Authors: James Patterson
GUS WAS STILL SLEEPING
when Maggie opened her eyes the next morning. Still on his back. Snoring slightly. She looked over at him and thought: Maybe what happened between them had been inevitable, had been happening for a long time without either of them acknowledging the depth of the feelings they had for each other. Until now.
Then she felt herself smiling as she suddenly remembered one of Becky’s favorite books, one that Maggie used to read to her before they’d started reading it together.
Oh, the places you’ll go.
She hadn’t come here thinking she and Gus would sleep together. But after leaving the Trophy Room she just couldn’t bear the thought of going back to the empty house, Tyler’s words like some bad song she couldn’t get out of her head. When she was inside the house, Gus had asked if she wanted a drink. She’d told him white wine would be just fine. He’d told her that her options were beer or whiskey. She’d said whiskey. He’d poured them both a glass. She had told him about Tyler showing up at the bar and what he’d said to her. Gus had responded that he wasn’t worth the time or trouble, they already knew what kind of weasel he was, they didn’t need more proof.
Then they had both been quiet, staring at each other until Maggie had gotten up from his couch and walked over to him and kissed him. Had gotten her arms around him and then they were kissing again.
When she’d pulled back, he’d said, “You sure about this?”
“Hell, no,” she’d said.
He had always been great looking and, she’d always thought, sexy as hell. He still was. When he was in his bed, on his back, head on the pillows, he’d turned so that their faces were nearly touching.
“Don’t worry,” he’d said. “Nobody’s broken me yet.”
“Stop talking now,” she’d said.
They both did.
WHEN HE WAS FINALLY AWAKE,
she told him her plan, what she planned to do this week, and why.
“You okay with it?” she said.
“Ballplayers go down to the minor leagues all the time to get themselves straightened out, no reason why riders can’t do the same,” he said. “I did it myself once or twice. Helps you remember shit you forget when you’re going good.”
“I just need to get around,” she said.
Now, late Wednesday afternoon, she was trying to do just that. She felt as if she’d traveled back in time to pony camp as she prepared for an event at Ring 9, Level 1 jumps, just over three feet. She was as far away from the International Ring as she’d ever been and close to being all the way off the property. But it had to be done, she was more certain of that than ever.
One round, a speed class, nothing more. The only other top riders anywhere near Ring 9 were on their way to their barns across the way, or to the parking lot. Most of the riders had entered her class to try out young horses.
She hadn’t even told Daniel what she planned to do until the previous afternoon. Now they were talking it over again as they finished the course walk.
“I really should have thought of this myself,” he said.
“Can’t think of everything.”
“It’s still the right thing to do.”
“Better be,” she said, pacing off the distance to the final jump.
There were other familiar trainers in the ring. Occasionally she had to raise her voice to be heard over the sound of the tractor dragging a nearby practice ring, and all the golf carts racing past them, like they were the ones in a speed class.
They had finished dragging the practice ring. Seamus was there with Coronado, having walked him over from Gus’s barn. Seamus helped Maggie up and then she was doing some practice jumping before they got to her place in the order. Doing what Daniel had told her to do today. Riding her horse.
When she was at the in-gate, Maggie looked to the other side of Ring 9, the small viewing area over there behind the taco stand. Gus was there, and Becky. Maggie and Becky had been talking the past few days, the way they used to. Maggie had asked her what had melted the ice. Becky had grinned and said, “I just can’t watch you suck.”
“Because I’m your mom?” she’d said.
“Because you’re too damn good to suck this badly,” Becky had said.
Maggie was two out. Looked at a scoreboard about half the size of the one in the International Ring and saw that the time allowed was 72 seconds.
Not for me, Maggie thought. All the times in her life when she’d wanted to go fast. Just not today. Today she didn’t care if it looked like she was pulling a carriage up in Central Park if she got around clean.
She did. Two full seconds over the time allowed. Nearly five seconds behind the winner. Not even close to winning the class. And could not have cared less.
Because she’d gone clean.
“I found what I was looking for,” she said to Daniel when she hopped off Coronado herself, not waiting for Seamus, and was on her way over to Becky and Caroline and Gus Bennett.
