The title is pretty self explanatory, I have here the prologue to my novel. Granted, it still needs some fine tuning, but it's a start :) And for some reason, part of this is coming out kinda screwy, but I hope you won't pay much mind to it...
Shannon, Ireland, 2007
Beams of sunlight filtered through the thin, sheet like cloud cover, the warmth of the late afternoon sun enriching a golden hue about the atmosphere rather than bleaching everything white. The distant castles that had spent centuries disintegrating were now glowing, as were the rolling hills of the most lush green, and the trees that were just becoming stripped of their leaves as the year dwindled into early autumn. Waves were lapping along the bases of the sharply plunging cliffs, slicking the boulders with their moisture and giving their surfaces a lustrous sheen. It was a scene from a fairy tale that Julie was scanning her gaze over, and not without a twinge of unfocused wistfulness present in her emerald irises as she sat astride the rangy, yet sleek Thoroughbred, whose dark bay coat was shining radiantly beneath the sun's rays. Clad in a black, three-quarter sleeved polo that fit closely to her meager build, beige, full-seat breeches that bunched in folds up and down her long, equally meager legs, and tall black field boots, Julie immediately felt nostalgia stabbing her like a knife in the heart, knowing that she wouldn't be waking up to this scenery tomorrow, for she would be crossing the country to Dublin and enduring seasickness on a ferry to England that night. It was a strange and ironic concept, venturing back to a homeland that she hadn't seen since she was seven and encountering the unfamiliar. The country that she was quick to adopt as her home instead had even molded her speech in that her English accent was bearing a more prevalent lilt; her tongue couldn't decide if it was English or Irish. Beneath her black helmet, her long, tumbling golden brown waves were kept contained in a neat bun, save for a stray, wispy piece of hair that tickled her delicate heart shaped face as it fluttered in the breeze, which ever so gently coursed through the stable's courtyard, adorned with cobblestone, an attractive brick barn, and a stone fountain making for an appealing centerpiece. The sheer tranquility of the atmosphere was enough to render the two equipped horses calm and at peace with themselves. In one hand, encased in a glove of black leather, Julie was just barely restraining her own horse as the leather reins were slack, and in the other gloved hand, she had fixed a relaxed grip on the sporty chestnut mare beside her. Even with the nonexistent grips on their mouths, trusty Fiddler and Whisper remained still in their stances, save for some nonchalant surveying of their surroundings.
Footsteps were grinding along the gravel path, and Julie snapped out of her reverie, turning her head to see a boy approaching. He was roughly her age, with cleanly trimmed, light brown hair capped off by a black schooling helmet, and his captivating pair of blue eyes were wandering idly as his nose bore a mildly distasteful wrinkle to it; he clearly wasn't sure how he felt about the beige breeches, brown suede half chaps, and black paddock boots he was wearing in contrast to the Manchester United jersey he sported on his lean torso.
The corners of Julie's thin lips twitched upward, and she doubled over slightly, bringing the back of one hand to her mouth in a failed attempt to suppress her giggling fit. "Contain your excitement, Connor, you're exhaustin' me already."
Her long-time next door neighbor outstretched his arms in question, feigning innocence. "What's so exhaustin' 'bout the sight of a fit lookin' footballer in spandex an' leather?" he asked lightly, but was clearly mocking his attire.
Julie snorted. "Don't be so daft, those trousers you've got are mostly cotton."
"Ah, shite," Connor said dejectedly, shifting his gaze down and to the side in defeat for a moment. He then lifted his head and took a moment to survey the two horses. "Wait a minute, I'm taller than you, so why am I gettin' the shorter horse?"
"'Cos this is my horse, and he doesn't tolerate crap ridin'," Julie replied succinctly, and passed Whisper's reins over to the boy. "Now put these over her head and mount up from the left side."
"Yes, Whisper's a mare."
"I have to tolerate another dramatic female?"
