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Authors: Jane Yolen

Centaur Rising (7 page)

BOOK: Centaur Rising
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Grabbing Joey by the arm, I yanked him away from the door.

“What did you see,” I demanded. “What did you
see
?”

He looked up at me, eyes wide with fright. “You weren't wearing your mask in there,” he whimpered. “And then you came out here and touched me. Am I going to get what they have? Am I gonna have prickles all over my body? Am I gonna
die
?” He started to wail, though tears never actually came into his eyes.

I gave him a push toward the end of the corridor. “Get out! Go away!” I shouted. “Or I'll tell your mother on you. In fact, I might just tell her anyway!” I screamed the last word. And I shook my fist at him.

He ran around the corner and this time was gone for good.

I was shaking so hard, I thought I might throw up. I ran back to the stall window and twitched the blind to see what Joey might have seen.

Agora was now on her side, her big bottom mounded up. Behind her Kai was still fast asleep. The only parts of him showing were his little hind legs, which stuck out beyond hers.

Going back into the stall, my legs wobbled even more than Kai's had ever done, only mine were wobbling from fright. If Joey or any of the Angottis hurt Kai, I knew I'd … I'd … but I couldn't think what I could do. I simply locked the door from the inside, then sat down to look at Agora and Kai as they slept. My mind was a blank until I remembered how strong Kai's hug had been.

“Just give us a few more days,” I said, a kind of prayer. I knew as a good Quaker, one shouldn't pray for special gifts but rather pledge to do something special for someone else, something hard. But this
was
for someone else, I reasoned. It was for Kai.

I didn't want to wait till Mom came for me. Standing, I said to Robbie, “I'm going to lock you in with Agora and Kai and go tell Mom what just happened.”

“What happened?” he said. “What?”

“Joey Angotti happened,” I said. “Kai was almost seen.”

“That's not good,” he said. “Lock me in, skipper.”

I ran out of the stall and locked it, pocketing the key.

As I rounded the side of the barn, I placed the mask over my mouth again and started shouting. “Mom, Mom, Joey was just—”

Mrs. Angotti took one look at me, then shouted at her kids, “Get back in the car and don't let me hear a word from either one of you until we're down the road.”

Joey jumped in the back seat, but Angela was a bit slower on the uptake, though she wasn't far behind. Then Mrs. Angotti got in on the driver's side, started the car, reversed it, and they drove away in a spray of gravel.

As they went around the first curve and disappeared from sight, Mom turned. She was wiping her eyes.

I ran to her and put my arms around her. “What's wrong—what did she say? Was it awful?”

“Lord, you're an amazing daughter,” Mom said. “Sometimes I think you're older than I am. You're certainly smarter. But not this time.”

Then I realized she was laughing.

“The expression on Mrs. Angotti's face when you came out in your…” Mom began laughing again and wiping her eyes. Then she turned serious. “We have a lot to do. But, Lord! I needed that laugh.”

“About time,” Martha said, as she came out of the other side of the barn. Evidently, she'd heard the whole thing and she spit the two words out like bullets after their departing car. Then she added, “Ya think she'll come back for her two horses?”

We all walked back to Agora's stall together.

“Well, we never liked them anyway,” I said.

“That's not the issue, Ari.” Mom shook her head. “Nor a very Quakerly thing to say. The Angottis have been loyal to us when they could have gone elsewhere. And they have lots of cousins, some of whom have been promising to come riding. We need every boarder and rider we have, and we really need to keep them whether we like them or not. They pay the bills.”

I knocked on the door. “Robbie,” I said, “it's me and Mom and Martha.” Then I opened the door and peered in.

Just then Kai awoke, made a funny little sound, and started to stand. Agora headed right over to nuzzle him.

He must have grown in his sleep because he was already close to Agora's size. She didn't seem to notice, or if she noticed, she didn't seem to mind.

I heard Mom draw in a quick breath. And Martha said, “That's no growth spurt, that's a growth geyser!”

“What's a geyser?” Robbie asked.

“An upside-down waterfall, pipsqueak,” Martha said.

