Authors: James Patterson
NO CONCUSSION, I FOUND
out at Wellington Regional, first thing. No broken bones. No cracked ribs. Just some bruising, mostly where I’d landed on my hip. I hadn’t been injured nearly as badly as Mom had been, even if I did feel as if Sky hadn’t just tossed me but run me over.
Mom and Grandmother were in the waiting room when Dr. Garry was finished poking and prodding and X-raying and shining lights and asking questions.
“You were lucky, young lady,” Grandmother said.
“I must get that from Dad’s side of the family,” I said.
“Not funny,” she said.
“Kind of funny?” I said.
“You kind of need to take a couple of days off,” Mom said.
wouldn’t,” I said.
“What did Dr. Garry say?” she said.
“That my body would tell me when it was okay to ride again,” I said. “But for now I should go home and take a hot bath, then a shot of tequila before bedtime, and call him in the morning.”
“Again with the jokes,” Grandmother said.
“Well,” I said, “I may have made up the part about the hot bath.”
Most of the pain I was still feeling was in my upper back and neck area, almost like whiplash, which I knew happened to riders who’d gotten thrown the way I had.
I did take a hot bath when I got home, got into bed, alternated heat and ice to the back of my neck for the rest of the afternoon. I decided to wait until after dinner to medicate with a glass of the Patrón that Dad had bought me for Christmas. I was about to call him to tell him what had happened, then changed my mind. As cool as he was, he was going to tell me to take some time off, same as Mom had.
Or just retire.
We were finishing dinner when I told Mom and Grandmother I was heading down the hill.
“To check on Sky?” Mom said.
“To ride her,” I said.
“ARE YOU SURE
the horse didn’t drop you on your head?” Grandmother said. “You need to go to bed.”
“I need to ride.”
“Not your call,” I said. “I’m not letting what happened be the last thing I see after I close my eyes.”
I looked over at Mom.
“You got back up the first chance you got,” I said.
“After a month!” Grandmother said.
“After surgery,” I said to both of them.
Mom looked at me, then reached across the table and put a hand on Grandmother’s arm.
“Let her go,” she said.
I went upstairs to change into my breeches, then pull on my boots. It took longer than I thought it would. Bending over to put on the boots hurt way more than I thought it would. But I wasn’t going to call downstairs and ask for a little help here. Emilio, I knew, had left my helmet in the tack room.
Mom and Grandmother waited for me in the kitchen. Grandmother reluctantly walked down the hill with us. She and Mom got Sky’s girth on her, saddle pads, saddle, bridle.
“You guys really don’t need to hang around,” I said.
“Good one,” Grandmother said.
We were walking Sky toward the ring when Gus’s van showed up.
“You called him,” I said to Mom, making no attempt to turn it into a question.
“I was too frightened to consider the consequences of
calling him,” she said.
I stopped to watch his door open, the platform extend, then lower him to the ground. Wondering again what it must be like for him to go through what he had to go through daily. Glad in that moment that Mom had called him. Wanting him, more than anybody else, to see that I could play hurt.
Daniel’s Kia showed up in the driveway a couple of minutes later.
Gang’s all here.
I hacked Sky slowly around the ring. The up-and-down, just the simple posting, caused me the most pain. Mom had told me the same thing had happened to her when she was back in the saddle. It was just something else my face wasn’t going to show my audience. Every time I passed them, I smiled and gave them a thumbs-up.
The third time around Gus actually smiled back.
“You’re so full of shit,” he said. “Trying to act like you’re not hurt.”
hurts,” I said.
“Shut up and ride your damn horse,” he said.
When I finished, Daniel was the one to come into the ring and help me down. We walked her back to the barn together, got her saddle off her, found a carrot for her in the tack room refrigerator, hosed her down, let her have a big drink, put her in her stall.
She looked perfectly fine, despite doing double duty today. I was ready for another hot bath, and that shot of tequila.
Grandmother had gone back to the house by the time Daniel and I were back outside. Gus and Mom were where we’d left them near the gate.
“I already knew you were a hard-ass,” he said. “You didn’t need to prove it tonight.”
“Just trying to give you some much-needed positive reinforcement,” I said.
“What I need is a drink,” Gus said.
“Same,” Mom said.
“I’m buying,” Gus said.
He turned his chair around, pulled out a remote from the side pocket of his vest, pushed a button. The doors to the van opened. A minute later he was being lifted up behind the wheel as Mom got in on the passenger side.
“Date night?” I said to Daniel.
