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Authors: Laurie Halse Anderson

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BOOK: Fear of Falling
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My dad's not afraid of anything.
Unexpected pride flares in my chest.
Then again…I've gotten to know Mr. Quinn pretty well lately. He's tough but fair. He expects a lot from his riders, even the kids, and he's helped me become much more responsible around horses.
Maybe Dad should listen to Mr. Quinn.
Dad replaces the bar on the jump—same killer height—and swings back up onto King's Shadow.
Maggie glances at me. “Do you think he can make that jump?”
“Sure,” I reply, but I'm worried. About what, I'm not quite sure…that Dad or his horse might get hurt? Or that they might embarrass themselves, and me, by not clearing the fence?
Dad gives King's Shadow a good long warm-up, taking extra time to check his stride. They look great together, a real team. Dad smiles confidently and pats King's neck, murmuring to him. The horse flicks an ear back to listen.
“I'm with Mr. Quinn,” Zoe states. “I don't think your dad should jump.”
“He's a fantastic rider,” I tell her. “He won championships when he was not much older than we are. You should see all his trophies. He was even on the 1980 Olympic equestrian team, but he never got to compete.”
“Really?” Maggie says. “You never told me that! What happened? Did he get sick?”
I shake my head. Dad's disappointment was something I grew up hearing about a lot, especially whenever the Olympics were on TV. Dad would get this look on his face that was painful to see, because you knew how bad he was feeling inside.
“The whole American Olympic team had to stay home that year,” I explain. “The United States boycotted the Olympics. There was some kind of stupid political argument with Russia or something.”
“Wow.” Even sophisticated Zoe is impressed.
“Yeah, well, that tells you how good my dad is.”
We fall silent as Dad goes for the first jump. King's Shadow lifts his tail like a flag and picks up speed. Man, he's gorgeous when he runs.
Dad takes him over the first jump like nothing has happened. King's Shadow seems totally at ease. Horses respond to a confident rider, Mr. Quinn always tells me. I can sure see that happening here.
Then Dad skips the second and third jumps.
Huh? Is he bagging it?
No, he's going straight for the fourth jump—the biggie.
Zoe turns away. “I can't watch.”
I lean forward, my heart pounding. I can't
not
watch.
I cross my fingers.
Do it, Dad.
Show them!
King's Shadow leaps—and soars over the jump.
“They made it!” I shout, shaking my fists in the air.
Way to go, Dad!
I gaze after them in admiration as they canter by, King's silver tail streaming like a banner.
Wait a minute—is King's canter a little off? No, it can't be, he's fine. And yet…I squint, watching his legs as he runs.
“King's limping!” Zoe exclaims.
Sure enough, the limp becomes more and more obvious. King is clearly favoring his right foreleg.
Now Dad realizes it, too. He pulls King's Shadow to a stop, then slips off to check.
The look on Dad's face tells me it's not good. I turn to Zoe and Maggie. “I think King's Shadow is hurt!”
Chapter Five
M
aggie, Zoe, and I watch as Dr. Mac examines King's Shadow. The horse stands cross-tied in the aisle of the barn, remarkably calm and unfazed by all the fuss. Dad slowly strokes King's shoulder. I glance quickly at my dad. I'd be totally ashamed if I'd just done what he's done, but his face is unreadable.
Mr. Quinn's mouth is set in a hard line. Nothing makes him madder than people who foolishly endanger a horse.
“We'll need X-rays of the leg,” Dr. Mac says, giving us kids a meaningful look. We go out to her van, unload the portable X-ray machine, and carry it back to the barn. It's about the size of a toaster oven.
Dr. Mac and Mr. Quinn put on large lead-lined aprons and mittens. I've worn those before, and they're heavy. The lead blocks the radiation from the X-rays.
Then Dr. Mac slides a thin metal case about the size of a large book into a wooden box. That's the X-ray film. She hands the box to Mr. Quinn, who positions it behind King's right foreleg.
“Everyone else, get back,” Dr. Mac orders. She aims the lens of the X-ray machine at the injured leg and pushes a button. She takes a couple more X-rays from different angles, just to be sure.
When she's done with the X-rays, she examines King's leg one more time, her hands moving gently as she glances up at the horse for any reaction. Then she has Dad walk him back and forth while she watches his limp, frowning.
“I'll look at the X-rays back at the clinic,” she says at last, “but I'm pretty certain that there's no fracture.”
“Thank God!” Mr. Quinn says under his breath.
Dad doesn't say anything. He just looks relieved.
“However,” Dr. Mac adds as she begins to wrap King's foreleg in a bandage, “there could be a serious stress injury. If he's been doing a lot of jumping, you should take him to the equine clinic so they can do a force-plate analysis.”
“What's that?” I ask.
“It's a test performed on a special treadmill that measures the force each leg is putting down when the horse walks,” Dr. Mac explains. “The force-plate analysis reveals the degree of weakness in the injured leg, and it helps us plan his physical therapy more accurately.”
Mr. Quinn stands up with his hands on his hips and slowly shakes his head at my dad. “Operating on people-time, Charlie?”
Dad presses his lips together and glances away.
“What's people-time?” I ask.
Dad doesn't answer. Doesn't even look at me. I'm not sure he even knows I've spoken.
“People-time is the hurried pace we humans live by,” Mr. Quinn tells me. “We worked by horse-time when we got Trickster used to the trailer again. Remember how long that took?”
Do I! “Forever,” I answer. Every day we led Trickster a little closer to the trailer, sometimes only a step or two closer and only for a few minutes. It was tedious, and I got pretty impatient. I thought Mr. Quinn was being ridiculous. But he was determined to do it that way, taking baby steps. This went on for weeks.
