Authors: Elana K. Arnold
Also by Elana K. Arnold
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 © 2013 by Elana K. Arnold
Cover photograph copyright © 2013 by Illina Simeonova/Trevillion Images
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Arnold, Elana K.
Splendor / Elana K. Arnold. — First edition.
Sequel to: Sacred.
Summary: “Continues the story of Scarlett and Will, two teenagers madly in love with each other, but now separated by distance and goals that threaten their forever love”— Provided by publisher.
ISBN 978-0-385-74213-9 (hc) — ISBN 978-0-307-97415-0 (ebook) — ISBN 978-0-375-99043-4 (glb) [1. Love—Fiction. 2. Family problems—Fiction. 3. Best friends—Fiction. 4. Friendship—Fiction. 5. Horses—Fiction. 6. Santa Catalina Island (Calif.)—Fiction.] I. Title.
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For my siblings—
Sasha, Zak, and Mischa
And for Shayna,
wherever you are
All around him was darkness, accompanied by a rhythmic pulse: da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. He was safe, and warm, and he knew the beat was forever and always. Sometimes, the beat got faster; and sometimes, for long stretches when the world around him lay still, it softened and subtly slowed. He loved the beat, as he loved the warmth and wetness that cradled him.
But there was something else—an awareness, a knowing of something other—a pull. When this sensation overwhelmed him, the pulse pounded fiercely, each beat tripping over the one before. Something was happening in the world outside his, but after a time the beat settled and slowed, settled and slowed, back to its steady rhythm.
The pulling went away, then; the world around him had fixed the problem. He relaxed in the warmth and the rhythm and rolled contentedly over and over again.
had Delilah secured in the washracks. Alice was in the office, getting ready for the procedure, so I had a moment alone with my mare.
“You’re such a pretty girl,” I said, stroking her red mane. I fed her lumps of alfalfa and molasses from a bucket just out of her reach. Delilah was relaxed, absolutely unaware that mere steps away, Alice was preparing to change her life.
It happens like that, more often than not. Sure, sometimes you get to make the big decisions that take you in new directions, like whether or not to go to college, or to go all the way with your boyfriend…but life doesn’t always give you the choice.
Sometimes a more powerful force steps in. God? Fate? Karma? Whatever you call it, it can kick your ass, and unexpectedly. Like when my brother Ronny died just after I turned sixteen—a grade 6 cerebral aneurysm in the middle of a soccer game at UCLA, where he was a freshman. I hadn’t seen that coming. I’m pretty sure Ronny didn’t, either.
Or last summer, just about a year back from this day, when I’d ridden my mare across the heart of Catalina Island and had come around a bend to find Will Cohen stopped dead in the middle of the trail; he’d been waiting for me.
The only thing that’s certain, I thought, is uncertainty. You might as well get used to it. Then maybe, if you’re smart, you can enjoy the ride.
Alice swung through the office door, her eyes focused on a large plastic syringe connected to a long thin tube, coiled now, resting in her palm like a snake.
“You’re sure she’s ready?” I asked. My stomach churned, as if I were doubly anxious since Delilah had no idea what was about to happen. I was starting to second-guess this whole thing now that it seemed too late to back out.
“Absolutely. I palpated her this morning. She’s good to go.”
Alice was in “business” mode now. That was one of my favorite things about her, something I even tried to emulate—her ability to separate emotion from the task at hand.
All through the long winter after my brother’s death, when my mother had disappeared into her bedroom and her depression and her pills, Alice had remained steadfast, giving me a ride each day to the stable from our little town of Avalon, trying to keep an eye on me—noticing when I’d lost too much weight, monitoring the increasing seriousness of my attraction to Will. And though my mother had managed to return to the land of the living, it seemed I still couldn’t count on her for much. For all intents and purposes, Alice was the best mother I had.
Which made it all the more strange to watch when, after handing me the tubing and syringe, she pulled a long rubber glove over her hand and up the length of her arm in preparation for getting my mare pregnant.
