another solution. "I don't know how you put up with this, Karen, they're just so, so…"

"Harsh?"

She looked up. "Yeah, it's not right for people like that to tear other people down, just so they can build themselves up."

"It isn't right," I took a sip of my water before looking back at Abigail, "but there's nothing we can do about it."

When I got home from school I quickly changed into my riding clothes. I was anxious to get down to the barn. My aunt had said it would be okay to try taking Sasha over a few small jumps today. Ever since Sasha had arrived, I had trained and drilled with her, and although we were working great as a team, I hadn't yet jumped her. I wasexcited to give it a try.

I didn't plan on seriouslytraining her as a jumper, since her papers had stated that she was physically unable to jump over 2'3. Her previous owners had hinted that there was a congenital misalignment in her hips and knees that prevented her from jumping any higher, but none of the grooms or my aunt had seen any problems so far, and the vet had found nothing he considered problematic. None of us wanted to risk sustaining an injury, but her performance record here on the ranch was, so far, excellent, and my aunt hadn't seen anything that she thought would be insurmountable to attempting a jump now and then.I was excited to see what Sasha could do, even if she wasn't expected to achieve much height.

It didn't take very long to tack Sasha up and we were in the ring before we knew it. Aunt Sophia was waiting for us, but I was surprised to see Ellen standing with her in the ring. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but her presence on the ranchbothered me, and it had been kind of nice having her keep her distance over the past few weeks.I wondered why, today of all days, she was there standing next to Aunt Sophia. Did she know we would be trying to jump Sasha?

Deciding to ignore her presence,I guided Sasha around the arena, warming her up at a walk, trot, and canter. I'd been frequently jumping Cleo,one of my aunt's horses, before Sasha had come. When I was younger, I had participated in several shows, but the rigid structure of the competitionshadn't been for me. I simplyenjoyed jumping.

I guided Sasha around the arena. It was a nice day. The air was crisp, and the leaves on the trees were turning red, yellow, and orange. Simply beautiful.

I listened to my aunt's instructions carefully as I trotted Sasha toward the first jump, a small cross rail about ten inches high. I took a deep breath and relaxed. The jump didn't look scary at all.

One moment Sasha was trotting, and then the next she was eagerlycantering toward the jump. My aunt began yelling something, but I couldn't understand what she was saying over the pounding of Sasha's hooves. I tried to pull Sasha back to a trot, but it was too late, and we were too close to the jump. She lurched forward, tucking her front legs underneath her, and flew upward, soaring through the air.

I lost my balance and bounced out of the saddle, landing on Sasha's neck. She landed and returned to cantering gracefully around the ring. I managed to slide back in the saddle and pull Sasha up, confused. What had just happened?

Sasha stopped and sent a long high-pitched whinny to the other horses in the pasture next to us, her whole body shaking.

As I dismounted and held Sasha, stroking her face to calm her, my aunt came running toward me. Ellen followed closely behind her.

"Are you okay?" Aunt Sophia asked, worry plastered all over her face.

"It's a miracle you didn't fall off!" Ellen sounded amazed as she rubbed Sasha.

"Did Sasha over jump it?" I asked stupidly. I was still trying to replay what had just happened, but everything seemed a little blurry.

"Did she over jump it?" my aunt's voice rang with sarcasm. "She jumped it like it was a five and a half foot jump."

"She jumped that high?" I looked at Sasha bewildered. Aunt Sophianodded her head.

"Is Sasha okay?" Ellen asked.

"I think so," I answered. Ellen ran her hands down Sasha's legs. On the back left leg she felt way higher up than she needed to.

"ButSasha's papers said that she wasn'table to jump over 2'3."

"They did?" Ellen and Aunt Sophia asked in unison.

"They did, so how can she be jumping like five feet?"

We stood there in the arena discussing what had just occurred. After a while, my aunt mounted Sasha and took her over the same jump. Sasha jumped lower this time, but she still over jumped the rail by three feet. As my aunt continued to take Sasha over the jump, she eventually jumped the intended height, but it took her several attempts.

AuntSophiaallowed me to try again. Sasha was perfect this time, jumpingthe intended height. She even knocked a rail down.