And then, bit by bit, Trickster began to lose his fear of the trailer. Finally we had him happily eating his breakfast right in the trailer! Mr. Quinn sure knew what he was doing, and I really admired his patience when I saw how well it worked.
“You know, Charlie,” Mr. Quinn says to my dad, “you can't force a horse onto people-time. He was not ready for that jump. Now he can't jump at all.”
“How bad do you think it is?” Dad asks quietly.
Dr. Mac turns and studies my father's face like she's trying to read an X-ray. “Only time will tell,” she says. “Horse-time.”
Dad can't hold Dr. Mac's intense gaze. His eyes lower, and that look of confidence he always has evaporates. In fact, he looks miserable. He knows it was all his fault.
Boy, do I know how that feels.
“Hungry?”
I've just finished my chores around the barn, and suddenly Dad is standing there, leaning up against the barn door as if he just happened to be there and I just happened to walk by.
“Always,” I say.
He chuckles. “That's the way I was at your age. Never could get enough to eat.” His smile fades a little but doesn't disappear. “It's all that growing you're doing,” he adds softly.
Have I grown? Do I look different to him? I don't feel any different since he left, at least not on the outside.
“Why don't you call your mother and tell her you'll be home after dinner,” Dad says. “We can go get a bite to eat.”
“Have you seen her yet?” I blurt out.
Dad looks at the nails on one hand. “I stopped by her office today, but she was out with a client.” He pauses. “She seems to be doing well there. Nice office.” He sounds almost surprised. Surprised that she's doing well without
him
?
I almost say,
It's a good thing, because we need the money.
But I don't want to spoil the moment.
Dad hands me his cell phone, and I call Mom. “Hi, Mom, it's David. Um, Dad's here. He wants to take me out for something to eat.”
Mom doesn't say anything for a second. Then, “Your father's there? At the barn?”
“Yeah,” I say lightly, trying to make it sound normal that he's been to the stable but not to his own house. “He says he came by your office today, but you were out.” I hold out the phone to him. “You want to talk to her?”
He steps back, not expecting that. Then he looks at his watch and waves a hand. “We'd better scoot.”
I stare at him. Is my dad afraid to talk to my mom?
“David? Are you there?” Mom asks.
“Oh, yeah, Mom. So can I go?”
“Sure, I guess so,” she says. Not
Where is he staying? Is he coming for Thanksgiving dinner? Let me talk to him.
Nothing. We let it go at that.
We climb into Dad's car—actually a small truck that's seen better days.
“What happened to your SUV?” I ask him.
Dad snorts as he pulls out onto the road. “Guy ran into me. Totally wrecked it. I got it fixed, but it was so messed up”—he shrugs—“I just sold it. A friend let me have this to drive, just till I figure out what I really want to get.” He pats the dashboard. “Gets pretty decent mileage, for a truck. And it hauls anything.”
We drive along, not talking much. At last we pull into the parking lot of Taco Bell. It used to be our favorite place to go. It's been a long time since we've been here together.
We go in and order, loading up two trays with all our favorites. Then we slide into a booth and dig in. There's a lot of “This looks great!” and “Yeah, here, want some of this?” We stay busy unwrapping straws and rustling papers and chowing down so we don't have to talk.
The silence is heavy with all the things we aren't saying. I slurp down some soda and shift in my seat.
Dad leans back and wipes his mouth with a paper napkin. He takes a little sip from his drink, then shakes the cup, rattling the ice.
Finally he says, “I'm really looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner.” Just like any dad who hasn't been gone for a year.
Some kids might say something mean at this point. But when I look Dad in the eye, I can't. He actually seems kind of sad to me. Maybe this has all been hard on him, too. Maybe he wants to explain.
Maybe he wants to come home.
“Yeah,” I say. “Turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie—Mom's going all out.”
Dad nods. “Your mom's a good cook.”
“Except for when she gets on a health-food kick!” We laugh. Suddenly it feels great to be with Dad after so long. “So what have you been up to?” I hope it's OK to ask.
“Oh, you know…” He stirs a chip in a puddle of nacho cheese sauce. He talks about what he's been doing, but he's kind of vague. It sounds like he's traveled some and has been “really, really busy.” I don't get any specifics. Soon he steers the conversation toward something we both like: horses.
“Quinn told me about you and Trickster,” Dad says. “Sounds like a fine horse.”
“He's awesome!” I tell him. “My riding's really improved, too. But jumping—man, that's a lot harder than it looks.”
Dad leans forward. “What you need is a teacher who understands you. Quinn is good, don't get me wrong. But he's a little…” He searches for the right word. “Easygoing. You know? Slow-paced. You'll never get anywhere if he doesn't push you a little. You have to challenge yourself in order to grow, David. That is, if you really want to be a champion rider.”
“I do!” I insist.
Dad smiles at me with a strange look on his face, one I can't quite read. “I remember that first time I put you on the back of a horse.” He laughs. “Your mom just about had a fit! I was afraid she was going to call the authorities.”
“How old was I?”
“About ten months old.”
“You're kidding!”
“You grabbed right on, though,” Dad says. “I was so proud of you! I told your mom you were a natural.”
Proud of me? A natural?
My heart leaps over a hurdle.
“I have high hopes for you, David. You've got the talent; you just need a little more fire. But I expect you'll be riding a real jumper—like King's Shadow—in no time.” He wads up some food wrappers and stuffs the ball into his empty cup. “Say, how would you like me to give you some jumping lessons?”
BOOK: Fear of Falling
11.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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