“Looks like,” he said.
We watched Gus get the van turned around and head down the driveway and then out to Stable Way.
“You want to have a drink here?” I said.
“Thank you,” he said. “But I have to be somewhere.”
Then he got into his car and drove away. I went up to the house, got the bottle of Patrón, brought it back down the hill, sat down in the straw next to Sky.
“Cheers,” I said.
She looked at me.
“Date night,” I said.
WHEN IT WAS TIME
for the 3-Star the following Thursday, last tune-up before the National Grand Prix, I was still sore but hadn’t missed a day of riding, on Sky or Tiny, since getting thrown. It was one of the reasons that Gus had started calling me Bad Ass Becky McCabe.
I told him it was probably the nicest thing he’d ever said to me.
Mom had even decided to enter the same event, right before the Wednesday four o’clock cutoff, after she saw how many of the other top riders were in the field.
Maybe they were angling to keep themselves and their horses sharp. I was there to win. Rode that way. Went clean in my first round, then straight into the jump-off.
“Ride like hell now,” Gus said as I passed him at the gate. “Post a kick-ass time and let the rest of them chase you.”
Gus didn’t make a big deal out of the water jump when he’d looked over the course alongside me. Just talked about my line, and my distance, the way he did all the other jumps.
“We treat all jumps the same,” he said, and left it at that.
Then Sky, bless her heart, handled it perfectly the first time through. I was nervous as we approached, even panicking a little as I saw the light reflecting off the pool, right before the sun, almost by magic, went behind a cloud.
Now we had to clear it again in the jump-off, where the water was on the other side of the second-to-last jump.
A lot of jumps before that. Sky took them all clean. The course wasn’t built for long-striding horses. This one was built for speed. And my little horse had a ton of that.
The cloud was gone now as we came up on the water. We were going straight back into the sun. I heard Gus from behind me, yelling, “Get your head down!” I did. Thought at the last moment that I’d gotten Sky too close to the jump, and I
. Then my horse’s big heart took over. And took care of it. When I looked at the video later, I was amazed at how high she’d gotten, how easily she’d cleared the top rail, how far past the water she’d landed.
Like she really was flying this time.
We sprinted to the finish from there. I jerked my head around to look at the big screen.
We’d beaten thirty seconds on that tough, close-quarters course.
I couldn’t help myself then, brought Sky back around to where Gus was sitting and threw a fist.
He didn’t change expression.
“Bad ass,” he said.
THERE WERE FIFTY
in the class. Tyler Cullen, going after me, got an early rail. He was out. Matthew Killeen in his first round had bested my time but couldn’t beat thirty seconds in the jump-off. Nor could Georgina Bloomberg or Eric Glynn. Or Andrew Welles. Two rails for Tess McGill. Two for Jennifer Gates.
Six other horses had made it clean through the jump-off.
Nobody under thirty seconds by the time it was Mom’s turn, going forty-eighth. Best rider left. Best horse. Gus and I were watching from up on the pedestrian bridge.
“Gotta be weird for you, right?” Gus said as Mom walked Coronado into the ring, Daniel beside her.
“Wouldn’t be a problem if it was somebody like Tyler,” I said. “But it’s my mom.”
Then we both watched in silence as Mom went clean. Not a particularly fast first round, but she was in control of herself and her horse, knowing exactly how to avoid a time fault.
Now the jump-off for her.
I want to win,
I thought now, the feeling coming over me like one of those hot flashes Mom talked about from time to time.
I don’t want her to beat me.
I wanted her to ride well. Wanted her to go clean. Just didn’t want her under thirty seconds. I wasn’t going to say that to Gus. I would never say it to her, no matter how things came out.
Nobody was making the Olympics today.
I still wanted to win. Wanted to beat her. Maybe to prove to myself that I could.
Prove to her that as competitive as she was, I was even more so.
Bad Ass Becky.
I watched her. Then watched the clock. She was riding like a dream today, even with her big horse, even on a tight course.
She was coming up on her only big choice, on the rollback, inside the two huge flower baskets, or outside.
Inside was where you picked up time.
She was sitting on
time. It was one of her many strengths as a rider, the clock she had inside her head when she couldn’t see the screen.
She had Coronado set up perfectly as they made their turn. I thought she had him squared up in time. He might have drifted slightly to the left, the way he did. But it was a left-hand turn.
She still had room to make it.
But at the last moment she played it safe.
Cleared the jump fine. Handled the water like a champ. Finished strong.
