Bliss held her breath as her bare feet took her over the gravel driveway and onto the grass beside the paddock. She smiled even as her heart went into a series of tipple beats watching the big grey gelding walk towards her. Glancing back towards the house, she slipped between the wires of the fence and waited for him.
His muzzle pressed gently against her face when he stopped in front of her, making tears run down her cheeks. Throwing her arms around his neck, she hugged him hard. ‘I love you Salty.’
She stood back a step and let her forehead rest against his. ‘I’ll try hard not to let you down tomorrow. After everything you’ve done for me, I will do this for you.’ She smiled and kissed his nose, taking a deep, warm horse scented breath.
A year ago, he’d been a skeleton standing in a dusty pen at the horse sales. Everyone had told her she was mad, she knew nothing of his background, whether he’d been handled. She hadn’t cared. She’d seen the look in his soft brown eyes and knew she had to save him.
He’d taught her a lot over the past twelve months. Patience, persistence, humility. He’d even taught her to have a sense of humour, making her laugh at herself, and him, with his quirks, like jumping six foot straight up in the air the first time she’d asked him to walk across a tarp.
Slowly, they had bonded, grown to trust each other, until one day, when he’d put weight on and would follow her anywhere she went, even over the tarp, she took a deep breath, asked him to stand next to a stump, and slid onto his back.
Her elation as his calm acceptance of her on his back had matched her mother’s horror. Being a spur of the moment thing, she hadn’t meant to get on with no helmet. Not that it mattered; her parents banned her from getting on him again until they were sure he wasn’t going to kill her.
The next weekend, helmet on, her father had watched her while she put Salty through his paces on the ground, then as she once again asked him to stand beside the stump. Her father’s protest at her lack of saddle or bridle only made her shrug. Again, he’d stood perfectly still while she slid onto his back, her father shaking his head in wonder.
She smiled to herself, they’d come a long way since then. Tomorrow brought their first show together. It made her stomach flutter as much as it made her feel sick. She knew Salty would be great, her own performance on the other hand, didn’t fill her with confidence.
Not for the first time, she wished she had a sister to talk to, to ride with, compare how much they didn’t fit in anywhere.
Instead, she had Blade.
She’d never felt like his sister, let alone his twin. They shared no interests, no likeness, no bond. Nothing.
Motorbikes and heavy metal was Blade’s thing.
‘You’re going to get caught out here,’ Blade’s voice in the silence made her jump.
‘I’m nearly seventeen; I can be out here if I want.’
‘In your PJ’s? I’m sure mum would be happy about that. We might be nearly seventeen, but you know their rules.’
She silently drew on Salty for strength so she didn’t walk over and smack her brother in the head. Just because he was right, didn’t mean he always had to say it.
‘No job, no car, we do what they say.’ She gave Salty one last scratch on his cheek. ‘See you bright and early, boy.’ Then she slipped through the fence and followed Blade back to the house. When he stopped near the horse float hooked up to the car, she stopped too.
Gaze on his feet as he kicked a hole in the dirt, he leant a shoulder against the tailgate, waiting. She watched him. No one would believe them to be twins. He had the black hair, blue eyes, and tanned skin that all the girls drooled over, and he was a full foot taller than her five foot two.
Bliss, on the other hand, had bright orange hair like their Mum, but darker, and her eyes were like none anyone had ever seen. She’d never had the baby blue eyes. From the moment she was born, her eyes had always been lilac.
But that was her life all over. Different, out of step. Only when she rode did she feel free, whole, at peace.
‘Can I ask you something, Bee,’ Blade said, looking at her.
She frowned. He hadn’t called her Bee in ages. Was he sick? Her heart gave a kick. She needed to touch his skin, feel if anything was wrong. ‘Sure.’ She walked over to where he stood, his toe still digging away at the dirt. She cocked her head to the side.
‘It’s our birthday next week.’
She nodded, reached out to brush a speck of dirt from his hand. Only a light touch, but enough to tell her nothing life threatening worried him. She did feel an ache in his chest though, and suddenly wanted to throw her arms around his neck and hug him.
‘Mum said you asked if we can have them separate.’
She nodded again.
‘You don’t want to have me at your birthday?’
She looked at him then. Really looked at him. A whole ten minutes older, he’d always been her big, tough brother. The outgoing one, the popular one.
Now she saw something else.
‘I thought you and your friends would rather not have me hanging around.’
‘Who would come to your party?’
She shrugged. She never invited anyone. His friends came by default. Their Mum and Dad always did the “happy birthday Blade and Bliss” whereas everyone else just sang Blade, and all the guests presents were for Blade. She didn’t think anyone would really care if she wasn’t there.
‘I know we don’t always get along, Bee, but I want us to have our party together. We won’t have many more until one of us moves away.’
She swallowed and scratched her cheek, hoping the tears wouldn’t fall and give her away.
‘Yeah,’ she said, nodding.
‘I know you’d rather keep to yourself, not have me around, but...’
She gulped and looked up at him. ‘What?’
‘I know you’ve never wanted me as a brother-’
She leapt at him, grabbed him in a strangle hold and hugged him. ‘I thought you never wanted me as a sister. I’ve always felt so different, so apart.’
‘You are different, Sis.’ He wound his arms around her waist, holding her tight. ‘You always have been, but that’s what makes you so special.’ He set her back on her feet, and looked down at her. ‘The way you ride, the way animals always drop at your feet and drool, the way people are drawn to you and seem so calm when you’re around. It drove me nuts for so long, until I saw that it wasn’t something you did to spite me, it’s just how you are.’
‘Me?’ She stepped back, her hand still on his arm so she could feel what he felt. ‘You’re the one that draws a crowd wherever you go, always school captain, or team captain, or whatever. You’re always right in the middle of things, either starting something, or giving it a new life. I’m always so jealous of how you have the courage to just go out and band people together and motivate them.’ She lifted one shoulder. ‘I wish I could do that.’
‘You do.’ He took her by the arm and steered her toward the house. ‘You just do it in a more subtle way.’
She gave a laugh.
‘What?’ He looked at her sideways.
‘It’s only taken us nearly seventeen years to have a decent conversation.’ Before now, she’d had to rely on her ability to feel if he was upset or sick. She’d wished so many times that she could somehow fix the hurts she felt in other people, both the physical and emotional. All she seemed to be able to so was soothe them at some level.
‘Yeah well, it might just take us seventeen more to have another one too.’ He wiggled his eyebrows at her, opened the back door, poked his head in the house, then waved her in.
As she tiptoed down the hallway to her room, she shook her head. So wrapped up in her own little world the past few years, she’d missed seeing the complexities that made up Blade.
It made her wonder what else she’d missed.
Back in her room, she shuffled along the carpet to clean the bottoms of her feet, and climbed into bed. The smell of Salty lingered on her hands. She breathed him in. Tomorrow, she would start fresh. Instead of only thinking how out of kilter she felt, she would use her ability to see if she could pick what others thought about themselves, see if she could somehow help them like her brother just had.
She let a small smile settle on her lips as she fell asleep.