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Authors: James Patterson

The Horsewoman (24 page)

BOOK: The Horsewoman
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WHEN GRANDMOTHER HEARD
about the events in Miami she decided we needed to celebrate, and booked us a big table across from the bar at Duke’s. The restaurant at the Wanderers Club overlooked the polo fields where they were setting up for a match the next night.

“Breaking news,” she said when we’d all ordered food, “good guys win for a change. I should alert the media.”

Mom was there, and Gus and Daniel and Hector and his wife, Maria. And me. Hector and Maria weren’t saying much, just sitting next to each other and holding hands and mostly doing a lot of smiling.

Daniel clinked a fork against his bottle of beer to get everybody’s attention, raised it and said,
“Mejores dias.”

Better days.

I looked at Maria Suarez and saw she couldn’t stop herself from crying.

“No blubbering,” Grandmother said from her side of the table, and everybody laughed.

Then Gus said he wanted to raise a glass to Daniel.

“Please, don’t,” Daniel said.

“Want to try and stop me?” Gus said.

“Obviously even the
federales
cannot do that,” Daniel said.

“To Daniel,” Gus said. “Who’s what I call a foxhole friend.”

“Takes one to know one,” I said.

“Zip it,” Gus said.

It was as if everybody at the table was allowed to exhale tonight, for the first time in a long time and for a lot of different reasons. There was mostly show talk, once Gus finished his play-by-play of what had happened inside the Immigration Building and then outside later. Gus told Hector that he had a job at his barn starting in the morning. We all talked excitedly about the events coming up. It was a celebration tonight that had hardly anything to do with horses.

When we were all studying the dessert menu, Grandmother told a story I’d never heard about the time she’d ridden in Paris, at the Saint Hermes, and how she was chased from Notre Dame to the Louvre and back by a show jumper from Argentina.

“Too much information,” I said.

“I was young once, too, missy,” she said. “I had some horse that year, I don’t mind telling you. But Juan Carlos, that was his name, he had a much better one. And had been winning all over Europe that year. But he
was
hot for me, which is why I think he might have slowed down just enough at the end to let me beat him out of a third-place ribbon. Knowing it meant a lot more to me than him.”

I had my wineglass nearly to my lips, but slowly put it down now.

“Did he tell you he had?” I said. “Slowed up?”

Grandmother grinned. “I intuited it, especially after he invited me to an extremely romantic dinner at L’Ami Louis.” She winked at me.

She was smiling. I wasn’t.

“So riders
do
let other riders win from time to time?”

Maybe it was the wine.

“Becky,”
Mom said.

The tone meant
drop it.

“You’d never do anything like that, right, Mom?” I said.

Gus was next to me.

“Everybody’s having a good time,” he said, almost under his breath.

“We’ve gone over this,” Mom said to me. “I didn’t let you win.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said.

The whole table had gotten quiet.

“Every single rider in the jump-off made the inside turn,” I said. “Except you.”

“Good grief,” Grandmother said, “you still haven’t dropped this, Rebecca McCabe? You know the old expression about beating a dead horse? For the last time, this goddamn horse
died
.”

“And for the last time,” Mom said to me, “why would I have let you win?”

“I know how much you want us both to make the Olympic team,” I said. “Maybe you decided I needed the win more.”

“Nobody wants to win more than I do,” Mom said.

“Maybe
I
do now,” I said. “It’s why I don’t want anybody giving me anything. Including you.” Now I drank more wine. “
Especially
you.”

“Enough,” Grandmother said, trying to glare me into silence before waving theatrically for the check.

I
should
have dropped this by now. Or never opened the door in the first place. But I was still being carried along by adrenaline. The kind Gus said you could hear. Suddenly Mom was, too.

“I am going to tell you what I told that little shit Tyler Cullen that day,” she said. “If you think I’d ever let anybody win, especially
you,
then maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

“Maybe I don’t,” I said.

I stood up, and pushed back my chair, nearly knocking it over in the process.

“Where are you going?” Mom said.

“I can get my own ride home,” I said.

She caught up with me in the lobby, as I was calling my Uber.

“You’re as stubborn as your father,” she said. “You got stuck on things when you were a little girl, and you’re still getting stuck.”

“Pretty sure it runs on both sides of the family,” I said.

She somehow forced a smile, and lowered her voice, so we didn’t make a scene out here, too.

“Honey,” she said. “No matter what happens, I’m still your mom.”

“No,” I said. “You’re an opponent.”

IT WAS SUNDAY AFTERNOON,
last day of the FEI World Cup finals, one of the biggest events left on the calendar, and not just because of the prize money. Three-day event. Speed course on Friday. A jump-off class on Saturday. They added up your points then. I’d always thought the scoring was way too complicated except for this:

If you were the leader by Sunday and then went clean, there was no jump-off. You won. Everybody else lost.