“But waterfalls can't fall up.”

“We've named him,” I said, partly to change the subject, partly to get back into the conversation. “Chiron. He was the good centaur, a teacher, in the Greek myths. But that's too long and hard a name for our little guy, so Robbie suggested calling him Kai. Pony boy seems to like it.”

“Robbie told me.”

“Oh.” So much for my surprise. “Do
you
like it?”

“Well,” Mom joked, “if it's a myth-stake, it's a good one!”

“Myth-stake?” I repeated and then, all of a sudden, I snorted through my nose.

Mom put her hand to her mouth and began to giggle uncontrollably, and I got the giggles as well. We went on like that for almost a minute, before she took a deep breath and picked a piece of straw from Kai's long tendrils of hair.

He smiled at her, which made him look like one of the old paintings from the Greek myth book. “Tank, Mom.”

“Thank you, Mom,” she said.

“Thank you, Mom,” he repeated. I knew he wouldn't forget how to say it now.

“We need to get a brush through this mop, Ari.”

That's when I felt things would be all right, with or without the Angottis, because Mom and I were laughing together and talking about regular stuff and accepting the magic, too.

But I was wrong.

 

8

Uncovered Story

F
OR ABOUT A WEEK MORE, THE COVER STORY HELD.
No one but us dared go near the quarantine stall, even after all the riders returned.

Well, not all—the Angottis stayed home, leaving a friend—who also boarded her gelding at our stable—to comb and curry and feed their horse, plus change out the bedding and muck out her stall.

No one wanted me or Mom or Martha or even Dr. Herks near their horses. Just in case.

We had a swarm of vets come from as far away as Connecticut to check out the boarders' horses. Sneakily, Dr. Herks managed to keep them away from Agora and Kai. I'm not sure what he told them. It had to be quite a spin on things because he couldn't fool them with his diagnosis of
Puericentaurcephal-whatsis
. Still, whatever he said seemed to work, and for the time being, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

However, it quickly became clear that, sooner or later—and probably sooner—our boarders were going to take their horses elsewhere. And their kids were going to go elsewhere for lessons as well. Which would mean the farm would go broke, and we'd have to move. And … well, I couldn't bear thinking about the rest.

By Thursday, the first of the riders who didn't own their own horses began leaving. And Friday some of the owners came to collect their horses, including Patti and her dad, and she didn't even come over to say good-bye. My standing at the end of Agora's corridor in my quarantine suit, arms folded, mask on, might have had something to do with that, but she could have waved.

As far as the rest of them, well, as Mom said, “Some have been kind enough to let us know,” meaning they'd phoned before showing up to get their horses or their tack. Others simply never showed up again. Like Maddi and her mom, who just sent someone else for their horse and stuff.

We were down ten riders and five horses by Friday evening, not counting our own.

Through the weekend, we waved good-bye to about half of the other riders. Worried about the remaining horses not getting ridden enough, Martha made a schedule, and Mom and I took turns on solo trail rides. We couldn't go together. Someone had to guard Kai. Someone besides Robbie, that is. He spent hours in Agora's stall, playing simple games with Kai, reading to him, sometimes just sitting there with his arm around Kai's neck, teaching him new words like
brother
,
funny bone
,
carrots
, and
rain
.

*   *   *

When we took the horses on the trail, they seemed more angry than upset, and startled at the smallest things. Bor almost unseated me, and in return, I was rough on his mouth, sawing with the reins, something I never did with him. Hera was so skittish, I had to turn her around and walk her home, letting her run free for about an hour in the paddock before conning her to go back into the barn, not with just one but two apples and a carrot, plus sugar as a sweetener.

Even I understood we couldn't go on like this.

I caught Mom staring at herself in the hallway mirror, her right pointer finger touching the dark circles under her eyes. When I tried to put my arms around her, she shrugged me off. She held whispered conversations over the phone with Dr. Herks.

