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Authors: Nikki Tate

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BOOK: Razor's Edge
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“So I don't know what I'm going to do,” Sassy says.

It sinks in that Sassy has been talking while I've been thinking about Jasper.

“Sorry. Do about what?”

She sighs. “You don't really care, do you?”

“I have a lot on my mind. I
do
care. What did you ask me?”

“About a car.”

I really feel like an idiot now. A car? “A car for you? Did you say you wanted to buy a car?”

Sassy jabs me in the ribs. “If you'd been paying attention…”

“Sorry. Tell me.”

“Yes, I want to buy a car. Not for me. For my mom. She lost her job, and her old car died, and it will cost more to fix it than to get another one, but she hasn't got any money, and my—” Sassy catches herself and stops. “I don't know why I'm telling you this. It's not your problem.” She rests her head against my chest. My fingers stroke her hair.

“Maybe I can think of something,” I say.

She sniffles and snuggles against me. When we pull into the parking lot at school, she reaches up and strokes my chest. “Thank you,” she whispers. “I knew you'd help me.”

I don't know what to say. I have no clue how to help her. Every penny I make at the feed store goes to the horses. I have a few hundred bucks in the bank, but that's for gas and truck insurance and horse bills. Besides, it isn't enough to buy a car. Why did I say I'd try to think of something?

Sassy's breath is warm and soft on my neck. She presses a gentle kiss against my throat and then another a little higher up. Her fingertips brush the bruises on my cheek so softly I barely feel her
touch. Another kiss and another and then her lips find mine. By the time I finally pull free, my truck windows are completely fogged up.

“I'm going to be so late for English,” I say, checking my watch.

She just laughs. “See you later,” she says when I sprint away across the parking lot. I look over my shoulder to see if she's following me, but she's moving off down the sidewalk away from school. Maybe she has a spare first thing. I don't have a whole lot of time to think about where she's going, because I have to sign myself into the late book in the office, dash past my locker to grab my books and then slide into my desk at the back of the classroom. Mr. Ormand glares at me over his reading glasses and then starts talking again. Whatever he's saying is completely lost on me. By the time the bell goes I realize I've filled half a page with doodles and thought about nothing other than Sassy Calloway, and how I'm going to help her buy a car for her mother.

chapter eleven

The rest of the day passes in a blur. The minute my last class is done, I jump in the truck and head back over to the track. Jasper isn't around, so Ryan and I do all the chores. I don't really want to talk about either of the two people on my mind, but Ryan doesn't seem to care about that.

“So, what's the story with you and Sassy?” he asks.

“The story?”

“Like are you guys going out, or what?”

I'm not really sure how to answer that. The time we've spent together is measured in hours and days. But I like the idea of seeing her again, even though she said some harsh things about Jasper.

“Maybe.”

“Maybe? Do you have her phone number? Do you know when you're going to see her again?”

I realize I don't know the answer to either question. What I do know is I'd like to kiss her again. “What's it to you?”

Ryan puts his rake down. “Don't get me wrong,” he says, “but—”

“But what?” My back stiffens. I don't want another fight.

“I don't think Sassy is the happiest girl on the planet.”

“Your point?”

Ryan looks pained. This is not the kind of stuff we talk about. “Unhappy people can sometimes—you know—make trouble.”

“She's not going to make—”

Right then Pippa bounces around the corner. Maybe it's a good thing Sassy isn't around right now.

“Hey, Pipsqueak,” Ryan says. “You want to do the last stall?”

Pippa steps forward and picks up the rake.

“Did you guys hear how fast Mashed Potato ran this morning?” she asks, stepping into Dusty's stall.

Ryan shakes his head. “Spud is back?” The tall gelding was laid up for a bit with a sore shoulder. But recently I'd seen Mashed Potato out on the track, gradually working more and more quickly. He's a trooper, one of those big blocky horses that seem indestructible. Come to think of it, his trainer, Beano is like that too—big and blocky and indestructible.

“One fifty-six flat,” Pippa says. “He's in the fourth on Friday night.”

“Jasper entered Romeo in the fourth,” Ryan says. “One fifty-six? Wow. We might have to watch out for Spud.”

“Give me a cut if you bet on him and win big!” With that, Pippa ducks into Dusty's stall.