Neither Aunt Sophia, nor Ellen or I could come up with a reasonable explanation to the matter. I didn't even know if there was one; I was dumbfounded. If Sasha had a genetic misalignment, how did she just jump five feet?

I didn't sleep well that night. I was too busy thinking over the events of the day. The incident with Sasha was all my aunt could talk about at dinner. Sasha just seemed...impossible to me. I didn't know what was going on, but I wanted to find out.

Abigail and I were eating lunch the next day when she asked out of pure curiosity, "So, where do your parents work?"

I gulped down the piece of meatloaf I was chewing and sat there, unmoving. This was not a conversation I wanted to have right now. Painful memories rushed to my mind, memories I had finally been able to put aside for a while, mostly because of Sasha.Lost in my own thoughts, I didn't notice when Abigail said, "Karen?"

I scooted my chair away from the table, and as I picked up my tray and left, I said, "Ask Virginia."

Virginia was the principal's daughter. She knew everything about everyone, so I was sure she knew about me and my past. Virginia could tell you just about anything you wanted to know about anyone in school. Let her tell Abigail what she wanted to know. It was the safest way, sinceI did not want to discuss the subject. It was stilltoo... painful.

Virginia was not to be trifled with, though. Even the Foursome left her alone. They would regret it if they messed with her. She had as much authority in the school as the Foursome, if not more. Being the principal's daughter gave her a decided advantage. If Clarrissa's group ever messed with Virginia or her BFF Katie, Virginia would be telling her mother and the Foursome's parents quite a bit about the Foursome's bullying. I knew, because I had heard Virginia threaten them before. I had been putting books away in my locker when I heard the confrontation.

"You better watch it, little missy." Virginia warned. "That little prank with the soda? That wasn't funny; Katie's not laughing either. I would think twice before pulling something like that again. Or would you rather have your mother get a very disturbing phone call from the principal?"

Clarrissa was shrinking in the corner, avoiding Virginia's eyes.

"I wouldn't forget that if I were you," she said and walked away, leaving Clarrissa shooting daggers at everyone and asking, "What are you looking at?"

That's when I left.

I went through the rest of my classes trying to avoid Abigail as best I could. When it came time to get on the bus, though, it was near impossible to avoid her, and although I tried to get a separate seat on the bus, by the time I arrived the seat next to Abigail was the only one left. I sat unwillingly in the seat next to her, and I could tell I had hurt her feelings. It had hurt me too, because I hadn't wanted to hurt her, but really, what choice did I have? She had crossed the line and entered uncharted territory.

Abigail'shouse was the first bus stop, so she wasn't on the bus very long, and thankfully,she didn't say one word to meduring that period of time. It was Friday, so I wouldn't see her again until Monday, but in my heart I couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad one.

Stepping off the bus, I went straight to the barn. It had literally become my life, and I was there every possible second. Sasha was just about the only reason I still had a shred of sanity. In the back of my mind,I also realized I had found a reason to live.

"Hey girl," I greeted Sasha. "Did you have a good day?"

Sasha stretched her neck out toward me over her stall door, wanting to be scratched. "Good girl," I cued as I began scratching her forehead. We stood there for a moment, enjoying each other's company. Sasha's eyes closed sleepily as I continued scratching her. "All right," I said after a few minutes. I reached for her halter outside the stall door and began buckling it on her. "Let's go for a ride."

I walked Sasha down to the tack room to tack her up, but stopped when I reached it. It had been a long day, and I really couldn't wait to feel Sasha moving beneath me. What about riding bareback? Sasha would probably do just fine with it.I thought for a few more moments before making up my mind. I would have to ride close to the barn in case something happened, and I had to make sure my aunt wouldn't see me; because I knew instinctively she would think it was a bad idea.

I glanced around me. The stables were pretty quiet, and no one was watching. Why not?

Hurriedly, I rushed in the tack room and returned with my helmet and Sasha's bridle. I snapped on my helmet and then trotted beside Sasha as we hurriedout of the barn. As we left the stable, we almost ran into Darren.