"In a sense, yes, now mount up before I go grey," Julie commanded him in a firm, yet neutral voice that was sweetened by a quick smile, and Connor complied with a sigh. He flipped the reins over the mare's head, taking enough care to avoid hitting her ears, and hoisted himself up with his right foot in the iron, widening his eyes slightly once he found himself facing the horse's tail. "What the hell?"
Julie shook her head. Eejit, she thought, then turned to look at Connor plaintively. "You put yer right foot in the left iron an' seriously expected to be facin' front?" she asked with a pinch of incredulity.
"Hold yer tongue, lass," Connor said casually, topping off his mildly orderly statement with a quick grin. He used his limberness to his advantage, furrowing his eyebrows in concentration as he deftly swung around one leg at a time, until he was facing the other way and beaming at Julie victoriously. "A-ha!"
Julie only eased out a sigh. "You thirteen year olds are so thick," she remarked with a shake of the head, even though she had only recently turned fourteen and surpassed her childhood friend's age by a mere month and a half. She gently nudged Fiddler into a walk.
Connor followed, then pounded a fist to his heart once and pretended to unleash a strangled gasp. "Oh that hurts, Jules," he choked sarcastically. "'Specially since I'm only a stone's throw away from fourteen."
Julie wrinkled her nose again and sent Connor a blunt look. "Right. That doesn't change the fact that ye're still thirteen."
Squinting his eyes, Connor leaned forward slightly as though taking a moment to study Julie. He then nodded his head when the pensive moment passed. "Yep, ye're accent's definitely screwed up," he pointed out, deciding to change the subject, as he always felt the need to do whenever Julie came out on top in their childish disputes.
"Tosh," Julie declared.
"I tosh ye not," Connor said with an innocent shrug. "Ye see, I can still hear yer original accent, an' yet ye have to take into account the fact that ye moved here by the time ye began formin' actual words."
In response to the dig, Julie whirled on him in the saddle with indignantly furrowed eyebrows and her jaw as good as the ground. "Oi, I was formin' loads of words when I was seven!" she exclaimed, then turned back around, appearing purely affronted.
Meanwhile, Connor was chuckling uncontrollably, up until he sighed and shook his head. "Julie Hunter, ye must be the most amusin' person t' piss off."
"And you, Connor McLaughlin, are a royal arsehole to the, well...royalest extent," Julie blurted, shifting her eyes around as she wildly invented on the spot. She took a deep breath to ease her flustered self, then showed a vague, yet sly smirk, and clicked her tongue. "Trot on, Whisper."
As the gentle mare picked up an easy trot, Connor widened his eyes as he found himself left behind in the saddle. "Fook!" he interjected, and was quick to shorten his reins.
Julie kicked her head back to release a highly amused fit of laughter, and tapped Fiddler forward into a nicely marching trot to catch up to Connor. "You're fine, she's not takin' off with ya," she said with an air of nonchalance. "Just relax. You'll also find yourself balancin' better if you think about keepin' a straight line from yer head to yer heel; right now you look like ye're waterskiin'."
Connor furrowed his eyebrows. "I can't keep a straight line from head to heel when me knees are bent, lass," he pointed out.
Julie rolled her eyes. "I know, smart arse, you want your heel to at least be in alignment with your head."
"Ye couldn't have said that the first time?" Connor challenged with a quirked eyebrow and a sardonic smirk.