And by Sunday afternoon, I
was
the leader.

This after a second in Kentucky and a third in North Carolina over the past month in World Cup qualifiers. The best Mom had done was get a sixth in Carolina. It was as if we were headed in different directions right now. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Just knew how I felt about my horse and me. And we were both bad ass right now.

Which felt good.

Very good.

Mom, Daniel, Gus, and I arrived at the schooling ring at the same time, with the final round about half over. Mom was in fifth place, which meant she’d go fifth from the end in the order. As the leader, I was going off last. I’d know what everybody else had done by then. I’d know exactly where I stood. And not just today. Because if I ended up winning today, I would move all the way up to fourth place in the Olympic standings. If the team were being selected today, I’d be going to Paris and Mom wouldn’t.

But there were multiple events to ride before team selection. We still had the Rolex Grand Prix, back in Kentucky, and then the last big event before they did pick the team, up on the show grounds in Long Island where the Hampton Classic would be held later in the summer, after the Olympics were over.

As Gus liked to say, this shit was getting very real now.

“Good luck today, honey,” Mom said before Emilio helped her up on Coronado.

“Back at you,” I said, and walked over to where Sky was.

This was pretty much our relationship now. Sentence or two at a time. No overt hostility. No more angry words. The heat was gone. More an undercurrent of coolness now. Or iciness. It seemed like years ago that I had found her lying there on the trail.

Gus shook his head before getting his wheelchair out of the middle of the ring, and over near the gate, his usual position to watch me warm up.

“The two of you are still related, right?” he said.

He’d heard our brief exchange.

Seamus was tightening my girth one last time as I settled into the saddle. As he did, I leaned down so I didn’t have to answer Gus in too loud a voice.

“We are,” I said to him. “And we might know each other better than we ever have.”

Then I got ready to ride my horse, try to do what Gus told me to do all the time, to the point where I could hear his voice in my sleep:

Act like I belonged.

And know that if I went clean, nobody could catch me.

I finally heard Mom’s name called. Saw her walk Coronado slowly toward the big ring with Daniel alongside them. It was too soon for me to move Sky over to the in-gate. It meant I would have to listen to her round from here. Seasoned competitors in our sport, especially in the International Arena, could determine the strength of a round from the reaction of the crowd in the stands.

I heard a bad round for her now.

One collective groan early. Another one about twenty seconds later. Two rails down for her. Had to be. Knew the sound. If she made it to a jump-off now, she would be one of the last horses in. Maybe last one in.

I stayed away from Mom when she brought Coronado back inside the schooling ring. Tyler was going next, with Jennifer Gates to follow. Heard just one groan while Tyler was out there. Then another.

When Gus and I waited at the in-gate, Gus said, “Your mom is in the last spot if we have to go back out there for a jump-off.”

“Ain’t gonna be no jump-off,” I said.

“You sound like Rocky Balboa,” he said.

“Who?”

I knew he was just trying to relax me, because he always found different ways. I also knew from the walk what a long course this was, one with a little bit of everything. Two brutal rollbacks. Water. Big distances the second half.

“Act like you belong,” Gus said finally.

I’d won against a field as deep and talented as this before. Had that muscle memory going for me. But that was on Coronado. This time it was Sky and me. Maybe, on a stage like this, about to move out of Mom’s shadow once and for all. Beating her and everybody else. Maybe trying to serve notice that this was my year now. My time.

Looking to show the Selection Committee that I really did belong.

I gave Sky a kick to put her in motion.

THE ROUND WASN’T
without drama. Not with the water jump this time, Sky clearing both the jump and the water with room to spare.

No, the problem was with the first rollback. When I got there, I knew I could easily shave time by going inside. But knew I didn’t
need
to shave time. I was cruising by now. Sky had torn it up over the first half of the course, no chance of a time fault.

I made a sharp, clean turn coming into the rollback, my brain telling me not to take chances here, to go outside, I was in complete command as long as I didn’t make a mistake. Outside was the safer route. My brain practically screaming at me to go outside.

But I was riding to win.

Screw it.

Went inside.

Nailed it.

Three jumps left.

Gave Sky perfect distances on the first two.

One more.

I could taste it now.

Then got Sky too close to the last jump.

Not by very much. Maybe half a stride off. But that was all it took sometimes to mean the difference between triumph and disaster.

Sky raised up just fine, did the best she could in that last second. It was when she was coming down that I heard the solid
thwack
—worst sound in the world for a show jumper—as she caught the top rail of the oxer with one of her hind legs.

No!

