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I am looking forward to this.

It is my first thought as my eyes snap open. I keep them open, waiting until my dark bedroom comes into focus, which it rapidly does. I anxiously search my sister's face, and find it to be smooth and serene. She sleeps on beside me.

Good. I want it that way. I did not set an alarm for fear of waking her. Besides, I do not need one. I have always been able to wake up early. I can't sleep in, even though I'm almost thirteen, almost at a sleep-in age.

My bedroom window, cracked open, tells me that it is a windy morning and still dark. I can smell the earthy autumn smell—drifting through the window with the breeze—that is caused by dead leaves rotting into the soil.

It is between six and seven. I guess this, for I cannot risk turning on the lamp on my nightstand to look at my alarm clock. The main idea is not to wake anybody. Not that what I'm about to do is evil. Why does everyone associate the word "secretive" with dark, harmful deeds? I just need some time alone. Some time for me. For me, to be free of people for a little while is renewing. Then I can hop on the school bus feeling happy and industrious. Then, but first...

I am looking forward to this.

I slip out of bed, and I am silent as a shadow. My searching fingers find my dresser drawer—the bottom one. I feel the smooth brass handle, grooved with chiseled designs, and I pull. Into the drawer my hand dives. I search, I feel among the oceans of rumpled cloth. Then I find them. My fingers know the fabric of my riding pants—light and stretchy. I give a pull, then slide the drawer closed silently. A slightly tattered shirt I find in the next drawer up, wooly-warm socks in the drawer to the right.

Our Morning looking at the pony
The sun is just tipping the horizon, lighting up the whole silent sky with amber sparks

I am dressed in no time, for I know that there is someone waiting for me outside. And it isn't a person, so I have to hurry. People can wait. Ponies can't. My muffled feet glide with me down the hard floor of the hall, down the carpeted stairs. I slip into the garage, scraping the door shut behind me. I have awakened no one. I grope for my almost-new boots, and my chaps whose surfaces are worn slick from gripping a saddle so many times. I will lace them up outside. The leather chin strap of my riding helmet I have unconsciously wound around my fingers in my excitement. I step out the garage door and lace my boots, which are immediately drenched with dew. I have escaped. But I will come back. I have a life, and I appreciate it... most of the time. But it is nice to have a break once in a while. Right now.

I climb the steep, grassy slope up to our barn. My timing is perfect—the sun is just tipping the horizon, lighting up the whole silent sky with amber sparks. My favorite time of day. New, and clean, and cool, and quiet. Evening is clean and cool, too, but opportunity is lacking. Everything is set in stone. But in the morning, everything is pliable and optimistic. Anything can happen.

I can see my pony, Zorro, in his pasture. His black, dainty head is silhouetted against the lightening sky. He is beautiful.

I hurry. Cresting the hill at last, I slowly enter our tack room at our barn. It is a sacred place—a haven that is dark and rich and quiet. It smells of the leather saddles we keep here, and the perpetual tick of the cheap old plastic clock—a tiny sound but magnified in the silence this room imposes—is soothing and permanent. I don't believe that clock will ever stop. It is an absolute to me, something that cannot, will not, break down.

I rouse myself—that clock can put one to sleep. I find Zorro's bridle and hurriedly go to him. I climb his rough wooden fence carefully and we walk to meet each other. His thick, black forelock pulses with his stride.

Oh, I am looking forward to this.

He is my favorite part of today. When my class goes on a field trip our teacher always asks us, "What was your favorite part?" And we have to write a report on it. Zorro is my favorite part most any day. I can write reports about him until my hand falls off.

We reach each other and I stroke his silky neck. Dirt crumbles off his back as I brush his body with my hand. He paces, circling around me, begging me to put on his bridle and get on. When his back is clean I pull the bridle over his ears. I fasten the straps that go around his nose and throat. Dusty my sister's little white pony, comes over to investigate, but we ignore him. This is our time, our moment.

I gather the reins over his neck in my palm. I hold them together with strands of long black mane. Zorro is piebald—black and white. His mane is black while his tail is white.

He is still. I bounce a few times on the ground, gaining altitude. Then I push myself into the air and land with my stomach on his back. I swing my leg gently over his hindquarters and settle myself into position.

Zorro is a pony. Soon he will be too small for me.

But not today Not now.

I am looking forward to this.

I am riding him bareback. We walk to the gate, and I lean over to unlatch it. If Zorro were to spook or shift right now, bad things would happen for me. But he doesn't. We go out the gate and I latch it again.

I point Zorro towards the woods. His walk is a prance. Now I know how jockeys feel when their horses are led to the starting gate. Onto the trail we go, and now I cannot resist, and we are picking up speed. The sun is rising in earnest now, lighting up the foliage, turning the sky pale. Everything is beautiful.

Faster and faster we go, Zorro and I, along the wooded trail, our hearts beating rapidly in unison. My two legs grip him snugly, in a place where they can feel the thunder of his four. I can sense every one of his muscles contracting and expanding smoothly I wrap his mane over my fingers and lean forward. My soul bursts into song. It grows and it invigorates Zorro. He pumps his legs in answer to my unspoken command.

And I close my eyes for a split second, as we whip along the trail, and praise God for this moment.

We are flying, flying in an enchanted forest, together and happy Adrenaline pumps through both of us. We scramble up a hill and burst into a tiny sun-drenched clearing. For a moment, we, too, are saturated with sunbeams.

We zip back into the woods, still dim but cool. Ahead of us in the gloom lurks a fallen tree. A small tree, but still dangerous to jump with limited light. I try to pull Zorro up, try to be a mature, responsible horse owner, but he will not be deterred. He leaps over it like a cat.

I laugh. And I do not think anymore. I ride.

After this he slows briefly, for the path is uneven and rocky. We go for a while here, skipping and tripping over the stony ground, and then we both grow tense and excited—for ahead, we know, is the wide, grassy field that borders the lake. We quicken our pace.

We burst into the sunny field, and I open him up into a full gallop. We are both soaring now and our spirits are rejoicing and the wind is whipping us into immortals. And my soul is shouting with all its strength. We are detached from earth, flying in the clouds. The long grass covers our sound with a glorious swish. It is a wonderful moment, but it is brief.

Our Morning riding the pony
We are both soaring now and our spirits are rejoicing and the wind is whipping us into immortals

We are both frustrated when we see ahead of us the pasture fence. The dreamer, the impractical side of me wants to fly along that glistening dewy field forever, but my practical side reminds me that I know it cannot be. Zorro is all for jumping the fence and going on, even though he is wheezing, but I realize that the fence marks the end of our property and I am firm with him.

I turn him around and we walk slowly home. But somehow I find it is enough to walk slowly and I am eager to get home, for the practicality in me has overruled the dreamer in me. For now. And anyway, I have been among the clouds and seen the sun in all its glory and been immortal this morning, and I have other things to do today. Besides, special moments are only special when they are brief When they are fragments of perfection.

I find something amazing has happened to me. My spirits have been lifted so high during this ride that I no longer dread the school day ahead. It is a miracle. Because now I am anticipating the whole day, the whole week, that is ahead of me, instead of just my time with Zorro. Truthfully I declare:

I am looking forward to this.

Our Morning Bonnie Leigh
Bonnie Leigh, 13
Alpharetta, Georgia

Our Morning Abigail Stephens
Abigail Stephens, 13
Amman, Jordan