It was hot on the island. We had entered July, and at midday the sun felt especially intense. Not a drop of rain had fallen since early spring. Each step across the stable grounds sent up a puff of dust, and the flowers that lined the driveway were pale and lackluster, though the gardeners watered them dutifully each morning.
I’d done my best to combat the sticky heat by wearing a tank top and cutoffs with the eight-hole Doc Martens I always wore around the stable and pulling my blond hair into a messy bun at the nape of my neck. My frayed straw hat provided some shade from the sun, which I could feel silently frying my exposed shoulders. Our island’s center was its hottest place, and surrounded by the dust and the dirt of the stable, the heat felt almost intolerable.
Alice must have been hot, too, but you’d never have known it from looking at her. Her light brown hair was exactly as long as it always was—chin length—and though she’d tucked it behind her ears, it looked as neat and well maintained as usual, the antithesis of my messy bun. Not a bead of sweat marred her face.
That was just the term for Alice: well maintained. She never seemed to age, and I’d bet she still fit into the same jeans she wore in college. Alice was the only woman I knew who, without fail, wore collared shirts. This one, a crisp pink-and-white striped oxford, was tucked into her jeans. Her dark brown braided leather belt matched her stable boots. Both the belt and the boots looked freshly oiled. I narrowed my eyes and examined her face more closely.
Alice was distracted, winding a long elastic wrap around Delilah’s tail to keep it out of the way. “You like it? Melon berry. I picked it up in town last weekend.”
“Sure,” I answered. “It’s nice.” It was no use explaining to Alice how strange I found it that she’d bother with makeup out here at the stable.
“Okay,” said Alice. “Let’s do this thing.”
Alice had spent the first month of summer visiting stables in the south, with four days dedicated to an equine artificial insemination workshop in Kentucky. There, she’d learned how to impregnate mares with shipped, frozen (and then defrosted of course) stallion semen. After she’d returned to the island, the two of us pored over various stallion websites, debating each stud’s strengths and weaknesses as a potential father for Delilah’s future foal. We oohed and aahed over the video clips of the stallions in action: one leaping cleanly over a fence; another, his well-muscled neck tucked in the classic dressage pose, flinging out his legs in an extended trot. We eyed their musculature, the gleam of their coats, the thickness of their legs and haunches. Finally we’d settled on a nine-year-old stallion from Georgia named Flame, in part because his red coat, combined with Delilah’s, seemed the best bet for producing a like-colored foal. And his stats were terrific: just over sixteen hands high, impressive in both dressage and cross-country competitions, clean, pure bloodlines.
So today I’d be helping Alice insert Flame’s semen into my mare. When I had explained how all this would work to my best friend, Lily, she’d wrinkled her nose distastefully. “So, the poor horse has to get all fat and pregnant without any of the fun stuff?”
Leave it to Lily to phrase it like that. “We don’t really have a choice,” I told her. “Delilah’s related to all the stallions on the island, and anyway, I think live cover is way too dangerous for the mare.”
I blushed a little explaining it. “You know…the breeding process. Stallions can be pretty aggressive…mares get hurt…even the handlers can get seriously injured.”
“Whoa. Back up. Handlers?”
“Usually two. One person holds the mare, another controls the stallion.”
“I don’t get it. Why don’t you let them go at it in a field or something?”
“That’s just not how it’s done.”
“I’ve heard some pretty weird stuff, Scar. But frozen stallion semen? What does Will think?”
She could tell from the set of my mouth that the conversation was over, much to her amusement. Will, too, was one part amused by the situation, one part grossed out—a lot like Lily. But mostly he was distracted. And even though there was still nearly a month before he left the island for Yale, I could feel him beginning to move away already.
We had promised each other that we would focus on what we had—these last days before he left—without dwelling on the future. This included not having “the talk” about whether we expected to remain exclusive while apart.
So though our time together still felt magical, it was tinged with unspoken tension. All the talk in the world about staying in the present couldn’t keep my mind from straying, sometimes even while Will held me in his arms, to the day he would sail away.
