This is a new story that I've started a basically a way to fill extra time I'm not working on Mist of Heaven. Sometimes I need a break and this story is around to fill in on when I get some time. I have a basic plot and idea for what I want to happen, so we'll see how this goes. It's also my first shot at a first person, present tense story so we'll see how it goes!

I don't actually own horses, but I'm around them a lot and I ride with my best friend pretty often. Calliope, the narrator, is actually based off her a little bit. But don't tell her! ;)

The title is tentative for now until I get a little further in and think of something better. :)

Chapter One

That hoss wasn't built to tread the earth.
He took natural to the air.
And every time he went aloft,
He tried to leave me there.
- Anonymous

Out in a Blaze of Glory.

You're mine.

Today is the day.

Today I will ride Rebel.

No matter how much he bucks and kicks and rears – I will hang on for dear life.

After all, I am the only one left on the riding staff here at Beartooth Academy who can't handle the academy's newest resident gelding, and by God I am going to change that. Plus the taunts from Preston are getting almost unbearable. He doesn't care that he is fifteen years my elder, teasing me on the daily basis is probably the highlight of his day. And at an equine therapy school, that says something about his character.

I tighten the girth around the rowdy Palomino, who merely turns his head towards me in an undeniable gesture of annoyance.

"Alrighty, Rebel, today's the day," I murmur and stroke his withers. The gelding sighs heavily and shifts his weight in response, like his life is completely miserable.

The compliance he shows before I get on his back is a ploy. His feigned innocence takes me off-guard every time, no matter how prepared I think I am for it. I swear the little shithead gets off on making me eat dirt and horse manure. Snapping my helmet on, I glance over at Preston and his son, Isaiah, who are both perched on the railing of the round pen. I groan internally.

"Better strap on a butt pad too, Cal," Preston calls gleefully.

"I hope you get knocked right off the railing, Preston Ambrose."

Isaiah gives me a silent thumbs-up and I feel my face flush with heat. It should be illegal for one man to be that god-forsaken attractive. Brad Pitt good looks combined with his phenomenal horsemanship was enough to make any girl weak in the knees.

I look away. Jelly legs are definitely not what I need right now. I turn my attention to Rebel, who gazes at me out of the corner of a green eye. "We're friends, right Reb?" He sighs again.

Getting on a horse is nothing for me. It's just another day, another dollar, another second doing what I love. Getting on Rebel...well, that is whole other story entirely, because Rebel isn't a horse. Oh no, he's the spawn of Satan himself borne upon this earth with the sole purpose of fucking shit up. Out in a Blaze of Glory? More like Out in a Blaze of Hellfire.

I stick a booted foot through the stirrup, grab a handful of his mane in one hand and the lip of the saddle with the other, haul myself onto his back and I plop into the seat. Rebel's head droops in a depressed way. We have ourselves a regular Eeyore here, folks.

This is it, this is the part where he feigns innocence just long enough for me to let down my guard. Not this time sir, not this time. I tense, preparing for the moment he springs into the air like a bat out of hell.

"Are you riding a horse or taking a shit, Cal? Loosen up!" Preston hollers.

I scowl at this break in my concentration. "Shut up, Preston! Take your smartass comments and go – Oh SHIT!"

True to his nature, Rebel starts bucking. I grip the reigns and plant my feet hard in the stirrups to stay balanced. Staying on a horse, hooves and dirt flying – that's easy. Rebel is different. He stops and starts more times than my uncle Bev's stutter. It's a wild ride that would give mustangs a run for their money.

I tug Rebel's head to the right, hoping to get him to go in a circle and keep him from rearing. The gelding's response is to whip so violently to the left that I am terrified he's going to tear his mouth open. He rears, then takes off like a shot across the arena. Even as nervous as I am struggling for control, the flat-out sprint is smooth and it feels like we are barely touching the ground. I can picture doing this through the meadow or down one of the trails, summer breeze in my face, Rebel's mane flying – finally proving to Preston that he can shove it.

Suddenly, he stops hard and his back end raises. I leave the saddle and am launched over the gelding's head.

Preston is howling in laughter before I even hit the dirt. He jumps off the gate and lopes toward me.

"You were saying?" Preston teases, hovering above me.

I push myself up and try not to groan in pain, "I was saying go fuck yourself."

"You have the worst potty mouth."

"You're worse."

Preston looks affronted, "Am not."

"Who do you think I learned it from?"

Preston smirks in satisfaction.

"Are you all right?" Isaiah asks, jogging up beside his father. Always the epitome of concern and kindliness, Isaiah. He sure as hell didn't get that personality trait from his father, and looking at them it was easy to spot the physical differences between them too. Isaiah's hair is several shades lighter than his father's blonde, and he wears it cut just above his ears in a mess of waves. His eyes are a grey-blue reminiscent of long winter shadows across snow, whereas Preston's are a plain brown. Preston is buff, Isaiah is more on the sleeker side, but by no means is he scrawny. Isaiah is the light and Preston is the dark. Isaiah's chiseled jaw and crooked nose are undeniable replica's of his father's, though.

