I found a note from mum while I was making breakfast.
Arthur says we’ll be back around dinner-time. I’ll buy everything we need to make pizza wraps. This Fred brought bred rolls this morning when I was getting ready. I saw him leaving. Have a great day! Love, mum.
“This Fred”, I muttered. Typical. If mum knew I was going to spend the whole day with this Fred…
After a scrumptious breakfast, I went upstairs to repack my backpack and change. The clothes Fred had given me were a bit roomy, but I didn’t mind. In wise foresight, I put on my bikini underneath and spread sun lotion all over my body. Why did I always have to be so pale?
I put two bottles of water, my mp3-Player, a large towel, some raspberry candy and the book of collected poetry I was reading at the moment into my backpack. The moment I turned to go downstairs, I heard the sound of horses’ hooves on the soft forest ground.
On the terrace, I found Fred who was leading two horses by their reins, the huge brindled one and the plain brown horse.
“Mag, meet William and Shakespeare. William and Shakespeare, meet Mag.”
“You do like Shakespeare, don’t you?”, I asked, sniggering, and patted Shakespeare’s broad back.
“My dad named them… it was probably a mistake. These two are called Persephone and Echo.” he pointed first at the palomino, then at the nervous looking chestnut. “Greek mythology, you know. Are you ready to mount? You’re taking Shakespeare, he’s a goody.”
“Ok.”, I said, trying to hide my nervousness. I took Shakespeare’s reins from Fred and walked him over to a crumbling little wall that I stood on to get onto his broad back. He wasn’t wearing a saddle. The good thing about Fred’s old jeans was their flexibility. Everything else would have become extremely uncomfortable after a couple of hours.
I swung my leg over Shakespeare’s back and there I was – ready to ride. It was only then that I realized how much I had missed this feeling over the last couple of months. Fred mounted without difficulty, clicked his tongue and made William stop next to me and Shakespeare.
“I missed this.”, I said quietly. “It’s a bit like coming home. Like doing ballet. Like reading your favourite book.”
“I don’t want to ruin the moment for you, but it’s going to get much better. Come on!” And he prodded his horse’s side gently with his calves and was gone. The other two horses followed him
“Hey!” I hurried to prompt Shakespeare into moving. He broke into a flowing trot almost immediately. And off we went.
It was the most wonderful feeling. It took me a moment to shift my weight in the right way, but the moment I had done that, everything came back. We glided through the light woods, reached Fred and went past him. I let Shakespeare guide us, he seemed to know where he was going. One little prod of my calves against his warm body and he broke into a joyful gallop. Never before had I trusted an alien horse as much as I trusted him. Fred was laughing and shouting behind me, but I didn’t listen, I barely heard him. Trees, bushes and flowers flew past us in a rush of cooling wind and we went on and on and – SPLASH! Shakespeare hadn’t hesitated before taking a great leap straight into the lake. I was soaked in an instant.
“I – told – you!”, Fred gasped, allowing William to follow his friend into the water. “You – wouldn’t listen.”
Persephone and Echo reached us a few seconds later. The horses didn’t seem to care that we were still on their backs. Amidst all the splashing water, Fred managed to loosen his horse’s snuffle and threw it towards the waterside. I did the same. Shakespeare waded deeper and deeper into the lake until he had no choice but to swim. I let him, half petrified, half curious. I wasn’t sure I would be able to get off anyway. Fred was roaring with laughter. He had gotten off and was splashing around with the horses. I watched him while Shakespeare swam further and further out onto the lake. I had never seen anyone so much at ease with himself. He made me smile. I always smile at pretty things. They lake was much wider than I had expected, a pane of golden glass, glinting in the morning sun. Trees surrounded it on all sides and I could see birds floating somewhere towards the middle. They were beautiful too, so I just smiled. And smiled.

Fred and I were lying next to each other on the mossy ground. I had taken off Fred’s soaked clothes and wrapped the towel around myself. We were reading, both too exhausted to talk much. Whenever I was sure that Fred was completely absorbed with his book, I glanced over at him to see the look of rapture that stole over his face from time to time, the moment when his face would light up the way the sun breaks through the clouds on an unsettled day. If he glanced back at me, I would pretend to be watching the grazing horses or blush because of the silly metaphors my head was creating.
But eventually, the rhymes and metres and verses absorbed me the way Hazel and Augustus were absorbing Fred. I let them carry me away. I was at ease, lying here with a boy I barely knew next to me and the sounds of birds and squirrels and who knew what around us.
The tears had been waiting on page two hundred and fifteen. Nizar Qabbani. The thing about my emotions: I smile at pretty things. Beautiful things make me cry. All the time.
Tear after tear splashed the page I was reading, my lips were trembling.
“Are you ok?” Fred sounded like he had a bad head cold. I looked up, sniffing and surprised to see his eyes red, too.
“You go first.”, I told him, sitting up and crossing my legs.
“I know it’s silly, but they should’ve had more time. It’s so unfair!”
Oh, that was why… he had reached the end of The fault in our stars. God, I had cried so much over that book. Compared to my reaction, he was handling the emotional blow very well.
“Now, what’s bothering you?”, he asked, slightly disconcerted by my silence.
“It’s this poem by Nizar Qabbani.
Every time I kiss you
After a long separation
I feel
I am putting a hurried love letter
In a red mailbox.
I know it’s cheesy and everything, but I can’t help it. It’s beautiful, too. These things make me cry. Beautiful things.”
Fred smiled and closed his book. “Thank god that doesn’t happen to me or I would have been crying all day.”
And he would smile at me and I would feel very light somehow.

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