1 A Grey Hound bus is not the best place to be if you really want to think. All around you, babies are crying, people are snoring, and the person next to you is constantly smacking their gum or talking on a cell phone. Sound unpleasant? Believe me, if you had been on one for three days strait, you'd be ready for a break too. That was how I got to the Cortex's. And they were there, at the bus station, waiting for me.
As I bent down to pick up my one, battered, worn duffel-bag that held my few belongings, they came up to me, asked if I was Maria Young, and led me to their car. It was a long drive to my new home. All the way, Mr. and Mrs. Cortex told me about the house, the way around it, the animals, and what my new school would be like.
For three days, I had been imagining a white house with a white picket fence and a room of my own, a little brother or sister, waiting to welcome me with open arms, and maybe a little dog asleep on the porch. Boy, what I got couldn't have been further from that.
It looked better up close than it did from the road. When you actually got out of the car, you saw that it was really quite nice. A lovely moderately sized white farmhouse with sky blue shutters. Behind it, I could see a beautiful expanse of what looked like miles and miles of fenced in fields and, nearer the barn, a huge training paddock. Smells of horses, hay, and leather wafted through on the gentle breeze. The only thing I could think at the time, was that it was like a scene from a movie or a well-written book.
I followed them up into the house. It was brightly lit, due to the numerous windows. "This is the main house." Mrs. Cortex said. "You'll be living in the apartment over the barn with Catherine. I already checked with your social worker and she said that it would be fine. As for Catherine, I think she's out riding Star right now. She'll be back soon and help you take your stuff out. Do you ride at all?"
"A little." I said. "My last foster parents had a horse and taught me to ride. I'm better on a skateboard though." I pointed down to by bag, where my skateboard was strapped to the side.
Mrs., Cortex smiled weakly. "Well. Umm. That'll work out well enough. You'll be sharing the stable work with the rest of us. We all do our share to help out. I hope you don't mind a little hard work.
"It's okay. It gives me something to do. And it makes me feel like I'm earning my keep."
Just then, a girl that even I had to admit was pretty came running into the house. She turned a sharp corner into the room and said, out of breath, "Arrow. Having foals. Hurry. Might lose them." Mr. and Mrs. Cortex took off out the back door and raced to the stable.
"What's going on?" I asked.
She looked at me for a moment before answering. "One of out mares, Arrow is pregnant. Good for us, but very dangerous for her. And the fact that she's pretty old doesn't exactly help any. Even if both foals live, she won't be able to take care of them herself. Come on, I'll show you our room." I picked up my suitcase and followed her out to the barn.
We didn't have to walk through the barn itself. Instead, she took me to a door on the side of the building that lead to a high staircase. I followed her up to another door that opened to a brightly lit room. Light was pouring in from two large windows on each side But, as I came to find out, it wasn't just one room. I could see at least three other doors going off into other rooms. It was then, that I became aware of how big the barn must really be. "Your room is over there." Catherine said suddenly, pointing to the door furthest to the left. "You can go ahead and start unpacking now, if you want. I'd better go help Mom and Dad with Arrow."
"Thanks." I said as she walked away. I don't think she likes me very much. I thought. I went into the room and looked around. There was a full-sized bed, a bed-side-table, dresser, and closet. Built into the wall, next to the diamond shaped window, was a window seat and in one corner, one of those bog, round wicker chairs with a black cushion. I put my bag on the bed and opened it.
I didn't have much. My skateboard, two pair of jeans, three t- shirts, one sweatshirt, the shoes on my feet, a few pairs of socks, some underwear, and one bra. At the very bottom of the bag, I found the slim white box. Inside it, along with the whole twelve dollars I had to my name, a spare set of balls for my belly-button ring, there was a necklace. It was a beautiful chain of tiny silver links and equally beautiful silver heart charm. Supposedly, when my mother made the decision to give me up, she asked the social worker to give it to me when I was older. I don't' know if it's the truth, or if it was just something one of the women at the group home found and didn't know what to do with so, they gave it to me. But, that's what they told me and I loved it.
After hanging up my jeans and shirts, putting the rest in the dresser, and leaving my skateboard on the wicker chair, I went out into the main room to look around. There was a couch, a recliner, a couple of beanbag chairs, and three of the round wicker ones like the one in my room. There was also a full-scale entertainment center with the works and a computer sitting on what appeared to be a dinging room table with four matching chair around it. Even with so much furniture, there was a ton of empty space. Either they're really rich or just have a lot of extra furniture. I thought.
I looked behind the other two doors I had seen. One was Catherine's room. The other was a big bathroom. Again, I was reminded how big of barn must really be. I looked around a few more minutes and went back down the stairs, into the barn. I could hear muffled footsteps coming from a ways down the aisle.
I walked slowly, looking into each stall and admiring the horse inside. When I finally got to the end, I looked into a stall, only to see all three Cortex's inside with a horse and two newborn foals. Mrs. Cortex was the first one to notice me. "Maria!" she said. "Meet Arrow. She and her new foals will be three of the horses you'll be in charge of from now on. Normally, Arrow and the horse across the aisle would be your responsibility. But, since you'd end up having more horses to care for, you'll just be handling Arrow and the foals and we'll take the rest."
Mom?" Catherine said. "Are you sure? I mean she hasn't had any experience with newborns. Maybe I should take care of them and she can have Belle and Spirit."
"No, Catherine." Mr. Cortex said. "We talked about this. You agreed to help out a bit more, after Arrow's foals were born. Your mom and me will help too. I think Maria will do just fine and if she needs any help along the way, we'll help her and show her what to do."
"Err!" she said. "I knew this would happen. Arrow's been my horse forever and now, as soon as SHE gets here, you act that that doesn't mean shit!"
"I." I tried to speak, but she didn't listen. Instead, she turned on her heal and burst out of the stall and ran toward the stairs leading to "our" room and disappeared.
I turned to Mr. and Mrs. Cortex. "Did I miss something?"
They looked at me, shocked, obviously not expecting to hear that. Finally, after nearly a full minute of silence, Mrs. Cortex said, "No. Catherine's just upset that we're letting someone else take care of Arrow. We've had Arrow since Catherine was five and since then, Arrow's been mostly her responsibility. She's afraid that if anyone else takes care of Arrow, the horse will lose its attachment to her."
"But, why does she seem to hate me?" I asked.
"She thinks you're going to take her place eventually. We've had foster children before, but you're the first child we've actually adopted. I think, because she knows you're going to stick around, she sees you as some sort of threat."
"How can I take her place? I just got here. I don't know w thing about the way you run things. I really can't do any harm."
"You know that, we know that. Catherine knows that deep down, but won't admit it for fear that she's wrong. Go talk to her. Let her know, loud and clear that you're not here to hurt her or take her place."
I nodded. We stood silent for a moment before I left the stall, making sure to close and latch it behind me. As I did this, Mrs. Cortex said, "Maria, we're taking you to town tomorrow, after morning chores to buy some new clothes and stuff. I noticed you didn't have much. Incidentally, I noticed your belly-button and you should know we're pretty lenient with piercing and tattoos here. We only ask that you take care of them and keep them clean.
I grinned. "Okay." I said and went back upstairs.