"I'm fine," I reply gruffly, busily dusting my jeans to hide the blush across my cheeks. Stupid girl emotions. Stupid beautiful boy.

Rebel nickers from the far side of the area and trots over to greet Isaiah. Who, I forgot to mention, is basically a horse wizard. They all love him and flock to him for reasons nobody really understands. Most people find it amazing and inspiring. Right now it's just getting on my nerves.

"Rebel is just upset because you're nervous," Isaiah says, stroking the horses muzzle.

"I wouldn't be nervous if he'd stopped throwing me!"

"Good thing your pride isn't as bruised as your ass," Preston snarks.

I sigh, "Who says it's not?"

The Palomino eyes me with what I swear is a smug grin. Like: Ha Ha, I win again!

Looking up at Rebel, I couldn't help but smile as I thought how well he lives up to both his nickname and registered name.

"Rebel," I say, scratching his neck, "you sure as hell don't let those names go to waste, do you?"

He thrusts his muzzle out to me like an apology and I stroke his golden cheek.

"Alright. Let's try this again." I lift my leg to climb into the saddle, but Preston pulls me away.

"I don't think you should try this anymore, Cal," he says, all seriousness now, "Rebel just isn't the horse for you. He's not ever going to be a riding therapy horse, he's too unpredictable."

I scowl. "I can do this, Preston, I know I can. I just need more time to work with him."

"I know a lost cause when I see one, and if you continue trying to ride him, I'm really afraid you're going to get hurt." He's adjusting the stirrups as he talks, making them longer for his legs. Preston stands around six and a half feet tall, fully dwarfing everyone, especially me at five feet four inches.

I open my mouth to protest but he smiles in a sad way at me, "Listen Cal, we need you on this team. I'm not going to have you taking any unnecessary risks and getting yourself injured. Or worse. Breaking a horse like this isn't a job for a little girl anyway."

It was a dismissal and an irritatingly condescending one at that. He swings into Rebel's saddle and the horse shifts impatiently beneath him, snorting and dancing in place. Preston digs his heels into the horse's sides and Rebel bolts around the arena like he's been doing it all his life.

"That horse is such a pretty mover. Dad wants to get him under an English saddle once his temper evens out," Isaiah says, mistaking my silence for awe or something. I could barely focus on the aesthetics of the ride. A boiling rage churned in my belly, sparked by being treated like an inferior. I wanted to scream that I'm not a little girl. I wanted to tell Preston I'm eighteen and that I can handle myself. I wanted Rebel to buck him out of saddle so I could jump back on. I wanted to prove myself. But instead, to my horror, tears well up in my eyes and stream hotly down my face.

"It's okay Cal, we can go catch that movie you were talking – are you okay? Are you hurt?" Isaiah touches my wrist but I flinch away like it burns and wipe my eyes.

"I'm fine," I mutter and twist away from him. I'm not a crier by nature. It takes a lot to hurt me enough to bring tears both physically and emotionally. But Preston's dismissal stung and I wasn't going to stick around and watch him gloat about the fact that he was probably right. Rebel is too much horse for me. He's too young and too inexperienced for someone like me. I like the challenge though. In a stable of push-to-start horses, the difficulty was refreshing.

"Where are you going?" Isaiah asks, walking beside me. I keep my face turned away. I know he realizes I'm crying, but letting him see it feels too vulnerable.

"Red Oak."


Red Oak was the barn that housed the staff horses and the equine for more advanced riders. "I need to get back on a horse."

"Did they put Lucy back in there? I thought she was moved to White Oak." Isaiah says.

I haven't forgotten that. Lucy is in White Oak with the beginner and newbie horses because I'm planning on using her in the classes I teach next week. She's so docile that you can put a kid on her back and she'll treat it like it's one of her own.

Fireball Whiskey is her registered name. She's a ten-year-old strawberry roan Thoroughbred cross that I rescued, with Loretta's help, from a slaughterhouse auction seven years ago. The family that owned her didn't have the patience to take care of her after she tore a tendon her first run on the track. After a year and a half of therapy, Lucy made a miraculous recovery from her injury and now she and I are inseparable. I wouldn't trade her for the world.

Explaining her story helps kids connect with her, especially the troubled ones we get here. She's also absolutely beautiful. The girls last summer wanted to spend more time braiding wildflowers into the mare's tail than riding.

As if her temperament and beauty wasn't enough to entice someone, she flies when you get her in a full gallop. Pity the owners didn't want her because she could have won a few races – that I'm sure of.

"Lucy's in White Oak. I was going to ride Blue seeing as Preston is so busy showing off with Rebel." Isaiah shrugs at the hostility in my voice. Blue Picasso, or Blue, is his fathers bay roan Percheron/Thoroughbred cross. Blue is known for his volatile temperament in the arena. He's a dream through the fields, though. Something about the open air makes him like a big puppy – virtually bomb-proof one at that.