After three days of this, we all got snarky with one another, saying things we didn't mean. I called Mom selfish, which she certainly wasn't. Martha snapped out one-liners as if she was shooting at moving targets. Mom told her to shut up and shape up, which worked for about an hour, and then Martha was at it again.

Robbie, normally the sunniest of us all, would cry and slam doors whenever he had to leave Kai. One door caught his wheelchair at a bad angle and tipped him over, which brought on even more tears and a trip to the doctor's.

With Mom and Robbie at the doctor's, I said something about being overprotective of him to Martha, who called me “a pony princess with neither the grace to be a princess nor the brains to be a pony.” I ran out of the barn rather than cry in front of her.

Martha found me an hour later in Agora's stall, dressed in the quarantine suit but without the mask, and apologized in her strange way.

“You know,” she said, squinting at me, “you do have some grace, Ari. And I bet you're just about as smart as a pony, especially in school. Just don't be a smart aleck, that's all.”

We nodded at each other, but there was little warmth in it.

Or forgiveness.

*   *   *

Martha and I still had to work together, since we shared most of the barn chores. Now that we had fewer horses and riders, those chores were lightened considerably.

Robbie did what he could, though honestly, he was in the way most of the time and cranky when any of us began to push him back to the house.

“My brother, my turn,” he'd protest, his face pinched and unhappy. I think it was more than that. He'd never had a friend before—except me—and he was possessive of that friendship in a fierce way.

One time he even turned in his chair as I was wheeling him out of the stall, reaching one of his shortened arms toward Kai. And Kai wailed back, trotting to the door to call out, “Robbie, come back. Now!”

I tried to argue Robbie out of his temper and his sadness, but Martha was tougher, giving him a stern warning. “If someone hears you whining, Squinch, the game's up.”

“What game?”

“The quarantine game, kiddo. There are two little boys in the stall. Something won't add up.”

After that, all she had to say if he got even slightly cranky was “game's up, kiddo,” and he'd stop fussing.

Unfortunately, that never worked for me.

Meanwhile, Mom had become curiously quiet, almost sleepwalking through the day. She hardly talked to anyone, unless she was asked a direct question. Her eyes had raccoon circles under them, and she looked like she was losing weight. I worried about her. But I didn't know what to do, and I sure didn't want to get shrugged off again.

*   *   *

On the Friday morning of the third week, I found Mom fast asleep in Kai's stall, his head cradled in the crook of her arm. If I squinted my eyes and didn't focus on the rest of him, he looked completely human. Mom had covered up the boy half of him with one of Robbie's old baby blankets.

“Mom,” I said, into her ear so as not to disturb Kai. It reminded me of happier times, when I would wander into the room where she and Dad slept, and I'd crawl in on her side. Waking Dad was out of the question. He stayed out very late at night playing in rock clubs. Mom used to say that not even the atom bomb would get him up.

Mom looked up, her eyes muzzy with sleep. Then she smiled. I remembered that smile from when she first came home from the hospital with Robbie.

Before Dad left.

“Were you here all night?” I asked.

“Protection,” she said, “just in case.” Then she glanced at her watch. “Oh my goodness. Look at the time. Go get Martha up.”

But Martha was already at the door, saying, “I told you she needed to know.”

“Needed to know what?”

“Needed to know that you've got an early dentist appointment,” Mom said, standing carefully and brushing the straw off her clothes. “Wanted to get it in before anyone comes for a horse. So, go grab something from the pantry for breakfast and make sure Robbie is up—”

“Why didn't you
tell
me?” I demanded. We both knew I wasn't talking about the dentist but about her sleeping all night in the stall. “What if Robbie had an emergency and I couldn't find you? What if…” I stopped for a second, then plowed on. “What if
I
had an emergency?”

“You never do,” she said gently. “And if you did, you'd solve it yourself. You never let me in.”

“Still…”

“I just forgot,” she said, blushing. She wasn't someone who lied easily. It made hiding Kai extra hard on her.

“I'll drive her,” Martha said. “And do some grocery shopping while she's getting checked out. We're low on everything. I checked your pantry and fridge.”

BOOK: Centaur Rising
4.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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