Chapter two – Fateful encounters, part one
In a sleepy little town like Appaloosa Plains, routines were important.
For everyone, most mornings started the same. Salarymen went out to work. Parents gently coaxed their children out of their bed or dragged them out to the dinner table. Minors headed off to school, happy or with their heads slumped and their minds still with the warm beds that they’d abandoned not too long ago. The early birds of town had already been up and about for hours, going on jogs or taking care of the pets, farms and horses that Appaloosa Plains were famous for.
Of course, as everyone knew by now, I was one of those early birds. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my sleep time. But as soon as the sun came out, I couldn’t stay in bed anymore. It just felt like a waste. My parents were probably thankful for me- it saved them the trouble of having to take care of the horses ánd breakfast so early. By now, it wasn’t so early anymore. I could see children and grumpy teenagers in countrywear paddling by on their bikes, on their way to school. Something that, until yesterday, I’d done as well.
With a content smile, I leaned backwards. Our horse, Angus, wheezed and nuzzled his nose against my trousers, obviously looking for treats. We’d strategically placed ourselves underneath a tree, welcoming the shade. The days slowly started getting warmer and both Angus and I were not having it.
With another grin, I watched my neighbour paddle by on his bicycle. All that was past tense now for me. I closed my eyes, enjoying the newfound time to laze about, when a familiar voice called out to me.
‘Chase Adams! If you skip school today, I’m going to claim all your desserts for the coming week!’
A few meters away, by the fence, stood dad. He was wearing his work outfit and looked like he was about to head out. I flashed him a sly smile, before looking at the sun-lit leaves above my head again.
‘You’ll be late like that yourself, old man. Maybe it’s time you retire?’
‘Maybe it’s time you get your head out of the clouds and get a decent haircut, ye darn hippie,’ he countered, but with a smile on his face. I smiled back, giving dad a short thumbs up. As soon as he saw that, he turned around on his heels and walked straight out of the front gate, towards another day at work.
‘Remind me never to get a desk job, Angus,’ I muttered to the horse. Angus answered me with another tug at my pants.
‘All right, I’ll get you something later. Don’t act so spoiled.’
I slowly picked myself up from the ground, brushing the dirt off my clothes before patting my furry companion farewell.
‘You be good, now. And keep an eye on Brink. I don’t want him breaking out of the meadow again like last week… Then again, there’s probably not much you can do about that.’
Angus neighed softly, earning him a smile from me. Ever since I was old enough to crawl, I’d sought out the company of the horses. They were special to me. Our relationship might not have been as special as the one I had with the dogs, but on moments like this, I really felt like they could understand me.
With another pat, I left Angus underneath the meadow tree. Dasha followed me as I made my way across the lawn, to the place that had turned into my official quad parking place. It was still there, shining a fierce black in the morning sun. As I placed my hand on the handle and seated myself on top of the vehicle, a wide smile appeared on my face. I was going to enjoy this. Never mind my current tardiness- I was going to arrive in class earlier than any of those kids on bicycles. That’s how fast I was going to be. Eager, I turned the key in the lock and twisted the handle in the way that dad had shown me. The quad sprung to life almost immediately, a roar sounding from the engine. Another twist and it shot out from under me. I was barely able to grab onto the other handle in time; within a second, the quad had charged out of the front gate and shot out unto the road, faster than my child bicycle had ever been able to go.
‘WOOO!’ I screamed, twisting the handles when the end of the road came into sight. Without slowing down in the slightest, I turned the corner, shot past a line of trees next to the asphalt-
And almost slammed straight into another person.
The scream left my mouth without me even noticing it. In that same heartbeat, I realized that I’d forgotten where the brakes were. My mind clicked into instinct mode, and in a single movement I yanked on the handles and jumped up from the saddle. The sudden change of direction made the quad tilt over and crash, missing the girl by a mere inch as it rolled off the road and into a stray backyard. I was flung aside, hitting the ground hard as the sound of wood cracking sounded in my ears. Everything backed out for a second, and I wasn’t aware of anything but the throbbing pain in my neck. And then there was nothing.
‘Dear Maker! Are you all right?!’
Or maybe there wasn’t nothing. I groaned, opening my eyes and closing them again immediately because of the suddenly merciless sunlight. Footsteps quickly drew closer to me. A soft hand caressed my shoulder, slid over my chest and ribs.
‘Did you break anything? Can you move?’
‘I… I think I’m okay,’ I groaned back, slowly moving my limbs and head. My neck hurt, but not incredibly much. Jumping off the quad had been the right thing to do. From the way it felt, I’d only get some bruises out of this. And the girl was all right, too… wasn’t she?
‘I’m so sorry,’ I mumbled, slowly opening my eyes. The sun was still harsh, and I couldn’t make out her face. ‘Did I hit you?’
‘No… you just missed me. I’m sorry, I- I know you’re not supposed to walk on the road like that-‘
Slowly, my eyes got used to the sun again. The girl’s figure gradually became clearer, too. And it was definitely not a bad sight. Long, reddish hair flowed down her face and unto her shoulders in two simple braids. Her skin was rosy and glowing and the sun had decorated her face with many freckles, but the thing that stood out most were her eyes. A deep emerald green, they seemed to continuously shift between worried and curious. She was frowning, and I realized she was really concerned for me.
