Authors: Joseph Monninger
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Joseph Monninger
Jacket art copyright © 2011 by Veer
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Finding somewhere / Joseph Monninger. — 1st ed.
Summary : Sixteen-year-old Hattie and eighteen-year-old Delores set off on a road trip that takes unexpected turns as they discover the healing power of friendship and confront what each of them is fleeing from.
[1. Coming of age—Fiction. 2. Friendship—Fiction. 3. Automobile travel—Fiction.] I. Title.
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To all girls who love horses
And Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse.… Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without sword. O horse!
SLIPPED THROUGH THE GATE WITHOUT ANY PROBLEM AND
heard the horses shift and move the way they do when something unfamiliar comes into their space. I knew the stable, of course, and I felt bad for sneaking in, but the Fergusons hadn’t left me much choice in the matter. Luckily, a full moon gave me enough light. I walked quickly across the first paddock, where we usually saddled them, and Bucker looked over his stall and whinnied. I said, “Shhhhh,” but he whinnied again, greedy bugger that he is, and I slipped close and gave him an apple. He chomped it the way he always does, the big blockheaded fool, but I kissed him on his star forehead and told him to be quiet.
“I’m here for Speed,” I said. “Not you.”
He slobbered over the apple. It was late September in New Hampshire, the leaves falling into tall grass. You could bite the air. You couldn’t blame a horse for feeling it. The air made us all crazy.
DIDN’T TURN ON ANY LIGHTS
WALKED DOWN THE
boardwalk outside the stable doors and I gave a quick pat to the horses I passed. Pumpkin, Sally, Clumpy, Bees, Wally, and Sammy. Speed dozed in the second-to-last stall, next to Sammy, and he didn’t even wake when I stood right in front of him.
“What a lazy bucket you are,” I said when I reached for him.
I put my arms around him and he drooped his head over my shoulder and nuzzled his chin against my back. Other horses sometimes let you hug them, but Speed was the only horse I’d ever known who hugged back. He clamped me to him, his chin pulling me closer, and I held him for a little while and whispered what we were going to do. I told him I loved him, too, and he kept pressure on my back as though he were listening. As though he understood. Then I blew into his ear a little, to get it flicking, and he made a soft, gentle sound deep in his belly.
“Who’s my boy?” I whispered to him. “Who’s my favorite horse in the whole world? Who’s my good, good boy?”
I kissed him on his cheek and on his forehead. Then I grabbed his halter and clipped a lead to it, and swung the stall door open. He plodded out, a big horse still, nearly sixteen hands at the withers, but old, and he walked quietly. He had manners. Everyone who had ever ridden him—and a million people had ridden him—knew that. He didn’t kick or bite or fight the bit. His gentleness surprised you a little, because of his size, and if you didn’t know better you expected him to go back on it, but he never did. True blue, really. I got him out and rubbed his ears and forehead a little, then put my ear against his cheek.
“You want to go for a ride?” I asked Speed. “You want to get out of here?”
He didn’t, of course. No horse wants to leave a warm stall on a fall night to go walking in the dark.
He didn’t know it was his last night alive. A horse doesn’t know that kind of thing, even though it knows a whole lot more.
TUCKED $240 ON THE HOOK OF THE SADDLE PEG IN
Speed’s stable. That was what I figured the saddle was worth. I had written a note, too, but now I debated about leaving it. I had spent a long time composing it, trying to strike the right
tone. The Fergusons are good people, and good horse people, too, so I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I had worked for them two years, almost steadily, doing everything around the stables a person could do. I’d grown up in their barn, really, and I knew they weren’t trying to be cold or uncaring about Speed. They figured he was broke for good and they had Carter, their grounds man, dig a pit grave with his backhoe out in the bones pasture. They had considered letting Speed live through the winter, but if a horse dies in the New Hampshire winter, you can’t dig a grave for him—sometimes not even with a backhoe. It’s a mess. They had come to a decision, and I didn’t exactly blame them for it, but I believe a horse, or any animal, should have a chance to live as long as it has dignity. If it can’t eat, or has horrible tumors—and I’ve worked with horses with both problems—then a merciful end is justified. But Speed’s problem wasn’t anything like that. He had gone dead in his heart, I felt, and didn’t have much joy left, because for most of his life he had been treated like a machine. He worked in fairs, on pony ride circuits, at a horseback riding academy when he was younger. A horse-slave, Mr. Ferguson said about horses like Speed. The Fergusons had taken his body in, but not his heart.
I left the note on the hook with the money. I didn’t want anyone to be confused about my motives. I didn’t want
the Fergusons to think I had betrayed them. It wasn’t like I had a long, carefully planned plot in my head. I didn’t want them to have that idea. I had decided to take Speed because I had to.
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Ferguson
I am taking Speed on a little vacation. Don’t worry, I’ve got it figured out. I’ll take good care of him. I left $240 for the saddle, which I hope is fair, and if it isn’t, I’ll make it up to you in work. I hope you understand. Sorry to do this, but I couldn’t stand by and let Speed go down tomorrow. Sorry. No offense. I’ll be back in a month or two, and if you still want me to work for you, I’d like that. If not, I understand
Y NOTE DIDN’T INCLUDE A WHOLE CATALOG OF THINGS
. I didn’t say, for instance, that I hoped to let Speed be a horse for once. That I took Speed so he could have a chance to live on a prairie for a season, one fall, and that I’d love him and
protect him. I didn’t say that Delores was coming, too, because they knew Delores, understood that she was as horse crazy as I was, but wasn’t necessarily someone you hired. I didn’t say that we had plans to take her truck, that Delores had been kicked out of her house, or had been “invited to leave,” as she put it, and that she might keep going toward California. Over time I’ve learned you don’t tell people more than they need to know. I didn’t tell them we had over a thousand dollars saved and we had toyed with the idea of a cross-country trip for quite a while, but that Speed’s death sentence gave us a final push. I kept that to myself.
SLID THE SADDLE OVER
PEED AND PULLED THE GUT
straps tight. Speed didn’t shudder or protest or play any tricks like holding his belly full, then letting it slink when you climbed on him. He was too sound for that, and I felt, I don’t know, that I might have even welcomed a trick or two from him just by way of protest. He had his entire life to protest, and never did, and as soon as I climbed on his back I bent forward and told him I loved him. I whispered that he was my boy, my good horse. As gently as I could, I prodded him forward. He clopped ahead and then paused, not sure where
to go. I kicked him a little more and said, “Come on, Speed,” and he did as I asked because that’s what he does.
We rode down the Fergusons’ long driveway. It was beautiful. The Fergusons made their money down in Boston and retired up here to New Hampshire, and they had the kind of dough that let them plant trees down a long driveway and hire people like Carter, and take in horses from the Humane Society. They did good things with their wealth, no dispute, but sometimes they didn’t notice that their hobbies made other people’s hands stay awfully busy. Maybe that isn’t fair, I don’t know, but Mr. Ferguson made money by trading on the stock exchange, and that was a different kind of work than digging fence postholes or cleaning stables, and he didn’t see that. He figured he was being okay with people—kind of like he rescued people from the Humane Society right along with the horses and llamas they cared for—but the help always came tied to a kind of work that reflected back the right way on the Fergusons. Sometimes thinking about them tied me up.
Speed clopped ahead anyway. I wanted him to give some sign of liberation, but I knew if I dropped the reins he would turn slowly around and go back to his stable. Horses are like people that way.