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White thin hair limped along his scalp, threading rivulets over his ears. Tall. A person questioned his feeding habits when they looked at him. A slight tic shuddered his limbs every so often.

The girl had shucked off the aura of school and its diesel stunk bus. She’d flung the worn leather saddle over the taut blanket onto her horse’s red back and kicked him into slow trots up and down. She turned her horse into a corner and noticed the frail elderly man approaching the pasture gate, noticed his slick black oxfords toeing dibbets of mud. “Nice Paint! Mind if I ride once around?” he called.

She squinted between the horse’s ears, seeing that her Dad stood behind the austere stranger. He doffed his cowboy hat. The girl reined in her mount, descending to the patchy turf. She rolled back the gate, frowning as a splinter nicked her thumb.

“My name is Ben Breezee. Your Dad and I walked Chuckanut and hunted black bear when you weren’t even thought of.”
Not a twitch. He took the extended reins, gathering them in his right hand. One matchstick leg first dipped into the stirrup and the other bird-winged over the saddle. Ben sat wooden ruler straight. The girl’s eyes mirrored his steady becalmed ride around the squared off pasture. The Paint’s hooves clop-whopped, his teeth dinner bell dinging against the steel bit.

She exhaled when the reins once again warmed her fists.

Ben said to the girl’s Dad as they walked together to the farm house, “I’m ready now. Take me back to Laurel Manor, Laurence.”