Authors: James Patterson
DANIEL AND EMILIO
got me off her as quickly as they could once we got to the schooling ring, Daniel crouching down immediately to inspect Sky’s front legs.
I stood a few feet away, watching. Not angry at myself. Not embarrassed the way Mom had been.
Just scared for my horse.
After what felt like an hour, Daniel stood and said, “She seems to be fine. But I know Doc Howser is on the grounds somewhere. I am going to text him and have him meet us back at the barn so he can take a look.” He paused. “Just to make sure.”
He pulled out his phone, jabbing at it with his index finger.
“Okay,” I said.
“She’s not limping,” Daniel said. “That’s the good news.”
“Okay,” I said.
I heard the buzz from Daniel’s phone. He looked down at his hand. “Doc is actually back near our barn. He can meet us there.”
He spoke quickly to Emilio in Spanish.
In English he said, “I’ll catch up.”
Daniel turned to me and said, “Do you want to come with me?”
“I’ll be as worried there as I am here,” I said. “Let me know when he says she’s okay.”
“I need a few minutes alone,” I said.
Emilio and Sky were already fifty yards in the distance. Daniel jogged after them. I climbed over the fence and crossed the narrow sidewalk to the ring across the way, sat down under the canopy on the small bleachers in there. I reached into a side pocket of my backpack, took out some warm Gatorade and drank it down.
I needed to think.
No, that wasn’t quite right.
thinking since the moment we were out of the International and had pretty much made up my mind. I just needed some space now, some distance between what had happened, some time to start breathing normally again.
Twenty minutes later I felt my phone buzzing.
Text from Daniel.
our girl is fine.
takes more than a rail.
Then he texted me again. He’d come meet me. When he made it to where I was sitting, he put a hand on my shoulder before sitting down next to me.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“About what?” I said.
“The way things turned out.”
I stood up, took off my helmet, shook my hair loose.
“Yeah,” I said. “I sucked big-time.”
“So that’s it? We’re done with the Grand Prix?”
“Are you drunk?” I said to Daniel. “You think we’re done after I realized tonight my horse was even more awesome than I knew?”
“I am confused,” he said.
“Lose the touchy-feely crap, Daniel,” I said. “We are
MOM DIDN’T RIDE AGAIN
until Tuesday. I snuck over to Gus’s, with his permission, to watch her, parking a half mile up the road, walking the rest of the way, hiding in the barn once Mom and Gus were in the ring with Coronado, not just watching Mom back up on her horse, but watching Gus zip around the ring in his Zinger like he was gunning a motorcycle.
When I’d talked to Gus on the phone he’d said, “She’s talking about quitting.”
“She can’t,” I’d said.
“No shit, kid,” he’d said. “Not after practically stealing her horse back from her own goddamn daughter. She’d better make sure it was worth it.”
“How’s the vibe today?” I said now to Seamus, Gus’s top groom.
“A little narky, as we say back home,” he said.
“Both,” he said.
Gus and Seamus had set the rails at one meter. Six of them scattered around the ring. Like bunny jumps. On the third one, Mom pulled up Coronado, and we watched her circle him. Just Mom and Gus and the horse in the ring. A nothing height to clear. And they still circled.
“It’s been like this near all morning,” Seamus said.
“Any theories about why?” I said.
“It’s like everything caught up with your mum,” he said. “Perfect storm. The accident and the injuries and probably coming back too soon. Then Saturday night capped things off. And then she was like an empty sack trying to stand.”
Mom put the horse in motion again. Pulled up on the fourth jump this time. Coronado just flat refusing. Circled again. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Didn’t know if I could handle seeing much more.
“She has no confidence,” I said.
“Not to be contrary or nuthin’,” Seamus said, “but I’m pretty certain people with no confidence at all have a wee bit more than her right now.”
She didn’t get down off her horse and walk out of the ring, I had to give her that. Wasn’t quitting, at least for now.
Then Gus and Mom and Coronado began to move slowly along the fence line, Gus in his chair, Mom sometimes having to pick up the pace to keep up. Gus seemed to be doing most of the talking. For once, he wasn’t using his bullhorn voice, so I couldn’t hear their exchange.
But it all looked extremely animated.
They made two trips around the ring that way before Mom hopped out of her saddle and started to walk Coronado in the direction of the barn.
I got ready to make my getaway.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Gus snapped at her. “We’re not done here.”
Mom stopped and turned to face him.
“I might be done in more ways than one,” she said.
They were close enough to the barn that now I could hear them both quite clearly. But I would have been able to hear Gus Bennett where I’d parked my car.