"Let's go ride Pine Ridge trail up to the overlook. It needs cleared after last week's storm anyway," Isaiah suggests.

I climb the gate and hop down and out of the indoor arena. The sun is blindingly bright today and warm. I know he is just trying to help, and normally just the prospect of going up to the lookout with Isaiah Ambrose would have me trembling at the knees like a newborn colt, but my heart just wasn't in hanging out with him.

"I'm not feeling it today," I reply, wiping my face and resolutely refusing to meet his eyes. "I'm going to just ride Blue in the pasture by the river."

"I'll go with you," he offers and I shake my head.

"It's okay, really. I just need to go be alone."

"No you can't go alone. I'll take Nyx. He's in Red Oak too."

I relent with a sigh, realizing that I was getting nowhere by resisting him. I can feel him grinning.

We walk in silence now and I try not to look at him, but I know he's staring at me. I hope I don't have dirt smeared on my face. Isaiah and I have been friends for a long time and I've always had this stupid, bone-shattering crush on the guy. When I first came to Beartooth, he was the first person besides Loretta and Preston to accept me without blinking an eye.

Which reminds me, I need to pick up my class roster from Loretta when I get back. I don't have a teaching license, per say, but I do instruct the beginner classes and explain horsemanship to the newbies. Most of them are between ten and fifteen in my class. It's rare that older kids are with me, but the more docile ones, the kids with social anxiety or depression, pop up. Loretta and Candy handle the kids with autism or mental disorders. Preston and Isaiah handle the older or more difficult students.

Sometimes we get groups of inmates in the summer. I'm not allowed to help with them at all, or even be around, for that matter. I watch from the staff house, though, and it's amazing to see the changes that some trusting animals can invoke. I've seen a grown man cry when he left, beg to stay in the place he feels loved and accepted. The place he isn't judged.

Beartooth has that effect on people. This is the kind of place where you spread your wings out wide and there's still extra room. It's a place to run in bare feet. It's a valley filled with cold mountain streams and warm earth.

Beartooth Academy sits at the base of Beartooth mountain in the beautiful back country of West Virginia. We are located in a huge valley that consists of acres upon acres of federal forest, marshland and meadows. In the winter, a local ski lodge brings in several thousand winter sports fanatics, but it's pretty slow in the spring and summer. Pine Ridge is the name of the ski resort, titled after the lookout on top of the mountain – a solid 4,300 feet above the valley floor.

But it never stops being breathtakingly gorgeous.

Blue and several other horses nicker to me as Isaiah and I enter the Red Oak barn. They are probably nickering to Isaiah, in all honesty, but it makes me feel a little better to think it's me. I pat him through the bars of his stall and Blue kicks the door impatiently, arching his thick neck and pawing at his soiled wood chip bedding. I unbuckle his halter from the hook by the door and sling it over my shoulder as I enter. Blue is the kind of horse who would put his own head collar on and work himself, if he had thumbs. He's a lot to handle on his best days, but once you learn his quirks, he's a great ride.

I lead him out of the stall and he's dancing in place, whinnying and tossing his head excitedly. Isaiah is pulling the black Quarter horse from his stall at the far end of the barn. I wait for him to lead Nyx out of the barn, then I follow with Blue. The tack room is accessible from inside the barn and outside, so we tie the boys to posts near the door, then duck inside to grab our tack.

"Blue looks pretty excited to get out," Isaiah observes, pulling Blue's saddle and saddle pad down from the rack and handing them to me.

I nod, carrying the heavy piece of leather out and laying it on the fence post by the two horses. I pass Isaiah as I head back in to grab Blue's bridle and a bucket of brushes and combs. Blue's mane and tail are cropped short, so all I really need to do is run a hard brush over him and he'll be ready for the saddle. But I dawdle because the reality of the fact that I'm about to go on an unsupervised trail ride with Isaiah finally hits me and I want to curb the butterflies before I face him again. I try to remember how mad I am at Preston but the feeling is fading. Unfortunately, my reprieve is short-lived because he comes back in, letting the screen door slam behind him.

"I was hoping you'd grab the whole bucket," he says, eying the ten gallon bucket filled with every kind of horse brush imaginable. He smiles and my stomach pitches.

"Yep," I say, feeling really awkward all the sudden. I've known Isaiah for eight years and I still can't get past this whole secretly being in love with him, thing. We're supposed to be best friends but his friendship means so much more from where I'm standing. Teenage anguish at it's best, right here.

"Listen, I know you're upset about what my dad said, but try to forget about it and let's just have a good time. We haven't done anything just us for a long time. Tonight we're gonna go see that gory horror movie you've been dying to see – I won't take no for an answer," he adds before I can protest.

Another heart-wrenching smile. I nod, defeated but not won. "Okay. But I'm still going to be pissy about Preston being a jerk."

Isaiah comes forward and takes the bucket out of my hands. For the briefest moment our fingertips graze and a thrill shoots through me, but it startles me so bad that I jerk my hand away. He gives me a confused sort of look but I head straight for the screen door and make an ungraceful exit.