"Whoa," he jumped backwardin surprise. "Where ya going so fast?" Darren looked Sasha over. "Bareback, aye?"

I always smiled when Darren stopped to talk to me – he was usually so quiet. And I loved his Scottish accent.I nodded, hoping he wouldn't ask any more questions.

He smiled. "Well don't let me stop you then," and with that, he moved aside.

I smiled back gratefully and led Sasha to the mounting block.

When I first sat on Sasha's back, she stood statue still for a moment, confused. "It's okay, girl," I laughed. She obviously wasn't used to being ridden bareback.

When we started moving, she swished her tail excitedly. I was surprised her back didn't feel bonier; it was quite smooth and comfortable.

We rode in a field not too far from the barn. Although the sun was shining today, there was a chilly breeze, and I was thankful for Sasha's body warmth. We rode through the field. The air smelled fresh, full of horses, crisp falling leaves, and the pre-winter aroma that seems to bring with it the promise of cooler weather. It was peaceful; the only sound was an occasional chirping of birds.

"So," I patted Sasha's neck. "How do you like your new home?"

Sasha turned one ear back, listening to me.

I smiled, but it faded after a moment. "I bet you're having a much better time than I did when I first came here. You didn't have your mother's death on your mind." I sighed, looking down at my hands. "When Aunt Sophia came for the funeral, I barely said a word to her. After the funeral, I was so numb I barely noticed if someone was talking to me. I'm surprised I made it through seventh grade, as tuned out as I was."

Sasha flicked her other ear back, and I looked up.

"I didn't have a bunch of friendsback home, just three. My best friend was Shay. We used to do all kinds of things together, but riding was our favorite."

I stared at my hands again, thinking of my oldfriend. "I haven't talked to her since the funeral. She has emailed me a couple times, but I've never replied."

I diverted my gaze over to the trees in the woods, and became teary eyed, opening up my heart. "I know that I really hurt Shay, how I just pushed her away from me. The way I pushed everyone away, but at that time I felt like it was all I could do to keep on breathing. And I couldn't focus on anything else. Sasha, you can't know what it feels like, to lose so many people close to me, and it was impossible to keep up any other relationships when all I wanted to do was sleep and exist and make it through another day."

Sasha had stopped, and I leaned down on her neck. While taking in a deep breath I told myself, "Focus on the positive."

So I focused my attention back on Sasha, she was doing extremely well following my commands, though everything must have felt completely new to her without the saddle.I was grateful she was so good at listening, both to my wandering thoughts and my directional commands. She was an amazing horse.

As we left the barn and my emotional speech behind us, I spotted a tiny log in the field not too far away. "Don't do it," I told myself. "You shouldn't jump by yourself when no else is around."

I tried to ignore the log, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. Eventually, I turned Sasha in that general direction, trying to convincemyself the entire time that it wasn't a good idea. A feeling of recklessness surged through my body, and I knew I didn't have an ounce of will power left.

Sasha was in a smooth easy trot as I guided her to the jump, and, I justified to myself, the log wasn't that big. At the last second, Sasha picked up a canter. As with the first time, there was no time to slow her. Sasha sprang over the jump higher than I intended, and once again, I clutched her neck as I lost my balance. Jumping bareback wasn't easy. Sasha landed in a choppy canter, but I was laughing as I regained my balance and pulled her back to a walk. It was almost as if we had shared the same jolt of adrenalin.

"What is up with you?" I asked Sasha in a mock serious tone; just the memory of the height of her jump left me a little breathless. "I wish you could tell me what is going on here."

Of course she didn't answer me, but she did swivel her ears back toward me as if she were keenly interested in what I was saying.

Abigail didn't say anything to me for a few days, but on Wednesday she finally said to me, "I'm sorry about your parents."

I looked down at the table for a moment before saying, "Thanks, and…"

I hesitated. I knew I was the one who owed her the apology."You don't have to continue being quiet." I looked at her and cracked a smile.

She laughed a little and after an awkward moment, we actually picked up a normal conversation, and for the rest of the day I couldn't stop smiling. For the first time in a few years, I felt as if I was actually making a friend.