Wish Upon A StarbyLynne84©
Georgia had always been known to be stifling in the summer, but even I was more than a little surprised at the string of oppressively hot days that had been plaguing us for weeks. Even throughout the nights the moisture in the air hung like a wet blanket over our noses and mouths, making it hard to breathe. The temperatures remained at a very warm 75 degrees while we slept, or tried to for that matter, allowing those lacking central air the pleasure of awaking sticky and sweaty. It was the kind of heat that induced fatigue but kept you from sleeping. That evening the air was thick and heavy, laden with scorching heat and oppressive humidity even though the sun had long ago been put to rest and the high-hanging moon shone brightly in the clear night sky. I lay face-up on the cool grass and breathed deeply as my eyes closed. I savored the pureness and the innocence of the beauty that surrounded me.
The earth smelled sweet, like summer after she rains, and the tiny tree frogs peeped unabashedly in the otherwise quiet night. The tiny waves of the kettle pond lapped timidly at its shores as a wonderfully refreshing zephyr caressed its surface and traveled past my flushed cheeks. It was my last night in Georgia before I left for my first year of college in Boston. As I opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of an orange streak leaving its mark on the dark velvet sky. As if put there for only my eyes, I smiled to myself and whispered aloud, "Star light, star bright, the first shooting star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight." I closed my eyes once again, breathed deeply and without hesitation began my request to the heavens.
The weather had come as a shock to me when I had stepped into the humid air at the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta. It was the end of April but it was already in the mid-80's, much different than the cool temperatures I was used to in Boston. After I unpacked my things and rearranged my room, I ventured out jean-clad to the barn to get reacquainted with the horses I hadn't seen since the September before. A slight breeze made the heat a little more bearable on the quarter mile walk, but as I got closer my heart began to beat faster, and not from the brief amount of exercise. As I peered down the center isle of stalls I saw someone I didn't recognize. He opened the door to one of the stalls and stepped in, shutting it behind him.
No one else was around, so it struck me as odd that someone I didn't know was in there as our family had a strict rule that one may only be in the barn unattended if they were an employee or, obviously, a member of the family. Having never seen him before I quickened my pace and jogged into the barn. I slid Patches' already unlocked door open and stared at the stranger. He turned around and cocked his head and raised one eyebrow. The man looked like he might have been 5 or so years older than my 19, and he wore and old-West style cowboy hat that dipped down over messy sandy brown hair. It offset his sun-darkened complexion nicely and occasionally strayed into his deep chocolate eyes. His short sleeved tee-shirt was frayed at the shoulders and showed off his toned arms and slight farmer's tan. If Adonis had been a southern country boy, that is exactly what he would have looked like.
"Can I help you, miss?" he asked with a look that gave me the distinct impression that I was intruding.
"I believe I should be asking you the same question," I scoffed with a furrowed brow.
"Miss, I'm sorry. This here's private property. Do you have an appointment with one of the Whitmans?"
"I am a Whitman!" I told him.
"With all due respect, miss, I live with the Whitmans and I can assure you that I've never seen you around."
"You live where?" I asked incredulously.
"Right over yonder," he drawled with a finger pointed at my house. "Now, I'm sorry to have to do this, but I'm going to have to escort you off the property if you haven't got business here."
"I own that horse you're standing next to," I replied, "and I've got more business being here than you do. I've been here for nineteen years now. I'm Piper Whitman and the reason you've never seen me around is because I've been at college for the last eight months. If you don't believe me, I'm the one who lives in the navy blue room upstairs, third door on the left with the white trim, not that I have to prove anything to you. Now, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to know who you are."
"I'm Brayden Roddick," he said with a pearly smile. "I'm the farm hand the Whitmans hired to take care of the stable. I live on the second floor as well, but the fourth door on the left. Looks like we're neighbors. Now Piper, if you don't mind ending the interrogation, I've got some work I need to do. I think you can show yourself out."
I was stunned at his brazen rudeness. I turned around and grabbed Patches' halter off of the hook outside the stall and pushed past Brayden. I slipped it over her muzzle and led her out into the aisle without a word. I groomed her and prepared her for a ride in the ring as Brayden tried to lecture me.
"That one's real sensitive like, so maybe you shouldn't take her out. She don't like to be yanked all over. Rider's gotta know what they're doin'."
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," I sneered with squinted eyes. "I hadn't figured that out in the six years I've owned and ridden her. Why don't you go lecture someone who needs it, hm?" With that I led Patches out of the barn and into the riding ring.