Before her score was official, going into the last jump, Gus quietly said, “You got her.”
“Yeah,” I said. My voice sounded weird to me, thick.
She was 30.5.
Still two horses to go. Both got rails. My time had stood up.
There was no ceremony today. The event wasn’t big enough for that. The winners just went and collected their ribbons. I told Gus I’d get mine later. He told me to go get it now, he’d catch up with me, he had to take the wheelchair ramp back down to ring level.
“Go,” he said again.
Mom was already off Coronado by the time I got there, walking out of the schooling ring with Daniel. I waved at them. Mom smiled and gave me a thumbs-up. But Tyler Cullen, beer can in his hand, somehow appeared out of nowhere and got to her first.
“You ought to give the kid your ribbon, too,” he said, loud enough for everybody in the immediate area to hear.
Mom stopped. So did Daniel. So did I.
“And why would I do something like that?” Maggie Atwood said.
“You think everybody didn’t see you let her win?” Tyler said.
Then he turned around and pointed the can at me.
“And you know who knows it better than anybody?” he said.
“SHUT UP, TYLER,”
I didn’t know how Gus had gotten down to the ring as quickly as he had. But there he was. Breathing fire.
“Not your fight, Gus,” Tyler said. “Not talking about your rider here. You need to stay out of this.”
“Walk away,” Gus said.
“You first,” Tyler said.
He really did have a head full of rocks sometimes.
“Seriously?” I said.
“Didn’t mean that the way it came out,” Tyler said.
“No one cares,” I said. “And no one let me win anything.”
I started walking in his direction. Mom cut me off.
“I got this,” she said.
When she was close to Tyler, she motioned for him to follow her to the other end of the ring, as if for a private conversation. When they’d made their way down there, Mom seemed to be doing most of the talking. She seemed calm, hands stuffed into the back pockets of her breeches. From a distance, I thought she might actually be smiling.
Then she leaned forward and said something into his ear. Tyler stared at her for a moment before replying. Mom spoke once more. Then Tyler turned, hopped the fence, and headed in the direction of the barn area, beer can still in his hand. Walking fast. Not looking back.
Mom came back to where the rest of us were waiting for her.
“Okay,” I said. “What did you say to get him to shut his big mouth?”
“Well,” she said, “the first thing I told him, sweet as you please, was that if he actually thought that about me, he doesn’t know me nearly as well as he thought he did.”
to be more than that,” I said. “What did you say when you got up in his ear?”
Now she was really smiling.
“Just whispered ‘Dick Gilbert,’” she said.
I smiled. It was the name of Tyler’s owner.
“He asked what the hell that was supposed to mean,” Mom said. “And I just asked what
thought Dick would think if he found out his top rider wanted to ride my horse and not his.”
Gus Bennett nodded.
“Bad ass,” he said.
Mom said, “At that point it was game, set, match.”
Daniel said he was going to pick up Mom’s ribbon. I asked if he’d pick up mine, too. Then Mom said they were headed to the tent to meet up with Grandmother, and invited Gus and me to meet them there.
“I hate that tent and just about all the people in it,” Gus said. “Present company excluded, of course.”
“Already knew that,” Mom said. “Had to ask, anyway.”
When she was gone, Gus said he needed a cold beer, and right now. I said I’d join him. We went up the wheelchair ramp together and made our way to the outdoor restaurant at the beginning of Vendor Row. The tables were all high-tops. A no-go for Gus. So we took up a position at the end of the bar, plenty of room there, the crowd having thinned out now that the class was over and the show’s afternoon events were winding down.
I ordered two beers, handed him one. We clinked bottles.
“Not bad out there today, kid,” he said. “You might actually be getting the hang of this.”
“Stop,” I said. “You’ll make me blush.”
We drank, and went back over the class after that, jump by jump. When we finished, I asked Gus if he wanted another beer. He said he was done.
It was then that I noticed Mom and Daniel heading up the boardwalk deep in conversation.
When they stopped suddenly, I moved behind the open door to the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” Gus said.
“Eavesdropping,” I said. “Something heavy going on out there between Mom and Daniel.”
If they were afraid of being overheard, they weren’t acting it.
“Maggie,” Daniel said. “That is an answer, but not an explanation.”
“Well, it will have to do,” she said.
“Every other rider in the jump-off, every single one, went inside,” Daniel said. He paused and said, “At least all the ones really trying to win.”
“I’m just trying to understand,” Daniel said. “Because we both know the plan was to go inside.”
“Plans change,” she said.