"Shut up," Julie drawled dismissively as they neared the top of the hill. "All right, now just sit back an' use your weight to bring 'er back down to a walk, save the reins for last, horses don't quite like havin' their mouths mucked about with," she said, and demonstrated such aids to slow Fiddler to a gently relaxed walk. As she took up this slower pace with her horse, she slipped into a wistful state of mind again as she took in the breathtaking panorama of the rugged terrain around her. "I can't believe I'm leavin' all this behind, everythin' I've known for so long," she mused. Turning to Connor, she reached over to give him a playful shove in the shoulder. "I think I may even miss you an' your cheekiness," she added, breaking into a grin that solidified the truth in her words. Her friendship with Connor had certainly had its ups and downs, but the downs were comparable to shallow craters in the ground, and the ups were comparable to towering mountains carving out a skyline; even after she would feel infuriated by his teasing remarks and mannerisms, all she had to do was consider the many laughs they'd shared, the times he'd thrusted to her an outlet for her pent-up angst, and the sheer extent to which they knew each other inside and out, and that would be enough for her anger to evaporate like alcohol from glass after every dispute. In the brief moment that she held Connor's gaze, she could read his expression like the pages of a book tossed carelessly to the side; from his meek, yet longing smile, and the way he humbly looked down and off to the side, he was missing her already, and the feelings were entirely mutual. She knew that dwelling on sentiment made Connor uncomfortable, though. Mind on this, she snapped into a sharper state of mind and flashed the boy a quick smile. "Want to try somethin' fun?" she asked. Her eyes danced; it was obvious she had more in mind than a leisurely trot.
The instant Connor lifted his gaze to meet Julie's contemplative one, he drew back with warily furrowed eyebrows. "...I'm not sure I wanna know what ye're pullin' here."
"No worries, I'll walk you through," Julie replied easily, and hunkered down so that she was leaning forward with her seat just barely out of the saddle and her heels anchoring her weight. She moved her hands up the crest of Fiddler's neck and looked over to Connor. "Just do what I'm doin', really feel yer weight sinkin' into yer heels," she instructed him.
Gradually shedding his wary exterior, Connor emulated Julie's position in the saddle, his upright position molding into a half-seat position. "Yep?"
"Good. Feelin' balanced an' secure enough up there?" Julie asked.
"I think so," Connor replied, sounding less apprehensive.
Julie grinned with a hint of mischief flickering through her eyes. "Grand. Now catch me if you can," and with that, she firmly thumped her heels against Fiddler's barrel and shot forward down the hill in a fleeting gallop, releasing a jubilant "Woohoo!" as Connor's incredulous "Oi!" only barely registered in her mind, what with the wind screaming past her ears as Fiddler's lengthy strides swiftly carried her along at a blistering speed. It was clear the fresh, youthful eventer hadn't lost touch with his racing days as his neatly trimmed hooves lashed out and propelled him forward over the grass. Julie braved a glance over her shoulder at Connor. Concentration furrowed the boy's eyebrows as he took the mare at a steadier pace than Julie and Fiddler had been going at, but yet he showed his friend a thumbs up to show that he was hanging in there.
A fairly unassuming stone wall loomed up ahead; the Irish landscape was lined with a seemingly infinite number of them. Feeling freer and less inhibited than ever, Julie squeezed her trusty mount forward with her heels, and in four bounding strides, the powerful Thoroughbred planted his hind hooves into the ground and vaulted high over the obstacle in a tremendous leap that left long and cleared the height of the wall by a solid two feet, before the striking animal touched down a fair distance away from it, and proceeded onward in perfect stride. Highly invigorated, he threw in a fresh buck and lowered his head to blow through his nostrils before his rider sat back, reducing his fierce gallop to a rollicking canter and curving him along a half circle, and he channeled his energy and impulsion into taking up a beautiful upper-level dressage frame. His movement was easy on the eyes, the elegance in his stride enhanced by the roundness of his topline, from his sturdy back to the soft arc in his neck rendering his noble head on a vertical line. He didn't look the least bit restricted as his rider took up exemplary equitation and managed to fluidly ride with her horse's movement at the same time. She deepened her seat, gradually bringing her horse down through the paces until they were walking on a long rein, and then looked to see Connor and Whisper approaching the wall as well. If he was shaky about galloping down a hill at a breakneck pace, defying gravity was going to unnerve him as well. So he slowed the mare down to a trot and spotted an open gate out of the corner of his eye, then deftly threaded through it and approached the other horse-rider pair with a proud grin, satisfied that he'd found a way around the daunting obstacle that his friend had made so easy.
Julie pretended to sulk, but still had the faintest trace of a smile lingering at the corners of her lips. "Cheap."
