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The High School Stables
"Isn't that JoAnn's horse you have there?" asked Matt Tisdel, walking towards Liz Manning who was saddling her horse.
Liz ignored the interruption and continued slipping the headstall and bosal over Speedy's head.
"I mean, you do know that's 'Speedy'? Does your sister know you have him out?"
With a heavy sigh Liz ran a hand gently down the side of Speedy's neck. She muttered a set-upon "Yes."
"You aren't thinking of riding him home are you? I mean. JoAnn wouldn't call him Speedy for nothing."
Liz turned from Speedy to stare at her tormentor. "Yes, Matt. Yes, I know this is Speedy. Yes, I know he is fast. I have been riding Speedy for a while. I am perfectly capable of riding a horse. I am perfectly capable of riding Speedy. Okay? Now if you will excuse me, I have to finish saddling up if I want to get home before it gets dark." With that she made her way over to the saddle and blankets straddling a rail beside the saddling area.
With Liz moving Matt had a clear view of the bridle she had been fitting. The sight shocked him. "Isn't that a hackamore? Don't tell me you are thinking of riding that animal with a hackamore?" he asked in horror.
"Okay, I won't tell you. Though what business it is of yours I don't know."
"I'm not totally ignorant when it comes to horses you know. It takes a really good rider to control an animal like Speedy with a hackamore."
"What are you trying to suggest, Matt?" Liz asked, fire growing in her eyes.
Matt was taken aback at how the conversation was deteriorating. "Nothing. Nothing. Here, let me help with that," Matt offered, trying to regain lost ground by reaching to pick up the saddle sitting ready on the rail.
"Thanks, but I'm perfectly capable of saddling a horse." Liz grabbed the saddle blanket and pad before Matt could lay a hand on them and set them over Speedy's withers. Turning back to the saddle she found Matt had carried it over. Reaching out she grabbed the heavy western saddle and pulled it from his hands. "Thank you for your help. I could have managed quite well without it." Quickly she threw the saddle over Speedy's back, letting it down gently. First checking that there were no wrinkles in the saddle pad and blanket, she then bent down and reached under Speedy's belly for the girth. She had just grabbed the cinch when she heard the heavy tread of someone else coming. Loosely buckling the cinch she looked up to see who had come in.
"Hi, Liz," Kevin greeted her, running his eyes up and down Liz, pausing to stare at her breasts. He waved a couple of pieces of paper in her direction. "I've got tickets for the senior prom. What time do you want me to pick you up?"
Liz managed to stifle her immediate reaction, a loud negation. She had heard stories about Kevin Simmons, and there was no way she wanted anything to do with him. Standing straight, her right hand gripping Speedy's mane for support, she shook her head. "I'm sorry, Kevin. I've already got a date for the prom."
The look on Kevin's face wasn't pretty. "Who?"
Breaking eye contact with Kevin, Liz cast about for a name Kevin would believe. She caught sight of Matt leaning against a stall, the raised eyebrow the only indication that he had been listening. She pointed. "Matt. He asked me earlier."
Kevin followed Liz's pointing arm. He obviously hadn't noticed Matt in the shadows. Anger flashed over his face.
"That's right, Simmons. Liz is going to the prom with me."
Kevin's hands tightened into fists for a moment. Then relaxed. He blasted Liz with an angry look before turning on his heels and stalking out of the stables.
"What color dress are you wearing?"
Liz had been following Kevin's departure with her eyes. The tension only left her body as he moved out of sight. Matt's question barely penetrated. Swinging to face him she asked, "What?"
"What color is your prom dress. For the corsage. You don't want them to clash."
"White." Liz responded automatically to the question as her heart fluttered for a moment. There had been a flash of something in Matt's eyes, quickly lost in his normal surly expression. "But you don't have to be my partner. I was going to go with a group of girls."
Shaking his head, Matt walked up the off-side of Speedy, stopping to rest a hand on the horse's neck. "Simmons is a real piece of work. If you don't go as my partner he'll get really nasty. He won't forgive you for refusing him."
Liz sighed. Then looked at Matt. He looked so solid and comfortable as he stood quite relaxed, idly rubbing at the base of Speedy's ears. She ran her tongue over her suddenly dry lips and passed her gaze over Matt before returning to doing up the cinch. All those miles Matt swam every day did wonders for his shoulders. Slightly distracted Liz turned her attention back to Speedy, giving him a nudge in the stomach to get him to exhale. She tightened the cinch another couple of notches, then turned back to Matt. "Are you still swimming every day?"
"Every day," he replied smiling at the non sequitur.
"Even in winter? What about the ice?"
"Oh, I break that first. It can be real difficult trying to swim in unbroken ice."
"Maaatttt." Liz shook her head as she smiled at Matt. "You know what I mean. Isn't the water cold?"
"Well, of course it's cold. It's got ice forming on it. Okay, okay." Matt fended off Liz's mock slaps. "Nah, if you swim every day you don't notice the cold so much. Besides, when it gets colder I wear a triathlon wetsuit. You should come out and watch sometime. Well, I'm off."
As he reached the stable door Liz called out, "Dutch?"
Matt paused and looked over his shoulder. "Well, of course Dutch. I'm not made of money." He made a hasty exit as Liz reached for something to throw.
Her hands empty, Liz stood staring at Matt's retreating back, a smile on her face. The sight of his broad shoulders receding into the distance did funny things to her breathing. She was brought back to earth when Speedy bumped his head into her back. Hastily she turned her attention back to saddling her mount.
The Senior Prom, The Calvert High School Gym
Liz scanned the room as she and Matt glided around the gym. She was enjoying herself considerably. There had been many a wide-eyed stare when she turned up with Matt. Even now there were eyes following them around the dance floor. A few of the stares were less than friendly. "Did you notice David Bartley came with Brent and not Sarah?" Matt nodded. "And the guy Sarah came with. Did you see him?" Matt was starting to grin. "Did you notice Trent came with a girl? I'm surprised Brent came with David. You don't suppose he's stopped playing the field?"
"No, I think it's still a case of so many girls, so little time. If he brought a date there would be some kind of expectations."
"Well, if he's not careful, he's going to find himself propped up at an altar by a couple of shotguns," said Liz, a little disgusted at Brent's behavior.
"Whereas, if Trent is involved in a shotgun wedding, it'll be his girlfriend with the shotgun props," Matt said with a smile.
Liz looked wide-eyed at Matt. "Do you know her?"
"Not really, but I've noticed how Trent behaves whenever she's around. If you want all the dirt you should talk to Glenna Sue Haggerty; she seems to know her."
When the music stopped they started to walk towards the refreshments. In the shadows by the drinks table Liz spotted something. "Matt, over by the curtains. What do you think Kevin is doing?"