“Too bad girls don't stay cute like that forever,” Ryan says when we're in the tack room, out of earshot. “That kid works harder and is easier to get along with than certain other people I know. People who should be more mature.”

I've had enough of his comments about Sassy. “Are we done here? I need to get over to the tack store.”

“I guess so. You should call Jasper,” he adds as I turn to leave.

“Why?”

“You owe him an apology.”

“You know, Ryan—why don't you just butt out?”

“Because Jasper's still my friend.”

The way he says it it's like there's a whole other conversation he wants to have. No way I'm sticking around for that.

“See you tomorrow,” I say and head straight for my truck.

We always eat late on Thursdays. As usual, dinner is worth waiting for. At least, the food is great. Mom makes a fantastic spaghetti sauce with mushrooms and fresh peppers. There's also garlic bread hot from the oven and a big tossed salad. I'm reaching for the salad tongs when she notices my cheek.

“Travis! What happened to you?”

“Wow. Who beat you up?” Angela asks.

“Does your father know?”

“Know what?” Dad says, walking in the door. “Sorry I'm so late.” He kisses Mom on the cheek and looks over at me. “What happened to you?”

I squirt a glob of dressing over my salad.

“Nothing.”

“That's not nothing. What happened?”

“Are you having girl trouble?” Angela asks.

“Angela, please. Stay out of this. Travis? Answer your father. What's going on?”

“I fell.”

“Against someone's fist?” Dad says, drying his hands on the kitchen towel. He sits down and scoops some spaghetti onto his plate.

“Ryan and I had a little argument.”

“You and Ryan?” Dad looks at me hard. I wonder what he's heard.

“We had a difference of opinion about something.”

There's a long, uncomfortable silence. Angela breaks it by giggling.

“What!”

“Does Ryan have the hots for Sassy too?”

I push back my chair so fast and so hard it rocks back on two legs. Luckily, I manage to catch it before it crashes over.

“Travis! You haven't finished your meal!”

“Not hungry,” I say. I stomp out of the room.

The knock on the door comes only moments after I throw myself onto my bed. Dad pushes the door open and comes in. “What's going on with you, Travis? Don't just lie there, staring at the ceiling. Look at me when I'm talking to you.”

Dad is a patient man, but I can hear the tension in his voice. If I start to talk, I won't be able to stop. I'll have to tell him about how Sassy figures that Jasper is stealing tails, how I went through his stuff and what I found. How I didn't exactly accuse Japser, but how the evidence kind of looks bad. Then I'll have to tell him about Ryan and why he got so mad, how everyone is trying to tell me what to do, who to trust, who to like. It shouldn't be so hard to tell my dad the truth. But somehow, not a single word will come out. The whole story stays stuffed somewhere down my throat.

“You know, you'd better figure out who your real friends are, Travis,” Dad says. “They are going to be around a whole lot longer than—” I put my hand up to stop him from saying anything else. He sighs and shakes his head. “Just don't let down the people who really matter.” And then he's gone, the door closing behind him.

“I'm not going to, Dad,” I mutter to the empty room. I will
help Sassy get her mother a car. I have a plan. It doesn't matter what Dad or Ryan or Jasper or anyone thinks. Sassy needs my help, and I'm planning to give it to her. I have no intention of letting her down.

“Where's Jasper?” I ask Ryan when I drag my backside into the barn the next morning.

Ryan glares at me. “Thanks to you, moron, he's not here.”

“Thanks to me?”

“He says he's not coming back to work with a racist.”

The word stings, leaving an ugly mark. “What the—?”

But Ryan has already turned his back and walked away. “I'll do the hay. You can start on the stalls.”

Racist? Is he kidding? I'm not a racist. I've been friends with Jasper since…since we were little kids. I never thought about him being anything except my friend until this mess with the stupid tails. I can see how hard it must have been for Sassy to say the things she did, knowing that Jasper is my friend. I feel the same way now. I want to protect Ryan, to make him see that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to let Jasper off the hook. Even if I think Jasper might have something to do with it, it's not because I'm a racist. It's because there's evidence. Just because someone's a friend doesn't mean they can't make mistakes. Why doesn't Ryan want to see that?

When Ryan gets back with the hay, he stands between me and Romeo's stall. He's too big for me to go around or shove out of the way.

