The hot sun beat down on the field where crowds moved around mingling with the noise of the music and the sites and sounds of the fair. Children ran among the throng trailing balloons, heading for who knows where or just wanting to run. Above the noise came the sounds of horses, cows, and sheep all mingling with the general hubbub that was the county fair.

He was swept along with the crowd, the sites and sounds were all strange to him, for this was not his country and the local fairs in England were nothing like this one. Still it was what he was meant to be doing during his year off from college, this was meant to be a period of discovery, learning about the rest of the world and enjoying life.

He had been traveling around America for some months working here and there, having many interesting encounters and making many friends.
Now here he was one of the large crowd in a small town in Ohio. It was not a fair back home in England, but more like a cross between a farm show and a rodeo.

He sat in an empty seat, ready to watch the entertainment, his eyes taking in the color and excitement of the spectacle. His gaze was drawn to the people preparing for some sort of horseback race. A flash of a smile caught his eye and an arrow shot straight to his heart. It was over in a moment, but his heart seemed to try and tell him something had just happened, but he couldn't quite make out what it was.

He had seen rodeo events on the television back home, but nothing could compare to being there as he was now. The excitement and the color, and the sheer razzle-dazzle of the whole spectacle. The steer and bronco riding, the calf roping, all was one mass of color and energy. The races then started. First came the wagon races, which he thought was like stock car races with legs. Then came the horse rider events, they were like the pony club races from home, but with twice the speed and excitement. The riders had to ride fast round a course, turning sharp round barrels at certain points. He suddenly looked up, there in the next race, was the girl he has seen before. Again he caught the flash of her smile directed towards him, and his heart tried to tell him something once again.

He pushed down to the edge of the ring. As the race started, his mouth gaped. She was wonderful, seemingly as one with the horse, riding hard then turning sharp round the barrel. He found himself cheering her, and when she crossed the winning line he let out such a yell, that she turned round in her saddle and gave him a smile that his heart nearly exploded.

After watching the presentation, he made his way to where the riders were cleaning and feeding their mounts. He spotted her at the end of the line, trophy in hand, chatting to several people. He waited until she had finished talking before he moved across to her.

You were fantastic,” he said, not sure what else to say.

She turned and flashed him that smile again, leaving him open mouthed at her beauty.

Thank you,” she said, “ I heard you cheering me out there.”

He blushed and she giggled, she continued,“No problem. Your accent isn't exactly like the rest of the folk round here.”

They chatted for a while, but all he could see was her eyes and her smile.

Suddenly she stopped and looked at her watch, “I've got to go, but there is a barbecue tonight. Are you going?”
He did not know what to say, and attempted to start several times before stumbling out a “Yes, will you be there?”
“Of course” she replied “and I’ll even save you a dance”
She leaned forward and gave him a kiss, and then with a laugh she turned and led her horse back to the stables. He watched her leave, unable to move, not wanting to move, his fingers slowly came to his lips where the softness of her kiss still tingled.
He suddenly came to. A barbecue-this evening-and she would be there!

He dashed back to his room at the small hotel and started trying to find something to ware that evening. Traveling around made keeping clothes fit to ware not an easy thing to do. Still come that evening he looked in the mirror and saw a tanned, well muscled body, with his fair hair showing off is blue eyes. The reflection smiled back at him. Yes he would do.

After asking a few people for directions e found his way to the barbecue. It was crowded, music of all kinds filled the air, and people of every age were dancing to an assortment of beats. He wandered around. Was she going to be there? Would he find her? He didn't even know her name after all.

Suddenly there she was before him, smiling that smile that drove laser-like arrows into his heart.
She grabbed his hand and dragged him off to a small table on which sat giant punchbowl.
“Here.” She said giggling. “You look like you need one of these”

Taking the offered glass from her and realized that she still had hold of his hand. Or did he have hold of hers? They wandered around the barbecue, listening, talking, dancing, and just learning about each other.

Her name was Jean; he liked the sound that. As they sat listening to the music late in the evening,  with the moon glow lighting up the dancers who slowly moved to the now sleepy rhythm their arms went around each other and he tasted the lips that made his whole world turn upside down, lit the late night sky with fireworks and left him gasping at the power of the emotion that over took him.

They sat for the rest of the night until the first hint of a pink tint appeared in the sky. They talked, they kissed they just sat and held each other. By the time the first rays of the sun fully lit the east, they knew all about each other and their hearts had been entwined as had their lives.
He walked her home and kissed her gently goodnight, before reluctantly leaving to go back to his room and grab what little sleep he could. He would see her that evening; it was the semi-finals, and she was riding.

He woke not sure if what had gone before was a dream or not, but the tingle on his lips and the feeling in his heart told him it had all been for real. Dipping into his depleting money reserve, he went down to the stores; he had an idea. Knights of old used to carry their ladies favors into battle; perhaps, he thought, she could do that for him. So he found a moonlight blue bandanna which he tucked into his pocket and headed for the fair.

