Somewhere during the night, I woke up feeling unnaturally warm. I opened my eyes and, for a moment, thought I went blind. Then I realized I was facing Nathaniel who had his arms around me. The AC was blasting and we had both gotten so cold we moved closer to each other to get warm. I was embarrassed but, at the same time, I had to admit it felt kind of nice.
He shifted in his sleep so that I was pulled closer and I blushed red. My hands were folded around me. I didn't move them, afraid I'd wake him up and we'd both be awake in this embarrassing position.
Now I had an internal debate going on in my head. Stay in his arms and be warm, or move away and be cold. I would normally move away but things had changed. I don't know when they had, but we were friends now. I sighed quietly, incredibly conflicted. Then the AC kicked off.
Nathaniel muttered in his sleep and seemed to get more comfortable. I bit my lower lip and decided to just stay and fall back asleep. We had a busy day in the morning.
I was woken up around 8 to Nathaniel swearing quietly.
"Oh shit," he whispered. "Fuck. I don't want to wake her up. Please let Aaron stay asleep," he muttered. "He'll give me shit for ages. Uh.... Oh fuck. It's 8."
To spare him - and myself - I yawned and turned, feigning sleep.
"Oh thank God," he groaned, and slowly unwrapped his arms from around me. He cleared his throat loudly. "Uh, time to wake up Willow." I continued to feign sleep until he nudged me. "It's 8. We need to get ready."
I pretended to be startled. "Oh. Good morning," I yawned. "How'd you sleep?"
His face was pink. "Just fine, thanks." He cleared his throat again. "Do you have to wear your costume now?"
I stretched. "No. We don't have to wear those until the final show tonight." I groaned, looking over at Matt. "We still have to match, though."
"I'll let you shower first," he said and I nodded my thanks. "Aaron," he called. "Time to wake up."
"No," he groaned, rolling over. "Don't wanna."
I laughed and smacked his head as I walked by. He groaned again and I heard Nathaniel throw his pillow at him. I got my clothes from my suitcase and went into the shower. Knowing we slept in, I took a quick shower. I didn't bother to blow dry my hair. It would air dry just fine. I tied my red button up in the back so I wouldn't have to tuck it in and put on my jeans and boots. I went into the room, still drying my hair in a towel, and Matt shoved past me.
"Asshole," I grumbled but tossed the towel on the rack so it could dry.
"What? No cowboy hat?" Nathaniel teased and I shoved him.
We waited for Matt. And waited. And waited.
I pounded my fist on the door. "Come on, Matt!" I shouted. "We're going to be late!"
"Fine!" he yelled through the door and I rolled my eyes.
"He's like a girl," I muttered.
When he finally came out, we rushed down the stairs and into the lobby for a muffin. Being the one most awake, I drove us to the barn. I went into Flame's stall and fed her. Matt was standing by the truck and I glared at my father.
"Don't," I said when he went to feed Eagle.
"Matt!" I called and he looked up. "Come feed Eagle! They need to be in the ring in 20 minutes."
"I thought Aaron was going to do it!" he yelled but stomped over.
Behind him, Nathaniel smiled and gave me an encouraging nod.
When Flame was done eating, I stood in front of her and put my forehead on her face.
"I need you today," I whispered to her. "Spirit needs you. Please work with us today."
I kissed her nose and went around to get on her. My father and Nathaniel walked with me. My father was explaining how the schedule would work as I rode beside them.
"The costumes are still in the truck, right?" I asked and Nathaniel nodded. "Oh good."
A few minutes later, Matt caught up with us. He looked pissed but I didn't care. While we checked in, Nathaniel was led to the back where he would pick the barrels and the other specifics. I followed my father to pick the best track.
"You should be in the sixth track, Matt," I said slowly, "and I'll be in the seventh."
"Why not the other way around?" he demanded.
I sighed wearily. "Because I'm putting out my right arm and Flame will be running around you. You'll have more room."
"Whatever," he muttered and I shook my head. "Let's give it a run through."
We ran through it twice by the time Nathaniel came in with the barrels. I did the barrels first and took a few deep breaths.
Come on, Flame. Stay tight.
I flicked the reins and she started at a walk then into a trot. I focused and weaved through the barrels, being careful to stay tight on the one at the end. It was always the hardest and, sure enough, we knocked it over. I smacked my thigh angrily and Nathaniel jogged out to put it right side up.
"Just take a deep breath," my father said while Matt did the run through.
He smirked at me when he made it without knocking over any barrels. I ignored his smirk and gripped the reins tighter. I took a few deep breaths and ran through it again. The barrel at the end, though.... I knocked it over slapped my thigh harder.
"Son of a bitch!" I yelled, pulling at my hair.
"Look at me," my father said firmly and I obeyed. "You're stressing yourself out. Stop worrying so much!"
"I can't do this, Daddy," I whispered as Matt started off. "I need Spirit. I can't-"
"Hey," Nathaniel interrupted and I looked at him. "She's here, remember? Let her guide you." Matt was back with a smug grin. "Go."
I looked between my dad and Nathaniel. I nodded and turned Flame around.
"Come on, Flame," I whispered, leaning in to talk to her ears. "Spirit is in front of us. Follow her."
I flicked the reins and focused. We did great and, when we got to the one at the end, I closed my eyes briefly, imagining it was Spirit I was on. I pulled hard and opened my eyes. We got around the barrel without it knocking over! I swerved through the others and threw my arms up in success.
"Yes!" I cried, sliding off and hugging my father and then Nathaniel.
He froze and I cleared my throat, stepping back. "Next is the hurdles," I breathed.