‘It’s my fault, really,’ I said, picking myself back up from the ground. I tried to look cool and serious, which was harder than it looked from down on the ground. ‘I should have watched my speed. I’m sorry if I scared you.’
I frantically dug into my memory for her name, but it escaped me. That was odd. Appaloosa Plains weren’t that big- I was supposed to know almost everyone in the little town. That could only mean one thing. This was a stranger. Because we were so far into the countryside, visitors were rare. Young, good-looking girls like her even more so.
‘If it’s okay to ask- I don’t recognize you. What’s your name?’
The girl in front of me visibly relaxed. Maybe the fact that I’d started a casual conversation convinced her that I was really fine. She smiled, her green eyes sparkling in the sun.
‘Evelyn,’ she replied to me. I returned her smile, shaking her hand as I stood up.
‘I’m Chase. Nice to meet you, Evelyn. I wish it wasn’t because I almost crashed into you, though.’
She laughed. It was only a small chuckle, but it was enough to make me feel proud about myself for a second. Two minutes of knowing her and I’d already made the girl laugh. It felt good. With a smile on my lips, I turned my head to search for my quad.
‘Now where’d that thing go…’
Rolled flat against a tree, on top of a patch of bushes. Almost upside-down. There was no smoke coming out of it, but it was close. I flinched at the thought of how dad would react when he saw four new dents and scratches all over the side panel.
It would not be pleasant.
‘Umm… I could… help you with that if you want…?’ Evelyn asked, shooting me an apologetic look. I quickly shook my head at her.
‘No, I’ll be fine. I bet it’s just got some scratches. Plus, you were going somewhere, right? It would be terrible to nearly run you over and steal away your time. Have a nice day, Evelyn.’
She seemed to hesitate for a moment, after which she nodded.
‘… You too, Chase. Good-bye.’
A few moments later, the redhead’s footsteps had faded away into the background. She had been… interesting. Girls around these parts usually didn’t look so exotic. Especially not with red hair- most girls varied from light to dark brown. Evelyn’s red hair and green eyes were a nice change from the standard, and I found myself wondering if I’d ever see her again.
With a sigh, I turned to my quad. It was completely toppled over. With dents. And scratches. And a flat wheel. And a bent frame.
‘So, if I get this right… you completely wrecked your quad?’
A few hours had passed. Despite my efforts, the crashed quad had refused to start again. I’d called dad, after which he had taken it to the local garage so it could be patched up. But not without giving me a big scolding, of course. If that girl- Evelyn, had been hurt, I’d probably been grounded, as well. Now I just had to pay for the repairs by myself.
‘Hey, it could be worse,’ Jamie said, his light blouse matching his eyes perfectly. ‘Neither of you got hurt.’
‘Yeah, it would suck to knock out a girl, man,’ Tristan nodded. ‘Just be happy nothing else happened.’
I sighed in defeat. They were probably right. Still, to lose my birthday present after less than a month wasn’t exactly motivating. Even if it was my fault to begin with.
‘So, what was she like?’ Luke asked, changing the subject with the subtlety of a rhino. I raised a single eyebrow at him.
‘The girl, man! We rarely get visitors here. Was she a foreigner? Was she hot?’
‘She’s a redhead,’ I laughed and answered his question. Leave it to Luke to change the conversation into something like that.
‘And?’ Tristan chimed in, looking at me curiously. ‘What else? Don’t tell me the only thing you remember is her hair, dude.’
‘Of course I remember more than her hair,’ I said defensively. ‘She’s got pretty green eyes, freckles on her face…’ I stopped when I noticed that both Luke and Tristan were still looking at me impatiently.
‘… You guys just want to know her size, don’t you?’
They nodded, shooting me an as-if-that-wasn’t-obvious-yet-look. I shook my head at them, both amused and irritated at the same time.
‘I don’t know, guys. I was a little busy recovering from a crash… and her hair was in the way.’
‘So you DID look!’ Luke yelled triumphantly. ‘I knew it!’
I was about to snap at Luke when the classroom door suddenly opened. A familiar figure walked inside, dressed in his trademark white and blue clothes. Bobby Pendrake.
He’d changed since the time that we were kids. And not a little bit. Frequently found in the local gym, Bobby had worked hard on turning his baby fat into muscles. Apparently he had an affinity for it; although Bobby was still larger than most of the kids in school and had almost twice the mass of Luke, he’d really turned buff instead of plump. And Luke was as thin as a stick, anyway.
‘Morning, Bobby,’ I said with a smile, as I pushed through my friends to greet him. Bobby smiled back, dumping his backpack at his usual table. He was still shy, but not nearly as much as when we still bullied him. I silently took pride in the fact that he’d been able to get a little more confidence in himself.
‘Morning, Chase. Where’s your quad? I didn’t see it parked outside today.’
Luke answered him before I could even open my mouth.