“You just needed to slow things down,” he said.
“Well, I sure did that,” she said.
“You know you sound like Becky, right?”
“Don’t tell her I said this,” Maggie told him, “but maybe I need to be a little more like my daughter.”
“In what way?”
“Attitude,” she said.
“Ask her,” he said. “I’m sure she’d be happy to loan you some.”
Maggie smiled then. It was not something she had done lately, especially when leaving the ring.
“I got my groove back,” she said.
DANIEL MADE THE SHORT WALK
with Coronado to their barn, the shortest walk he had ever made there after a class. Thinking as he did what a crazy sport this was, how complicated the act of riding a horse and jumping it could be, losing making Maggie feel as good about herself as she had in weeks.
It wasn’t how much she had wanted to go clean today. She had
to go clean, even over what looked like baby jumps. Needed to get around without putting a rail on the ground. She didn’t care how low the bar had been set. In all ways. She didn’t care about the level of competition. Daniel, being from Mexico, was a huge soccer fan. Football, they called it in his country. There were three tiers of football in the Mexican league. Maggie had to feel today as if she had competed in Liga Premier. The lowest tier.
But she had done what she needed to do. What she had set out to do. Just as Daniel’s sports psychology books explained, process over result. And this: sometimes doing more is accomplished by caring less. Really today she had only been competing against herself, not the clock.
When he had Coronado back in his stall, Seamus having fed him a carrot before washing and cooling the horse down, Daniel took the long walk back to the front entrance of the show grounds to avoid the traffic crawling out to Pierson Road after the last event of the day. But he had driven Maggie over here and used her VIP pass to park so that she would have a much shorter walk to the tent for lunch with Caroline.
Even on a weekday, cars were backed up to make the left out to Pierson.
Daniel sighed as he saw that Steve Gorton was in one of the cars, an obviously expensive convertible.
Gorton pulled over to the side, into a handicapped space, allowing the cars behind him to pass.
He waved Daniel over.
“Hey,” Gorton said. “Come here.”
As if Daniel were a parking attendant.
Daniel stopped. Technically, though he and Gorton had exchanged barely more than a few sentences, Daniel knew he worked for him. As mean and obnoxious as he was, Gorton was still the majority owner of Maggie’s horse.
In that way, she worked for him, too. Daniel had to show respect even if he did not feel respect.
Gorton got out of the car, leaned against the driver’s-side door, and crossed his arms in front of him.
“So now she loses to losers?” he said.
Maggie had made it around the course in 74 seconds. Two seconds over the time allowed. Two time faults. But she had gone clean. Daniel tried to explain the reasoning to Gorton.
“Today’s round was really just a glorified workout,” he said finally.
“Were they keeping score?” Gorton said.
“Were they keeping
?” Gorton said.
“There were fans at that ring in East Cupcake, right?”
“I saw you there,” Daniel said. “You know some people were watching.”
“Then it wasn’t a workout,” Gorton said.
“She rode well,” Daniel said. “That is the most important thing.”
“She rode like crap,” Gorton said.
“I tried to explain,” Daniel said patiently. “She wasn’t here to go fast.”
You’d know that if you knew anything about the sport.
“Stop making excuses for her!” Gorton said. “I know what I saw.”
Daniel did not want to be here, trapped into talking with this man.
“She was nearly five seconds slower than the goddamn winner!” Gorton said.
“She rode today the way she needed to ride,” Daniel said, stubbornly refusing to be lectured by someone who wouldn’t know how to saddle a horse if his miserable rich-man life depended on it.
Feeling as if he were talking to a child.
“You know as well as I do,” Gorton said, “the way the bitch is dropping like a rock in the rankings.”
Daniel took a deep breath, then another, trying to calm himself.
Could not stop what came out of his mouth next.
“She deserves more respect than your name-calling, Mr. Gorton,” he said. “She is a great rider still. And a better person.”
“Says who?” he said.
I have to get out of here before I say something that gets me fired.
“We’re all supposed to be on the same team,” Daniel said, “that is all I am trying to say to you. And please lower your voice.”