She was there waiting for him and rushed to meet him, kissing him with a power that took his breath away. Leaving him knowing that this was no dream, also that she felt the same way as he did. He gave Jean the bandanna, and explained about knights and lady's favors. She laughed and immediately placed the scarf round her neck.

”There you go,” she said. “I am now your champion and will be riding just for you.” She said the last part quietly as if trying to tell him something, or so he hoped.

Kissing him one more time, she ran off to make ready for the race. He pushed his way through he crowds to get a place right next to the finish line and waited. This time, the excitement of the rodeo and the wagon races did not effect him; his mind was churning as he started to realize what was happening to him. He was meant to be moving on in a few days already had plans for the next part of his journey, and had booked his Greyhound bus to his next destination. Now here he was and after twenty-four hours, he wanted to stay here, wanted to stay with Jean, wanted to enjoy those tender kisses for the rest of his life.

At last the horse races started, again he marveled at the shear grace and speed of the riders, Jean seemed to flow with the movement of her horse, and excitement filled him as she easily won her heats and was through to the final. He was still standing there watching the other riders, and thinking over the way his life was going when a pair of hands covered his eyes. Shortly there after followed by a kiss from a pair of lips made all thoughts of moving on disappear.

“Well, did your champion do you proud?” came a soft voice that sent shivers up and down his spine.

He turned and hugged her to him. “You were wonderful,” he said hugging her once more, and realizing that he wanted her very badly. “Do you have to race any more today?”

She smiled. “No,” she said. “That's it. I'm in tomorrow's finals.” she giggled.” But I have other plans for the rest of the day.” She said with a hint of promise in her voice.

She took him down the road towards her farm and along a winding path that led them deep into the woods. Sunlight dappled through the branches above them, and bird and insect noises gently filled the air. Hands held tight, she led him into a small glade deep the woods.

She looked into his eyes, a shy smile lighting up her angelic face.
“This is my own special place,” she said. “ Nobody else knows about it, but I wanted to share it with you” she bit her lip, then slowly continued, “I want it to be our place, and I want this place to share what we are about to do.”

He gasped. What was she saying? Could it be? Was it his dream coming true?

He took her hand and led her over to a small bank. She seemed a bit unsure, as was he, but suddenly seemed to make a decision. She flung he arms around him and kissed him until he gasped for breath.
Slowly he lowered her to the ground, and as for the rest, only the trees and the animals of the forest were witness to. They went into the woods as people new to love and came out as lovers.

The rest of the day went by all too fast. They were together and all his plans now changed. He never wanted to leave her. Later that night as he kissed her goodnight at her house, he told her he loved her, and with a kiss and a flash of that smile that lit his life, she told him she loved him too.

The next day was the finals. He kissed her good luck, noticing she had his bandanna on just to show she was his. The races went by until it was her final. He was as nervous as she was and watched as the race started. She went off fast as she had done before; this time though the others went with her. At each barrel turn she seemed to gain slightly as once again her and the horse seemed as one.
With a final turn she set off for the finishing line. She was leading by about a length when there was an audible snap. Her saddle started to slip from her horse. He gasped as she tried to stay on the horse, just crossing the finishing line before plunging to the ground.

His heart stopped and before he knew it he was over the fence, not caring about the other horses and riders, rushed to where Jean now lay still, unmoving. He knelt by her side and gently held her, as others rushed to help her eyes fluttered and opened. She tried to smile, her hand weakly moving to her bandanna. “See,” she muttered. “I am still your champion.”
Her eyes closed, and he was ushered out the way by the first aid team.

He went with her in the ambulance, sitting with her and holding her hand, telling her it would be all right, hoping she could hear him, though she was unconscious all the while.

He sat and waited while the doctors took care of her, meeting her family as they rushed in to see what had happened. He sat beside her bed; she was still unconscious. He talked to her, telling her how much he loved her, telling her about the way he never wanted to leave her, telling her of his past, and his plans for there future. Her family came and went. They knew of him from things she had told them, and soon realized what they had become to each other, welcoming him into their family. In the end, they forced the red-eyed Englishman to come back with them to their house to have some sleep.

Hours turned to days. Each day he was there, he never stopped talking to her, holding her hand, and just being there for her. Then one morning as he lifted her hand to kiss it as he had done many time before, her eyes slowly fluttered and opened.

He was just about to call out for the nurse when something made him stop. She was trying to say something to him. He leant forward and gently kissed her. She softly said "I love you", before once more closing her eyes, this time, though, in a gentle sleep.

He stumbled to the door to call the medical staff, and then to let her family know she was conscious and would be all right. And more than that, she loved him, and their future together was already starting.

Taking the Greyhound ticket from his pocket, he slowly tore it up. He would not need that. He had something special to stay here for now. After all he was in love with a champion and she was in love with him.

Barry Eva 1999