“I’ll never stop working with you because you’re riding for shit,” he said. “But I am the last person in this business that you want to feel sorry for yourself in front of. I thought that went without saying.”
I could see her face, saw that the words had stung her. But she didn’t answer.
“Now are you ready to get back to work?” he said.
“I’ll call Seamus to help me back up,” she said.
“We don’t need Seamus,” Gus said, and moved the chair closer to her and Coronado, extended his arms, and put his hands together.
Now his voice was very loud.
“Here,” he said. “Let me give you a leg.”
THE TWO MEN SAT
at the last table past the bar at the Trophy Room, each with a beer in front of him. The dimly lit restaurant was nearly empty at a little after six o’clock.
“Did somebody drive you?” Daniel said to Gus.
“I drive myself,” Gus said. “I call it the van of the future. We can drag race later, if you want.”
“Sorry,” Daniel said.
“Don’t be, not with me, anyway,” Gus said. “I’ve had no use for sorry since I zigged when I should have zagged.”
Zigged instead of zagged, Daniel thought. Like he’d given himself a bad line.
Gus had called Daniel for a talk without Maggie present, or Becky. Maggie mostly.
“About what, exactly?” Daniel had said.
“The women in our life,” Gus had said. “What the hell else would we be talking about?”
They knew each other, not well, from the shows. As many times as they’d had horses in the same ring, Daniel would never have presumed to call them friends. Gus did limited traveling on the summer circuit, preferring to stay close to home. On a trip to Michigan, he observed to Daniel that flying was a royal pain in his ass, when he was still feeling pain in his ass.
But they had never spent time alone until now. And Daniel could not help feeling a tiny bit of hero worship. Maybe more than that. He had only heard what kind of rider Gus had been, had seen old footage of him before he’d been paralyzed. Everyone in their world, though, knew what kind of trainer he was now. The feeling was that Gus Bennett could have more riders than he did if he wanted them. But he only chose the riders he wanted.
In his second career, Daniel thought, he was still
“So how is it going with Maggie, really?” Daniel said.
“Really what I wanted to talk to you about,” Gus said. “Her, not Becky. Because it’s
going. If it is, it’s going right over a cliff.”
“There’s still time for you two to get on the same page,” Daniel said.
“Bullshit,” Gus said. “If she rides in the next Grand Prix the way she rode the last one, we’re out of luck and out of time. And screwed.”
“If it’s that bad,” Daniel said, “I am not sure how I can help you.”
Still not believing that the great Gus Bennett had come to him for advice.
“I usually don’t need any help from anybody.”
“So I have heard,” Daniel said. He smiled.
“I’ve tried being nice, I’ve tried yelling at her, I’ve tried challenging her, I’ve tried backing off,” Gus said. “Usually I don’t give a rip about hurting somebody’s feelings. If they want to work with me, I just assume they know the deal going in. But she’s so goddamn fragile right now.”
“We both know she was different before the horse threw her,” Daniel said.
And was sorry all over again. As if Gus Bennett’s whole world hadn’t been different before he was the one thrown.
“I didn’t mean that the way it came out,” he said.
“Sure you did,” Gus said.
“What I am trying to say is that Maggie was fearless before she was injured,” Daniel said. “In so many ways, I had little to do because she trained herself.” He pointed at Gus with his mug. “Is she not
you to train her?”
“Beats the shit out of me what she’s thinking right now,” Gus said. He grinned. “So tell you what. How about we switch riders?”
He said it casually, as if asking Daniel if he wanted another beer.
“You don’t want that.”
“Don’t I?” Gus said. “Gonna tell you something right here: your Becky has a chance to be better than all of them if she stays with it and you don’t screw it up.”
Becky,” Daniel said.
“Figure of speech,” Gus said.
Daniel said, “I know how talented she is. I think I have always known.”
“Does she know?”
“I am hoping she is in the process of finding out.”
Gus checked his watch. Daniel asked if he had to be somewhere. “Not exactly,” Gus said. Sipped some of his beer.
“But none of this helps you with Maggie,” Daniel said.
“The goal is still that we all make it to the Olympics,” Gus said. “Who the hell knows, this might be my last best shot.”
“Maggie can still make it,” Daniel said, “and so can you.”
Gus shook his head.
“With what I’m seeing,” Gus said, “she only makes it to Paris if she buys herself a ticket.”
He leaned forward, the powerful forearms on the table between them, his huge hands clasped, not making any attempt, as usual, to lower his voice.
“Right now,” he said, “she’s not close to being the rider her kid is.”
