Gina and Flame galloped around the inside edge of the arena as if they were one. It had taken several months for Gina to gain the confidence to even ride the magnificent red stallion, but Antonia had insisted. At first Gina would only ride Flame if Antonia were present. Antonia would stay on the ground in the arena and instruct Gina. Eventually Gina gained the confidence to take Flame out on the trails and Antonia would ride her trusty gelding Blaze, so Flame would stay calm. Flame and Blaze had a close bond because they were born within a month of each other at their original home in Dubai. The half-brothers were a gift given to Antonia by a sheikh she had met during her time in Paris working for Louis Vuitton.
Gina slowed Flame to a canter and reached down to pet his neck. The summer sun reached through the open sides of the arena and caressed the crimson stallion’s coat, making his neck almost sparkle in its brilliance. Gina had been so enchanted by Flame that she hadn’t noticed Antonia escort a man and teenaged boy into the barn. She looked over to see the gate open on the barn side of the arena as she slowed Flame to a trot on the opposite side. She tensed up when she saw the teenager was her classmate, Chet. He followed along behind Antonia as she led Patriot, the gray son of Spirit, their resident black stallion, into the arena, while the man leaned on the outside of the red pipe fencing and watched. Chet saw her at the same time and smiled. Not a friendly smile, but more like a sneer. He held is phone up and the sun reflected off it. Flame was already tense because he reacted to the tense signals coming from Gina’ body. Gina wasn’t prepared when Flame bolted, so when Flame ended up on the other end of the arena, she was left in the dust in their last location together.
Chet started laughing. Laughing at her, the way they always did at Dale City High…
A week had gone by and during that time the video had gone viral, well, viral among Dale City High students anyway. Gina found herself where she often did after being subjected to the almost daily humiliation that was Dale City High. She was crying into Timmy, the golden pony’s, neck while he silently consoled her. She felt something press into her back and turned to find Flame offering his muzzle for a kiss. His best friend, Blaze, watched the trio from a short distance away.
Timmy was in the paddock with the two chestnut Arabians recuperating from an eye infection. The brothers loved the pony because he had been their caretaker when they first arrived at the ranch to help them get adjusted. Timmy had a knack for calming other horses and was often utilized for his “nursemaid” capabilities.
Gina looked toward the paddock gate to see her friend, Strider Castillo. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand and waved as she headed for the gate.
Strider hugged her when she turned toward him after closing the gate. Then he stepped back and looked at her face.
“You’ve been crying. Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” Gina lied.
Strider wasn’t fooled. He had known Gina all through high school.
“It’s those bullies isn’t it? That video going around Facebook?” he asked.
Gina started crying again. He held her again and said, “You have to stop this Gina. When you let them get to you, they win.”
Gina took a deep breath, stepped back and looked Strider in the eye and said, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re starting college this year, so you don’t have to deal with them anymore.”
“Exactly my point. They’re nobody to us. You just have one more year to deal with those losers,” said Strider.
“I thought at least I’d get a break from them in the summer, but it seems like they’ll always be in my life.”
“They won’t,” said Strider. “Trust me.”
Strider and Gina walked into the barn to find Jalissa and Antonia feeding the horses.
Gina’s entire demeanor changed, and she called out, “Jalissa!” as she ran to her and swept her up in a big hug.
The expression of pure joy on Gina’s face at seeing Jalissa was not lost on Strider.
“Gina, why don’t you and Jalissa take the wheelbarrow and get some hay. I’ll finish graining the horses,” said Antonia.
Gina practically skipped off with Jalissa.
The next morning Gina and Strider took Flame and Blaze out on the trails at the ranch. They had been enjoying the clear, crisp morning trotting and loping the two brothers along the flat parts of the trails. Now they rode side by side, talking as they headed back to the barn.
“Gina, I’ve noticed the way you look at Jalissa,” said Strider.
“What do you mean?” asked Gina.
“I mean, it’s obvious you’re attracted to her.”
“She’s beautiful. Anyone would be attracted to her,” said Gina.
“You know what I mean,” said Strider.
“Look Strider, I’m happy for you. You know…that you’re out of the closet and all, but believe it or not some, no, most of the world is straight,” said Gina.
Flame took a couple of high steps because he sensed Gina’s tenseness. She relaxed a little, “Sorry boy,” she said to Flame as she reached down and rubbed the stallion’s neck.
“Yeah, most of the world is straight, I guess. But not you,”
“Strider, just because I notice someone is pretty…well, it doesn’t mean anything. And besides, I don’t want to go to Hell.”
“So you think I’m going to Hell?” Strider laughed.
“No, of course not. You’re too nice, but I would…”
“Now you listen Gina. I know you’ve been raised in this holy roller religious bullshit, but this is what I think. God made me this way, and God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Gina sighed and said quietly, “That’s beautiful.”
They rode the rest of the way to the barn in silence. When they reached the outer, arena gate, they stopped and watched as Chet cantered Patriot around the arena. Patriot rounded the far end and was then heading toward them. When the graceful, gray gelding drew near their position and saw them, he slammed on the brakes. Chet wasn’t ready for that, so he was launched in the air over the front of Patriot’s lowered head and landed on the floor of the arena hard. He started crying. Then he shouted, “Shut off that camera, faggot!”
Gina looked over at Strider and saw his hand raised with phone in hand, obviously videoing the incident with a broad smile spread across the width of his chiseled brown face.
For a moment Gina smiled too. But then she reached over and pulled Strider’s arm down.
“I don’t want to be like them, Strider,” said Gina.
Strider saw the sincerity in Gina’s eyes. He put the phone in his pocket.
“I love you, Gina,” said Strider.
“I love you too,” said Gina.