Still amused, Connor shook his head and gestured a hand over his face in circular motions. "Ain't cheap if I got t' preserve this work of art worth a million euro," he replied.
Julie dropped her jaw incredulously again. "You're so full of it!"
"Shite? 'Fraid not, lass, an' ye know it," Connor piped with a charming grin that could warm hearts dipped in liquid nitrogen, rendering Julie speechless when she opened her mouth to say something, only to close it and shake her head, dropping her gaze as she did. Had their bond unknowingly become something more than a friendship over the years? The way his captivating smile gave light to his warmly twinkling blue eyes made Julie ache like nothing else could. She only needed a split second to take in his sheer radiance before she felt like she would grow weak in the saddle and flop down to the grass below. And to think that she wasn't going to be engaging with him in childish bickerfests tomorrow was borderline unbearable. She quickly shook her head a few times to rouse herself out of her thoughts and squinted her eyes to notice a small creek up ahead. "That was a good run, we should treat these two to that stream over there," she said, then showed a faint, sheepish smile and found herself shifting her eyes downward if it meant deliberately avoiding Connor's eyes and consequently avoiding a stuttering lapse. The walk to the thin body of water was awkwardly silent; this was likely the most silent they had ever been in the seven years that they had known each other. Julie was almost certain that her sunkissed, porcelain-like cheeks were sporting a brilliant shade of red now, and she didn't dare spare Connor a glance to see whether or not the unspoken feelings were mutual.
She swung her leg upward to clear Fiddler's hindquarters and landed both feet lightly on the ground, then looped the reins back over his head and sat down, leaning back on her elbows when the horse stepped forward to the creek and lowered his nose in the numbingly cool water. She then shifted her gaze to the side when she noticed Connor do the same, only to sit down next to her. He was running a hand through his hair as he kept his eyes down, the way he always did when he was nervous about something, or awkwardly stalling. What was on his mind? He then unzipped one of the pockets in his breeches and dredged out a Sterling Silver necklace with an intricate Celtic cross pendant that had a tiny sapphire placed precisely where the two branches met. His eyes unfocused for a moment as he briefly studied the beautiful piece of jewelry in the palm of his hand, before he closed his hand around it in a fist and passed it to Julie. "Mum wanted ye t' have this, as a partin' gift," he mumbled. It took a few seconds of avoiding Julie's eyes before he finally looked up at her, however, not without uncertainty and hesitation, and smiled sheepishly. "'Course she had t' beg me an' throw 'erself at me feet before I finally agreed t' give it to ya," he added somewhat jokingly if it meant taking the edge off the awkwardness. While his words hinted at no feelings, the brilliant blush that followed countered that notion immediately. He sniffed idly and looked away again as he dropped the necklace into Julie's open palm.
Stunned, Julie blinked as she caught the necklace. Her eyes grew distant as they scanned over the detailed patterns, while the lone sapphire in the middle would forever remind her of the ever radiating charm and charisma from the particular pair of sapphires dotting Connor's softly angular face, caught between that of a boy and that of a young man. "It's gorgeous," she mused. "I'll have to thank your mum--"
"It's actually from me," Connor confessed quickly, still keeping his face angled away from her so as not to reveal his progressively darkening cheeks when he spilled the brutal truth. He squeezed his eyes shut, cringing at his own exploitation.
This left Julie even more shellshocked than before, so much so that her larynx may as well have been ripped out as she opened her mouth a few times to say something, only to come up wordless every time. Finally, she settled on, "But Connor, how could I repay you--"
"No need," Connor replied adamantly, shaking his head. He paused for a moment to think about his next words before adding, "Julie, I couldn't ferget ye if I tried, so ye don't need to repay me." He finally mustered up the confidence to confront the sheer honesty of his words and looked her way, tearing down the flood gate that had restrained the progressively building emotions from the time they were small children in primary school.