‘Can you believe this guy, Bobby? He totally wrecked it! Drove it straight into someone’s backyard!’
I could see Bobby looking at me with disbelief in his eyes. But before he could open his mouth to answer, he was shoved out of the doorway by our teacher. Mrs. Miller had piercing blue eyes, and no one really wanted to mess with her. We quickly sat ourselves down, after which she started to talk almost immediately. A smile was on her face – a rare occurrence.
‘Listen up, everyone. We’ve got a new student in our class starting today. I know that’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time, but their stay here will be permanent, so I want you all to treat her well. Understood?’
I saw my friends nodding. Luke already whispered to Tristan about how hot “she” could be- his mind could focus on nothing else lately. I half-heartedly tried to mingle into the conversation, but as soon as the door opened, a strange feeling overcame me. It was custom not too look at the person until they were at the front of the classroom, but this time I couldn’t help myself.
And I immediately realized why.
‘Evelyn?’ I spoke, not waiting for her to reach the end of the room. She recognized my voice and abruptly spun around.
‘Chase?! You’re- you’re here?’
‘Of course I’m here,’ I replied, dumbfounded and staring at her. ‘Why are you here?’
‘Manners, Adams!’ Mrs. Miller snapped at me, drilling into my skull with her piercing eyes. I immediately shut up. She was just about the only teacher in the school that could make me shut up with one look.
‘You already know each other, then? That’s fortunate. Adams, introduce her to your classmates while I go find her a chair, will you?’
She didn’t wait for an answer, marching straight out of the classroom.
For a full five seconds, a deadly silence hung in the room. Evelyn looked at us shyly, her cheeks reddening under all of the stares.
‘Umm… nice to meet you…?’
I smiled at her. As if that was their cue, suddenly everyone got up from their seats and walked over to the front of the room.
‘So you’re the one that Chase almost squashed this morning!’ Jamie said, immediately grabbing her attention. ‘We were just beating down on him for that. My name’s Jamie- Jamie Cossen.’
‘Evelyn Adkins. Nice to meet you.’
‘Hey, aren’t you going to introduce everyone else?’ I laughed, taking over the lead. Jamie grinned at me.
‘Of course not. That’s your job, dude.’
To my right, Luke was staring at me with an angry expression on his face.
‘Dude. You’re supposed to tell me when they’re this hot.’
‘I’ll keep it in mind for next time,’ I replied. He’d at least had the decency to speak softly, and Evelyn hadn’t heard us. That was probably for the best.
‘Time for introductions then, shall we? The guy with the baseball hat matching his shirt is Luke. The guy with the big nose is called Tristan-‘
‘And the silent kid in the back’s name is Bobby. Me you know already, and Jamie just shamelessly introduced himself. Oh, and the two girls staring at you are Charmaine and Maisy. They’re probably a bit intimidated by you now.’
‘How’d you end up in a backtown place like this?’ Tristan asked. ‘I mean, not to offend you or anything, but… there’s not really anything here that’s worthwhile for a city girl.’
For some reason, that statement seemed to amuse her. Evelyn brought up her hands and spread them out, smiling as If inviting the guys to look at her.
‘Do I really seem like a city girl to you?’
I frowned, looking her over properly for the first time. Laid-back braids, a simple green shirt and shorts- no, in a way she did not. But she certainly didn’t look like a country girl, either. Then where did she come from?
My unspoken question was cut short as Mrs. Miller came back, carrying a single wooden chair. She plopped in down behind the desk right in front of her own, gesturing Evelyn to take a seat.
‘Enough talking for today. Let’s begin the lesson. I believe we left off at mathematics yesterday…’
‘So, what do you think of your new class?’
School had long since ended. Evelyn obviously didn’t know her way around town yet, it being her first week here, and so I’d offered to see her home. Together with about half of the boys in class. Them backing down to let me get what I wanted again proved my status in the group. It was a great feeling, but as they always backed down to give me what I wanted, it was starting to grow a bit tiring. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I longed for a challenge.
‘Your friends seem nice,’ the girl smiled. ‘They’re… a bit eager, though.’
‘Well, you’ve seen the other girls around,’ I answered. ‘You definitely stand out.’
I saw her cheeks redden.
‘Really, though,’ I said after a short silence, subtly changing the subject. ‘I’m not sure what you’re used to, but in terms of city entertainment, there’s not much to do here. We’re lucky if one person has a new car or the latest Simpad from three years ago. What do you want to do all the way out here?’
‘Well… there is one thing,’ Evelyn answered, looking shyly at me with those big, green eyes of her. ‘I’ve always wanted to try horse riding… and that’s what this place is famous for, right? I’m pretty broke, but maybe I can buy a lesson or two at the equestrian centre?’
‘No need,’ I said, grabbing the opportunity with both hands. ‘We have horses back home. If you want, I can give you your first lesson for free.’
‘Really. It’s the least I can do for almost cutting down your lifespan.’
A large, genuine smile spread across Evelyn’s face. She nodded, her red hair flaring up in the afternoon sun.
‘Thank you, Chase. I’d like that.’
Wow, I was late with this chapter. My apologies. >.<