But it stayed up. The sucker stayed up. The cheer hit me then, a huge cheer that seemed to come from all directions. No jump-off. Just a first-place ribbon and trophy and another bottle of champagne.

And a ton of money and points.

We’d won the goddamn World Cup. Even Gus Bennett allowed himself to look happy as we came toward him from the last jump. I looked over my shoulder briefly, just to make sure the rail on the last oxer was still up there.

“That,”
he said, “is what I am talking about.”

Only now was the crowd noise beginning to subside, and the force of that last moment when I was clean. I took one last look around, at the course and the crowd, the whole ring. It all looked sweet.

It was then that I heard a loud voice coming from the box seats above me and knew right away it was Mom’s.

I brought Sky to a stop.

When I looked up, I realized that Mom wasn’t yelling for me, or to get my attention.

She was standing next to Daniel, but really seemed to be yelling at herself.

“This is my own damn fault!”
she said.

DANIEL COULD SEE PEOPLE
in the immediate area looking at them.

“I know you’re upset,” Daniel said. “But your daughter just won.”

“I’ll tell her I’m happy for her later,” Maggie said. “But right now I’m allowed to be
un
happy with myself.”

He had seen her lose before, knew how she reacted, the way she would vent when it was just the two of them alone afterward. Today was different. Today she was completely defeated.

“I know you don’t think this right now,” he said. “But you keep telling me that part of your dream is for both you and Becky to make the Olympic team.”

“She got closer today,” Maggie said. “I got further away.”

“You’re still going to make it,” he said.

“Not riding like this,” she said.

The section of expensive seats next to them, one of the luxury boxes, was already empty. Daniel eased Maggie in that direction. In the middle of the ring, he could see them setting up for the awards presentation. Becky was down with Jennifer Gates, who had finished third, and Matthew Killeen, who’d finished second. Even from here, Daniel could see that Becky was beaming, looking to him as if she might float away.

He felt himself smiling as he watched her, as excited for her in that moment as he could possibly be. He always wanted Maggie to win, of course. Just not as much as he wanted Becky to win. He wanted so badly to be with her. But knew it was better that she was down there and he was up here.

Maggie sat down. Daniel sat down next to her.

“Would you like something to drink?” he said. “You have not had anything since you finished your round.”

“Got a bottle of vodka handy?”

She put her head back and closed her eyes and seemed to be talking to herself.

“If they had to pick the team today, I’m out,” she said. She chuckled. “Ironic, isn’t it? I took my horse back and she just passed me on hers.”

“But that is the thing,” he said. “They are
not
picking the team today. And you know better than anyone that there are more factors than just the final standings.”

“Not if you’re riding like crap at the worst possible time.”

“So many of you are all just bunched together,” he said. “First place down to sixth. And they all know your record before you got hurt. And if the Olympics had been last summer, you would have gone.”

“These people have short
memories
!” Maggie said. “You think they didn’t see what Becky just did?”

He was choosing his words carefully, as carefully as he ever had around her, not wanting to make her feel worse than she already did. Not wanting to make a bad day for her get any worse.

“It is not just her that you have to beat,” Daniel said.

“But she
is
the one to beat right now!” Maggie said, the words rising out of her so hot they made Daniel think of steam.

Down in the ring they had set up the medal stand. A woman from FEI was placing Becky’s ribbon around her neck, and then another woman stepped forward to hand her a bottle of champagne. When it was time for her to receive her trophy, Becky motioned for Gus to wheel his way out and Becky handed the trophy to him.

Maggie must have been watching Daniel watch Becky. In a quiet voice now she said, “Whose side are you on, Daniel? Really?”

“I want both of you to ride your best,” he said.

“Not an answer.”

“Let me put it another way,” he said. “I am training you. I want you to get everything you want. But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I want both of you to make it to Paris. And I believe that the Selection Committee will want that, too, if things are close in the end, just because it will make such a good story.”

He turned to watch the ring again. Could not help himself. Saw Becky and Gus making their way out, the trophy nearly sliding off Gus’s lap as he reached up to give her an enthusiastic high-five.

Gus’s day, too,
Daniel thought with more than a little regret.

Not mine.

When he turned back to Maggie, her eyes were on him.

“I’ll talk to Becky later,” she said. “But for now, could you please just take me home?”

They had come together today, his car. Maggie hung back as Becky and Gus passed underneath them. Then she and Daniel walked in the opposite direction, toward the tent.

When they were outside, and making their way toward the barn, Daniel said, “What is making you like this today? You’ve lost before.”

“Tyler was right that day,” she said. “Becky was right. And you
knew
they were right whether you came right out and said it.”

Daniel waited, maybe just to hear her say it. So at least he would know.

“I never should have let her win,” Maggie said.

BOOK: The Horsewoman
12.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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