“She’s running out of time, and I’m running out of patience,” Gorton said. “For a month, she’s ridden no better than average. Everybody can see it. Maybe the only one who won’t admit it is you,
Daniel felt the heat rise up in him, as if a switch had been thrown, feeling it in his face, the back of his neck, everywhere. Wondering if Gorton could see it.
It took all of his will not to respond.
“Got anything else to say?” Gorton said.
You have no idea.
Daniel forced himself not to challenge this man, not to take irreversible action. But as much as he wanted to smash a fist into the man’s face, he knew a rash move could ruin everything.
So he kept breathing slowly. Telling himself he was not a violent man. No matter how much he felt like one now.
“Didn’t think so,” Gorton said, and got back into his fancy car, putting it in gear and cranking up the music.
Daniel walked over to his own car and started the engine, turned on the air-conditioning as high as it would go and just sat there for a few moments, forehead pressed against the steering wheel. The heat drained out of him. He felt his whole body unclenching, releasing the fierce restraint that had kept him from hitting the last man in the world he could afford to hit.
THREE EVENTS REMAINED
that would shape the United States Olympic team. One was playing out in front of me at the Rolex Ring, Kentucky Invitational.
Mom was one rider out, Tyler Cullen set to go into the ring ahead of her on Galahad. Then Eric Glynn and Matthew Killeen.
I’d gotten a second in the three-star event back in Wellington. Mom had gotten a fourth and ridden well, ultimately losing in the jump-off by a second and a half. More important, it moved her back up into fourth place in the Olympic rankings. I was third.
Even people who didn’t follow show jumping had started to take notice of what Mom and I were trying to do, make the same Olympic team. The Lexington newspaper ran a feature when we’d arrived in town, the writer calling us the Kris and Kim Kardashian of our sport.
“Fake news,” Grandmother said that morning at breakfast. “Neither one of you has grown up yet.”
Tyler went clean in the jump-off, a beautiful round, even I had to admit, a time of 35.6. Mom was better with 34.8. Three riders left. I was one of them. I was happy that Mom had done well. No BS. I honestly was. I still wanted to beat her. I wanted like hell to win.
“Use your head today,” Gus said. “And go out there and kick some ass.”
It was time. Nobody was beating Sky and me today.
I looked around the ring from the in-gate and realized all over again how much I loved this.
The moment. Nobody else mattered now. Not Mom and me or Daniel and me. Not Grandmother or Gus. Not even Steve Gorton. None of the drama we’d all had outside the ring. Not even everything that was on the line today.
Just Sky and me.
I heard the announcer call my name, then Sky’s. Knowing we might be a little more than a half minute from walking away with one of the biggest weekends of the year. By now, after the way things had gone for us lately, it wouldn’t shock anyone if we did. Certainly not me.
Didn’t think Coronado was the best horse now. I thought mine was.
The buzzer sounded. Everything got quiet before what Gus liked to call bat-out-of-hell time. I took one last look around. What I was feeling right now, it was why riders did this, young or old. Man or woman. Million-dollar ride. Or a horse your dad gave you.
The toughest combination came early, a tight one, hardly any time to react after the first jump. Sky treated it all like a speed bump, clearing both jumps so easily it was like they stood half their actual height. Like the ones Mom had jumped at Ring 9 that day.
Just like that we were into it. Big-time. Feeling a strong wind at my back, even though there was no breeze to speak of.
We took a killer inside turn on the rollback two jumps later. No choice but to go inside if I was here to win. And I sure as shit wasn’t here to finish second.
How could anybody have gone faster than this?
Three jumps to the finish. Clock on the huge Rolex scoreboard behind me. But I didn’t need a clock. I knew.
Next jump clean.
Then the next.
I told myself not to leave anything to chance.
Bat out of hell.
I was going for it all now, deciding, on the fly, to shorten the distance before the last jump, taking out a stride like I had in the middle of the round, with no problem. Sky had done everything I asked. Sometimes the moments of the day all fell into place between horse and rider.
It was at the last second, very last, I knew I’d asked too much.
She didn’t have the length.
Was too far away.