"I can see this summer's gon' be heaps of fun!" he called after me.
"Yeah, if you measure those heaps in cow dung!" I shot back as I mounted and began my ride. He sure has some nerve, I thought angrily as I rode. 'I think you can show yourself out.' Hmph. We'll see who's leaving soon enough. He's going to wish he hadn't crossed me. I can't believe I actually thought he was attractive. He's --
"Whoo-wee, that's terrible form," he commented hanging on the fence. "I know you're a country girl and all, but I'd expect an accomplished rider such as yourself with all those pretty ribbons you've won to be able to ride English-style a tad better 'an that." I pulled Patches up alongside the fence where Brayden was standing.
"Who said anything about me being an accomplished rider?" I asked dubiously.
"I've seen all those pictures your parents have plastered up on the walls. Dressage, hunter, you name it. I've also seen all the ribbons hanging with the trophies in your room. Far as I'm concerned, that's pretty 'accomplished'."
"I thought you didn't know who I was!"
"Aw, c'mon now, Piper," he said with a broad smile. "I was just joshin' ya a bit. Didn't think you'd take it to heart like you did. Did you really think I'd be living in your house and not know who you were? Your parents told me you were coming today when they went to pick you up from the airport. 'Course I knew who you were. Could tell the minute you walked in. You're the spittin' image of your daddy."
"I didn't appreciate your humor," I said, indignant. "You were awful rude and if that's your idea of making a good first impression, you need to think again." I nudged Patches and began to walk away. Brayden followed on the other side of the fence.
"Don't be so sore about this, Piper! I'm sorry, I was just pullin' your leg earlier. We got off on the wrong foot, so let's change the shoes." I ignored his comments and continued to walk Patches. "All right, have it your way. Don't blame me when we have to awkwardly handle situations like dinner tonight." I spurred Patches into a canter and traveled a few more times around the ring before giving her a cool down walk and bringing her back to the barn for a little T.L.C. It was nearly six when I'd finished brushing and watering her, so I returned to the house to shower and get ready for dinner. I trudged sweaty and dusty up to my room where I was promptly greeted by Brayden's loud singing coming from our connecting bathroom.
"Wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I, wanna talk about number one oh my me my!" he sang off-key.
"Hey, Brayden!" I called into the steamy room.
"Who sings that song?"
"Toby Keith!" he said proudly.
"Good. Let's keep it that way, shall we?" He chuckled softly before responding.
"Aw, c'mon Piper. Don't be so bitter." He shut off the water. "Let's make nice so I don't have to worry about you sneaking in my room at night with any pointy objects."
"Ha ha," I replied, rolling my eyes. "How about you just hurry up and get out of the shower so I can take my turn."
"Well, then I'd advise you to shut the door or close your eyes so I can get out without my being improper, now."
"Oh, I don't want to see what you've got anyway," I spat. "Get over yourself and just get a towel on. I need to get cleaned up for dinner."
I let out a slight gasp as Brayden stepped out of the shower. I diverted my gaze quickly, but not fast enough to keep my cheeks from burning. He deftly wrapped his waist in a towel and walked into his room and shut the door behind him. I had seen a man naked before, but somehow seeing a man naked without his permission was enough to embarrass me to the depths. I grabbed a towel from the linen closet, shed my clothes and stepped into the shower. A few minutes later, I heard a knock on the bathroom door.
"Piper?" Brayden asked cracking the door. "Mind if I come in? I won't look or nothin'." I smiled to myself. He sounded almost like a child. Maybe he came off a bit rough, but at least he was somewhat considerate of my privacy.
"Go ahead," I called back as I finished washing my hair. "There's nothing to look at anyway."
"Is that so?" he asked rhetorically as he slipped into the bathroom. "I'm just gonna give the ol' mug a few strokes of the razor and I'll be out of your way."
"Don't worry about it," I told him. "I'm gonna be a little while longer anyway."
"All right then. So how do you like Boston College?"
"How did you know I go to BC?" I asked scrubbing my face.
"I live with your parents, remember?" he reminded me with a laugh. "I probably know more about you than you'd be comfortable with."
"That's not exactly what a girl wants to hear when she's in the shower with a complete stranger in her bathroom!" I called out. But I was curious. "But, uh, what exactly do you know about me?"
