When we got to the Chinese restaurant, I could tell right away it was authentic. My stomach growled and I got us a table for four. The host led us and brought us each a small cup of sake. I lifted mine and Aaron and Willow did, too. Matt just stared at the menu and I clenched my jaw.
Let it go, Nathan.
"To the Turners," I said and they both beamed. "And... I don't know Matt's last name so to Matt, too."
We touched our glasses but Matt just rolled his eyes. I drank mine and smacked my lips. I had always loved sake. Aaron drank it and nodded. Willow gave the most entertaining reaction.
"Holy shit!" she said, coughing. "What the hell is that?"
I laughed. "That's sake. It's an alcohol made from rice."
"I'll stick to rum," she said, shuddering.
We placed our order and I stretched. "I could sleep forever," I said. "When do we have to get to the barn tomorrow?"
"Well, since we have priority, we go at 9," Aaron explained. "That will be when we take Flame and Eagle out to run through the routine a few times on the actual stadium. While we're doing that, I need you to get the barrels. We want the yellow ones. Flame does better with brighter colors and Eagle always responds better to yellow."
"Is that the only difference between the barrels?" I asked, biting into my egg roll.
"Pretty much for this competition," he nodded. "In some competitions, they're heavier or lighter but I don't like those kinds of barrels. It doesn't seem fair for the rider or the horse. The lighter ones are used for harder competitions."
"Why would they be lighter?"
"If you knock a barrel over while you're doing it, then you'll lose a point," Willow said somewhat nervously. "Spirit and I never knocked one over. But with Flame...."
"Flame will do great," I said quickly and she smiled.
"I still think we should have Spirit here," Matt said huffily and Willow did something I never thought she'd do.
She stood up and slapped him. Hard.
We, and everyone in the restaurant, all gaped at her as she stormed out.
"I'll go talk to her," I said when I saw the look on Aaron's face.
I knew he was about to attack Matt and, although I wanted to see that, I needed Willow to calm down. She was already down the street by the time I caught up to her.
"Hey," I said but she kept walking. I sighed and grabbed her elbow. "Calm down, Willow."
"Don't you tell me what to do," she snapped. "We're going home."
I frowned. "What? Why?"
She pointed back at the restaurant. "I'm not riding with that asshole!" she screamed, tears in her eyes.
I sighed and hugged her on impulse. "I agree that he's an asshole, okay? But your dad needs you to do this. Laugh at me if you want, but I personally believe Spirit is here."
She looked up at me, crying a little. "What?"
"Spirit was a part of you, Willow," I whispered. "She always will be. When you get on flame or any other horse in the barn, you've got Spirit running next to you. You don't need to worry about Matt because, although he's an arrogant bastard, he's still riding with Spirit. You can do this, Willow."
She burst into tears and clung to me.
"I miss her!" she cried.
"I know," I whispered and held her tighter.
I waited until she calmed down then gave her a napkin still in my pocket from when we went through a McDonald's.
"So what do you say?" I asked. "You wanna ride with Spirit tomorrow?"
She laughed a little. "Yeah I do. And I'm still hungry."
I chuckled and draped my arm over her shoulders. "Then let's get back to that restaurant. Their egg rolls are the bomb."
Matt didn't talk to any of us after Aaron paid for the dinner. I drove back to the hotel and helped unload our suitcases. We'd be staying for three nights so that everyone had time to rest. Aaron pulled me to the side before going into the hotel room.
"I don't know what you said to Willow, but thank you," he said. "I was almost positive she was going to walk."
"She wanted to," I said. "I talked her down, though."
He nodded. "I have a favor to ask."
"After what happened at the restaurant... can you sleep...?"
"On the floor? Yeah, I can do that."
He laughed. "No you don't need to do that. Just sleep in the same bed as Willow."
I turned a little pink. "Oh. Um... okay. Just as long as she doesn't try to castrate me in my sleep."
Aaron smiled and clapped me on the shoulder. I stretched and got out my pajamas, stepping into the bathroom and changing. I was nervous about sharing a bed with Willow but it was innocent enough. Over the last two months, though, we had seemed to become friends. If that was the case, then it should be fine, right?
I sighed and tossed my clothes in the duffle bag I had brought with me for dirty clothes. Willow went in after me, red in the face. I knew Aaron had just told her about the sleeping arrangements. We would be in the bed by the window and the air conditioner. Which was on 65.
"Holy shit," I shivered. "Who put it on 65!?"
"Me," Matt snapped. "I get hot easily."
"Then why aren't you sleeping in this bed?" I demanded.
"Because I want to sleep in this bed."
"Oh, my God you're such a baby," I grumbled and untucked the blankets.
Aaron got in the bathroom next.
"Which side do you want?" I asked Willow.
"Um.... The one by the night stand if that's okay."
"Sure," I lied.
I'd be by the air conditioner. Great.
I got into bed and curled up, closing my eyes and waiting for everyone else to get in. I was trying to sleep but the AC kicked in and I groaned.
"Fuck that's cold," I mumbled. "I should've brought a damn sweater."
Behind me, Willow was laughing. I looked over my shoulder.
"Sorry," she said, still laughing. "You sound like Matt."
My jaw dropped. "Now that was uncalled for!"
She giggled. "Do you need to switch spots?"
"It's set on 65," I said and her face was shocked. "Yeah, that was my reaction. I'll just tough it out."
"Okay," she said. "Let me know if you change your mind."
I just nodded and put my head back on my pillow. Finally, all the lights turned off and I yawned one last time, falling asleep as soon as my eyes closed.