Julie caught her breath almost inaudibly when Connor's penetrating gaze seized hers and rendered her frozen in a state of hypnosis. Even the mere thought of looking away made her uncomfortable; in that moment, all she wanted was to find herself immersed in the depth of those twin gemstones. The roses that had bloomed in his cheeks and the softness in his eyes that exceeded that of the most downy feather induced in her a painful ache to remain in Ireland for the rest of her days, to jump into his arms if it meant holding him for all of eternity. Part of her itched to kick down a wall in frustration; of all times, why was now the time for them to realize their mutual infatuation? Why did she have to feel a debilitating ache seize her heart in an unrelenting grip just before she would venture back to England? But now was not the time to let her inner angst rip, not when the exceedingly handsome boy before her was so effortlessly lulling her into this blissful trance. As though by virtue of telepathy, their faces were gingerly nearing each other, but not without hesitation, and they couldn't look each other in the eye if their pupils were linked together by thin metal rods that were parallel to one another. Julie hadn't had the slightest idea what she was doing; she wanted to kiss him, she wanted to draw back, she wanted to kiss him, she wanted to draw back. Meanwhile, her heart was off to the races, thudding over the feverish whirring of her thoughts and daring to break out of her frail chest.
The sounds of bicycle tires rolling along the gravel path and a dingling bell sounded off behind Julie just as her lips were about to meet Connor's, and she squeezed her eyes shut, begrudgingly ceasing her advancement as she knew what that bell meant. She opened one eye to see Stephen, her seven-year-old brother, waving to her. "Oi, sissy! No snoggin', we're leavin' now!" he called to her in his pure lilt, having been born only three months before the family left for Ireland. He was a cute kid, bearing a striking resemblance to his sister, what with their golden brown heads of hair, emerald eyes, and glowing skin. His boyish features sported dimples whenever he grinned that cherubic grin that ignited stars in his eyes and virtually illuminated a halo over his head; it was impossible to believe that he had no shortage of pranks up both sleeves and pant legs, and perhaps even tucked into his shoes.
Julie eased out a sigh and looked back at Connor, who bit his lip shyly as his cheeks failed to drain their excessive redness, given the intimate moment that was just barely foiled between them. "Right, we should probably head back," she said, hoisting herself up onto Fiddler again.
"Yeah," Connor blurted out impulsively, and blushed even more if that were possible. He ducked his face down and coursed a hand through his hair again in his embarrassment, then cleared his throat as though doing so would dismiss his awkwardness and mounted up as well.
They remained wordless on the ride back to the stables, even after the horses had been untacked, groomed, and loaded into the trailer. Perhaps such was the case because of thoughts kicked into overdrive. As soon as the door to the trailer was latched closed, however, Julie found herself instinctively approaching Connor again, even picking up a jog as she did, up until she pounced on the taller boy and enveloped him in a bone crushing embrace that was surprising, coming from such a lanky, fragile looking girl. His embrace around her was no less tight; the two of them were ready to hold each other until the time would come for them to be put in the ground. Finally, he drew away, just enough to make eye contact with her. His gaze was soft, yet questioning and deeply penetrating. Yearning, even. "Are ye comin' back? Soon?"
If it hadn't been for Connor's arms holding her, Julie's knees would've knocked and buckled underneath her under the intangible force of his heartmelting countenance, especially since in all honesty, she didn't know when she was coming back. But who would she have been to disclose her uncertainty to him and dampen his genuine hopes? And surely she would be seeing Ireland again in the future. Mind on this, she nodded her head, cracking a smile. "Soon," she replied in a quiet voice. She deliberated sealing off that kiss that had never happened, then considered the fact that there was a running Land Rover, loaded and ready to go, right behind her. No, people are watching, ew, she thought reluctantly, then smiled again. "Don't worry, this isn't goodbye. See you later, Connor." With that, she pulled away with her fingertips whispering past his, and started for the car, slipping inside, where the consistent whirring of the tires would lull her into a deep sleep that would be sweetened with dreams filled with her fondest memories of the land she would be leaving behind.