“Travis,” he says, holding my gaze. “You have to find a way to fix this.”

“Me? I'm not the one who—”

“Do you
really
believe he did it?”

I can't say yes. I can't say no. “I—I don't know.”

“You don't know? Why don't you just call the cops and turn him in?”

“How do you explain the razor blades? The tail hairs?”

“He told us he collects stray hairs for his grandma. It's not like he had a whole tail in there. And we all use razor blades— for trimming stray hairs—whatever. I don't need to tell you, of all people.”

“I'm just saying we should be careful— watch him—like we should watch everyone else around here.”

“You know what?” Ryan's voice is hard. “You can leave right now. I don't know what's got into you, but
you
are the problem here, not Jasper.”

“You can't tell me to leave. I own a third of this operation, remember?”

“Yeah, and so does Jasper. But he's right about you. Ever since you've started hanging out with that girl, you've lost your mind.”

“You jerks are just jealous because you can't find girlfriends. Sassy has more balls than you do. At least she's not afraid to ask the tough questions.”

“Here's a tough question for you. How did you get to be such an ass? I don't want to work with an ass. So get the hell out of here and don't come back.” He shoves me backward and pushes his face into mine. “You hear me?”

Off balance, I take a couple of steps backward. For an instant I think of fighting back, of challenging Ryan. Except Jasper isn't there to help. Which is crazy. Jasper is the last person I need to help me fight my battles.

“Fine. Do it all yourself.”

Outside, shadows fill the spaces between the barns. Idiots. How did I get involved with idiots?

I'm so early for school I snooze in the truck out in the parking lot. It's not like I fall into a deep sleep, but strange fragments of dreams torment me. Ryan, coming at me with a knife. The horses getting out of their stalls and running away. Sassy turning to kiss me but then opening her mouth to reveal long pointed fangs. I jerk awake and wipe the drool from my chin. This week can't come to an end fast enough. The last place I feel like going is English class. It doesn't seem like I have a whole lot of options though. The barn is off-limits, and Mom won't appreciate me being home during the day. I grit my teeth and head into school.

chapter twelve

By the end of the day I feel like a bus ran over me. Usually, I head straight for the barn after school on Friday, but today that doesn't seem like such a good idea. The more I think about it, the more I figure Ryan will cool off. He'll realize I was right, maybe after Jasper steals something from him.

I haven't seen Sassy all day, and I don't want to call her until I have some cash. That won't happen until later tonight. To put my plan into action, I need to be in the grandstand for tonight's races. That's where I head. There's always lots of food at the casino.

When I arrive, I pick up a copy of the race program and find a quiet table. I read over the race entries carefully and mark my bets in the margin. I've been around long enough to know which of the cashiers will take money without checking id. Not that I've ever gambled a whole lot, but every now and then I'll bet ten bucks on a race. Tonight, though, I'll be betting more than that.

The first three races I don't even worry about: they each have four or five contenders. None of the horses really stand out. I won't waste my money. In races five, seven and eight, I have a pretty good idea who will finish well, so I calculate a series of bets. Because the horses I'm figuring will do well are also favorites, they won't pay much, but it seems like a good idea to make a little money on them while I'm busy. The total bets on those three races is about sixty bucks. But the one I'm most interested in, the one where I'll make a killing, is the fourth.

I scan the program. There he is, Mashed Potato. I run my finger along the lines of numbers. Past performance times. Race dates and results. A hair over two minutes is his last fastest time in a real race. If Pippa's information is correct, and he posted a workout time of 1:56 flat, he's going to be right up there with the favorite, Terry Got Lucky. I check the tip sheets.
The Blue Pages
mentions the fast practice time but doesn't give him much of a chance to win.
Hoofbeater Picks of the Day
, another tip sheet that lists horses favored in today's races, likes Terry Got Lucky. Ron Charles is the handicapper who puts the
Hoofbeater
tip sheet together. He's pretty good and actually gives Romeo an outside chance of a top-three finish. The program has Terry Got Lucky listed as the favorite. The odds on Mashed Potato aren't bad: six to one. If he wins, he'll pay off nicely; if I bet two bucks on him to win, the payoff will be about twelve bucks.

BOOK: Razor's Edge
8.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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