“Good to know,” Maggie Atwood said.
Before he or Daniel could say anything, Maggie and Caroline were already heading for the door. Daniel started to get up, saying, “I need to go after her.”
Gus Bennett clamped a hand on Daniel’s arm. His grip felt like a vise.
“Let her go,” he said.
I’D QUALIFIED ON SKY
for Saturday night’s Bank of America Grand Prix the day before. It had
been pretty. I felt as if we were out of sync even before two late, pretty careless rails. But I still made it to Saturday night. Barely.
I wanted to win, of course. But at the very least, I needed to make it to the jump-off. Needed to ribbon. Basically, I needed points on the board.
I’d been working hard over the past week, putting in countless hours in the ring. It wouldn’t matter without results in the International Arena. As Grandmother had said at breakfast:
“This isn’t travel soccer. Nobody’s going to hand you a trophy for participating.”
An hour later I was out in our ring for a practice session on Sky. Normally I wouldn’t jump Sky, even over baby jumps, the day after any competition, serious or otherwise. But I was more on the clock than ever if I wanted to make it to Paris. Riding my own horse now.
When I did jump Sky two days in a row, I’d give her a longer warm-up than usual, like the one we were just finishing up. Then there would be a longer-than-usual cool-down after we left the ring.
In between, we were going after it hard today. So was my trainer. Especially my trainer.
“I’m sorry,” Gus Bennett yelled at me now. “Are we going to trot the adorable little horse all goddamn morning, or we going to finally get to work?”
THINGS HAD HAPPENED FAST
after Daniel told me how Gus had joked that they should switch riders. I’d laughed it off at first. He didn’t, telling me that the more he’d thought about it, the more he didn’t think it was such a crazy idea.
“Your mother is desperate for things to be the way they used to be,” he said, “which means before her fall, which means when I was her trainer. And the more I think about the two of us, the more I think you might need someone to be tougher on you than I could ever be.”
Before I could say anything, he said, “Talk about it with your mother. See what she thinks.”
“What do you think?”
“Talk about it with her.”
Mom made it easy, said she was willing to try anything at this point. She was the one who made the decision to leave Coronado at Gus’s, at least for now, saying she didn’t want us to get in each other’s way, and that her horse was settled there. Daniel went over there every morning to work with her.
And Gus Bennett came to me, at the top of his voice from the time the driver’s-side door to his van opened and the wheelchair platform would extend, before slowly lowering him to the ground.
“You’re not riding Coronado anymore!” he yelled now. “Your horse drifts to the
in case you forgot!”
He’d told me the same thing when I’d finished in the International Arena the day before. I
forgotten, just for an instant. It had still cost me a rail. After that, I had gotten a second rail and nearly missed qualifying.
All of it on me.
With Daniel, I used to answer back all the time—smart-mouthing was part of our deal.
Gus Bennett? No way in hell.
“Don’t overcorrect! Keep her straight!”
I came back around. He’d set four jumps. I cleared them all this time.
“I thought you said today was going to be light jumping.”
“Well, Becky,” he said, “I lied.”
As tough as he was, though, I could see why Mom had once had a crush on him. Maybe still did, for all I knew. He was still handsome as hell. But it was more than that. He was as real as anybody I’d ever known. Without an ounce of self-pity in him. And pity anyone who didn’t see that.
Gus Bennett made you ignore the chair, is what he did.
“Again,” he said to me.
I managed another clear round on the mini-course.
“Okay,” he said.
“You mean okay as in, good job there, Becky?”
“Okay as in, we’re done for today,” he said.
I didn’t wait for Emilio, hopped down off Sky myself, handed Emilio the reins. Gus gunned the Zinger to life then, spraying dirt in all directions, and headed straight for me.
“You’re already tired of me,” he said. “Admit it, you won’t hurt my feelings.”
“You have feelings?” I said, and was instantly sorry.
Told him I was.
“I know what you meant,” he said.
“But anytime you want your old trainer back, all you have to do is say the word.”
“I will,” I said. “But I don’t.” I grinned. “Are
sure you want to train
“Hell, yes,” he said.
Gus Bennett actually smiled then. Didn’t last for very long. The moment was there and gone. Like the sun peeking through the big cloud cover and then disappearing again. But I knew I’d seen it.
“I know you think this trainer swap was your call, Becky,” he said. “Yours and your mom’s. It wasn’t. It was mine.”
Then he told me why.
“Of course, if you ever tell anybody that,” he said, “I might have to kill you.”
“You know what?” I said. “I believe you.”
learning,” Gus Bennett said.