But this moment in the stable yard had nothing to do with Will, or Lily either, who had left Catalina with her family for their annual vacation, though they’d be returning early this year, in August instead of September. They’d headed to the Netherlands to explore Lily’s dad’s ancestral roots. Last summer, I’d been too numbed by my brother’s death to really miss Lily; this summer, most of my energy was focused on trying not to notice that the days continued to pass, bringing us closer to fall.
Again, with the deliberateness I’d grown so good at, I pushed the thought of Will to the side—not entirely out of my mind, but far enough away that I could focus on the task at hand. Passing Alice the syringe and tubing, I grasped Delilah’s tail, pulling it up and away from her rump.
With her gloved hand, Alice dipped a sponge in a bucket of soapy water and lathered Delilah’s vagina. The mare shied a little to the side, so I patted her and made soothing noises. Her ears rotated back toward the sound of my voice, trusting me, and she settled.
I watched as Alice took the end of the tubing and gently inserted it inside Delilah. She pushed her arm in farther than I had thought possible, and then, once her arm had disappeared up past the elbow, she depressed the syringe.
The white liquid that would—we hoped—find Delilah’s egg and create a foal traveled from the syringe down the clear tubing, disappearing inside my mare.
In biology class my freshman year, we’d seen a video about pregnancy and birth. We all knew that though the movie was shown under the premise of being educational, it was actually meant to terrify us.
I hadn’t been terrified; I was fascinated. The voice that narrated the “journey of the sperm”—that was really what they called it—went on and on about how the sperm raced fiercely toward the prize, competing to be the first to reach the egg and burrow into its core, claiming her for its own.
That wasn’t how it looked to me. The grainy, black-and-white video seemed to tell a different story than the man who narrated it wanted us to believe. The sperm, like tiny crooked tadpoles, seemed aimless, lost…bumping into the walls of the birth canal, some even swimming in the wrong direction entirely. And when they arrived at the egg, as giant as a world to their tiny tailed bodies, it seemed that many begged in unison to be let in, and the egg selected which one she would grant entrance. Still, the narrator’s booming masculine voice insisted that the victorious sperm had conquered in a “fiercely contested battle.”
Delilah’s whole procedure took no more than a few minutes, and then Alice withdrew her arm, turning the glove inside out as she pulled it off.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“That’s it,” Alice answered. “Easy peasy.”
“Lemon squeezy,” I murmured, releasing Delilah’s tail and feeding her another chunk of A&M.
I should have felt excited by the possibility of it all. A foal…in eleven months, if everything went according to plan. And tonight I had a date with Will. But as I walked Delilah back to her stall, I felt heavy, weighed down, as if carrying a burden of my own.
Maybe it was the heat.
My dad’s old Volvo wagon pulled into the stable yard just as I was fastening Delilah’s stall door. I watched him emerge from behind the wheel, straightening slowly and rubbing the small of his back. His eyes scanned the stable yard. When he caught sight of me, his hand shot up in a wave.
“Hey, Dad,” I called. “I’ll just be a minute.”
I jogged back over to the crossties to retrieve the bucket of A&M, which I stowed in the tack room. I hung my straw hat on a hook near my saddle, and pulled my hair out of its elastic as I headed toward the car.
Alice was standing next to him. Their heads were bowed toward each other’s, and I slowed my approach, suddenly feeling that they hadn’t expected me to show up so fast. They were talking about something serious, I could tell from the incline of their heads. I would have bet money that they were talking about my mom.
But when they heard me coming, of course they stopped and switched the topic to something innocuous. “So,” Alice said, “I’ll be by tomorrow to help turn over the rooms.”
“You don’t have to do that, Alice,” Dad protested, but I knew him well enough to see that he was grateful for the offer. “Scarlett and I can probably handle it.”
“You have a full house this weekend, don’t you?”
Dad nodded. “And it’s a good thing, too. We need the money.”
My family owned a bed-and-breakfast; last year, we’d missed the high season entirely in the aftermath of Ronny’s death, so it was particularly important to keep our guests happy this summer.
“I’ll come by,” Alice insisted. “Just for a few hours, anyway, in the morning. I’m sure you could use the help with breakfast.”