"Well," Brayden began, "I know that your entire given name is Piper Calliope Whitman, you're 19 years old, just completed your first year at attending Boston College, you're majoring in business finance with a minor in journalism, your roommate's name was Rebecca Jones and she was from Little Rock, Arkansas, the horse that belongs to you is named Patches and she's an eight-year-old pinto mare that you've had her since your thirteenth birthday which is November 16th. You stand exactly 5'9½" and your favorite color is blue. There's probably more but if I continue to talk, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna cut my chin up with this razor." I stood paralyzed in the shower.
"Yep...I'd definitely say 'uncomfortable' fits the description."
"Memory like an elephant," he commented as I turned off the water. "I remember most facts people tell me. But, I've lived here since the day after you moved out so I've had plenty of time to get to know you without actually meeting you."
"Excuse me for still being a little weirded out," I replied, reaching through the curtain for my towel. "It's weird to have someone know that much about you and not know anything about them in return." I stepped out of the shower and looked at him in the mirror.
"Well," he said, drying his face, "let me help you out then. My name's Brayden Sawyer Roddick, I'm 23, I graduated from Stanford last spring with my bachelor's in pre-vet, and I'm going to graduate school at Tufts University in the fall, last time I checked I was 6'3" and my favorite color is red. I think that pretty much covers the bases here. Feel better now?" My jaw was nearly on the floor as I stared at him.
"You went to Stanford?"
"Ouch!" he laughed, pretending to have been stabbed in the heart. "Just 'cause I work with my hands don't mean I didn't score a 1580 on my SATs or go to Stanford on partial scholarship. There's a lot more to me than meets the eye."
I just nodded silently and he turned and walked into his room. I did the same, shutting my side behind me. I quickly dressed and brushed my long, dark hair and swept it up into a loose bun atop my head. I followed the scent of freshly baked biscuits to the kitchen where my mother was finishing preparing dinner and my father, older brother Jeremy, younger sister Amelia and Brayden were already sitting down talking amongst themselves. Amelia, 16, was enraptured by Brayden's tales of life on the west coast and, undoubtedly, his smile. She never passed up a chance to flirt with a good-looking guy, even one who happened to be seven years her senior. She turned on her charm as best she could with plenty of eyelash batting and giggles, but was rewarded with nothing except the kind endearment of "kiddo". I leaned down and gave my father an affectionate kiss on the cheek before slipping into the empty chair next to Brayden. My mother put the roast on the table along with the corn on the cob and mashed potatoes and gravy returning seconds later with the warm biscuits and butter.
"This is a beautiful spread," Brayden commented. "Thank you, Mrs. Whitman."
"Oh Brayden," my mother cooed, "I've told you a million times to call me Wendy. Well, dig in everyone. Enjoy!"
We helped ourselves to all of the food on the table, covering every inch of our plates, making sure no one went hungry.
"I see you've already met Brayden," my father commented to me. "We were sure to tell him all about you before you got down here."
"So I've heard," I replied.
"I don't think Piper has taken too kindly to me just yet," Brayden said good-naturedly. "I was giving her a bit of a hard time out there in the stables, so y'all can't really blame her. She hasn't had the eight months to get used to me that the rest of you have."
"Piper!" my mother admonished. "Brayden is a very nice young man, and if you would just give him a chance instead of pushing him away like you do everyone, I think you'd realize that."
"Momma, I like Brayden just fine! We're just not used to each other; that's all. Why, I think he's one of the nicest people I've ever met," I lied with a smile. "Now that we're neighbors, I'm sure we'll get along just fine." I saw a half-smile smirk on Brayden's face as I told my mother what she wanted to hear.
"That's good," she said, "because you two will be working side-by-side this summer. I hired him to help you out with your job, since it's a bit of a task to have only one person looking after twelve horses. I knew you'd be relieved when we hired a helping hand."
I don't know how much helping he'll be doing, I thought. Aggravating, maybe. Helpful...not so sure.
We finished dinner and cleared our plates, leaving them for Amelia to do since it was her turn. I went upstairs and grabbed a pair of gardening gloves from my room and walked back downstairs.
"I'm going to go feed the horses and check their stalls," I called out to my parents.
"I'll go with you," Brayden said, coming down the stairs. "I have to check on Rosie, anyway."
"What's wrong with Rosie?" I asked him as we walked out.
"There's nothing wrong with her," he replied smiling. "She's about ready to foal. Didn't you know she was pregnant?"
"No, no one told me!" I exclaimed. "When is she due?"
"She's due on the 10th of May. Just another week and a half. But, she could go anytime before then. I've got to keep a close eye on her."
We said nothing more as we walked out to the barn. I climbed the ladder to the loft and tossed down three bales of hay. Without being asked, Brayden helped me separate and distribute the hay to each horse. Silently we went about doing our work. With him manning the hose, he watered them while I gave them pellets and grain. We finished feeding and watering all of them within half an hour, less than half the time it usually took. As he wound up the hose and I put away the grain cups, he grasped my hand gently and beckoned for me to follow him. Still, nothing was said as he led me to Rosie's stall where she lay quietly breathing in a mound of fresh straw bedding. Her big brown belly was enormous, rising and falling delicately with each breath. Occasionally she would flick her tail to rid herself of stray flies, or perk up her ears to catch a fleeting sound. She was indeed a beautiful sight. Before I knew what I was doing, I intertwined my fingers with Brayden's and firmly, yet gently, continued to hold his hand as we gazed upon her. She rose to her feet and plodded over to us to see what we were doing. As Brayden affectionately ran his thumb over the back of my knuckles I became aware that we were still holding hands. Quickly I broke the clasp and reached into the bag hanging on the front of Rosie's stall.
"Hey girl," I said softly, my cheeks flushed. "How about an apple? We want baby to come out big and strong, just like his mom." I held the apple out for her to take. She sniffed and gingerly took it from the palm of my hand, downing it in one bite. I stroked her muzzle as she chewed and I then turned to leave. I walked out of the barn with a quick step, hoping to put distance between Brayden and myself as I returned home.
"What's got you in such a rush?" he asked as he caught up to me.
"I need to pee," I said, "if you must know."
"There's a perfectly good bathroom right there in the barn. So clean I'd eat off the seat. What's the real reason?"
"Do you always ask this many questions?" I snapped, turning to look at him.
"Do you always answer a question with another question?" he grinned. I stopped dead in my tracks.
"Listen, it's bad enough that I've got to live in the same house as the person who's taking over my job, never mind sleep next door to him and share a bathroom. But if I have to put up with you every day for the next four months bugging me and always asking questions that are none of your business, well, you can just go find somewhere else to work. I'm not too fond of acting like a babysitter to near-grown men. So, consider yourself warned. Just leave me be!"
"Aw, shoot, and just when I thought you were gettin' sweet on me, too," he replied with a broad smile.
"What would ever give you that ridiculous idea?!"
"Well, the way you's holdin' my hand back there. You didn't even say one mean word to me the whole time since we left the house."
"I was just trying to make my momma happy," I said matter-of-factly. "And you were the one who grabbed my hand. I was just tryin' to be polite."
"Whatever you say," he said with a smile. "I'm not too sure what I've done to get under your skin this time, but I'll be sure to stay out of your way from here on out." He tipped the brim of his hat and walked back to the house.
"Good!" I yelled as the door shut. "I couldn't be happier!" What a jerk, I thought.
That night found me sitting in my bed, brushing my long, dark hair listening to my Something Corporate CD, feeling miserable for no apparent reason. I heard Brayden in the bathroom humming a country tune to himself as he brushed his teeth. After I heard him close the door, I sighed and decided to get ready for my night of slumber myself. It was only 9:30, but I knew that 5 a.m. came a lot earlier than I liked. After changing into a tank top and shorts, I brushed my teeth and washed my face. As I dried off, I curiously peered through the door into Brayden's room which he had left slightly ajar. There he stood, turning down the sheets in the buff. I gasped and turned away, my face on fire. It was the second time in one day I'd seen him nude. My heartbeat quickened slightly and I bit my lip; as much as I didn't want to admit it, I wanted to see more. Quietly, I nudged the door open a little bit more and watched as he finished getting ready for bed. He set the alarm on his nightstand, tossed his clothes into a hamper and climbed into bed. He had a beautiful physique, his arms and face a slightly darker shade than the rest of him. His muscles were not bulked, but toned. They were the result of working outdoors and laboring, not of vainly making trips to the health clubs to impress the ladies. His chest was bare and just a tiny bit of fuzz was present on his stomach. His manhood lay nestled in a small thatch of dark hair, fairly large, even though flaccid. No matter what I thought of his personality, there was no denying his outer beauty. I turned away as he switched off the light and tiptoed back to my room. Immediately I switched off the light and crawled into my bed.