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Authors: Becky Citra

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BOOK: The Way Home
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Chapter Six

“This is Tory,” said Julia. “She's the foster kid I told you about. She's staying with us for the summer.”

Deanna Matheson stared at Tory, her mouth hanging open. When they had arrived at the Mathesons' farm, Tory had followed Julia out to the barn, where they found Deanna leaning over a stall door and talking to a tall black horse. Deanna had shrieked when she saw Julia. Now they had their arms wrapped around each other.

“What grade are you going into?” asked Deanna.

“Four,” said Tory.

“Liar! said Julia.

Tory's cheeks flamed. Julia should mind her own business.

“You don't look old enough for fourth grade,” said Deanna bluntly.

“Well, I am.” That part was true. Tory was nine and she was
supposed
to be going into grade four.

“She can hardly read, so she has to do grade three over again,” said Julia.

“Shut up,” muttered Tory.

After that, Deanna lost interest in Tory. Tory sat on a hay bale and half-listened while the girls talked about Julia's horse, Barnabas, and Deanna's horse, the black one in the stall, called Prince. They made plans to ride as soon as Barnabas settled down. Oliver had put all their horses in one big field and Tory could hear them whinnying and galloping around.

“I was just about to groom Prince,” said Deanna. “I'm trying to get him in perfect condition for next week's show.”

“I'll help,” said Julia quickly. “You stay here, Tory.”

Tory shrugged.

“She's afraid of real horses,” said Julia. “She'll only ride Lucky, that old pony.”

“I'm not afraid!” said Tory hotly. She stood up.

“Okay then, you can brush Prince's tail.” Julia glanced sideways at Deanna and grinned.

Tory tried to swallow her fear while Deanna brought the big horse out of his stall and fastened him in crossties. Deanna gave her a stiff plastic currycomb. Tory eyed Prince warily. He seemed calm, though his ears flicked back and forth every time one of the horses outside whinnied. She edged up to his hind end and picked up part of his tail.

It wasn't too bad. The comb ran through the hair easily because there were no tangles, and Tory started to relax. Julia was brushing Prince's neck and Deanna was rummaging around in a plastic bin, muttering about hoof polish. “Where is Lucky, anyway?” she said over her shoulder.
“I didn't see him.”

“We didn't bring him,” said Julia.

Tory stiffened.

“He wouldn't load in the trailer.” Just for a second, Julia looked worried. “But it's not like he's trapped or anything. Dad opened the gates.” She added coolly, “It's his own fault. You know how dumb he can be.”

A red-hot sliver of anger flashed through Tory. How
dare
Julia say that about Lucky! Without thinking, she hurled the currycomb at Julia's face.

Julia screamed.

For a second, Tory felt immense satisfaction at the smacking sound the comb made. Then she felt frightened by what she had done. There was a red patch on Julia's cheek, and tiny pinpoints of blood.

“I'm telling!” Julia spat out the words and fled from the barn.

“Now you've done it,” said Deanna. She put Prince back in his stall. Then she was gone too.

Tory sank back on the hay bale and waited. She was in major trouble now.

It didn't take Oliver long to come. His face was grim as he towered above her. “I'm disappointed in you.
Very
disappointed. What were you thinking? You could have poked Julia's eye out.”

It would have served her right
, thought Tory. But it was no use telling Oliver that. Everyone always blamed her.

Oliver kept on. “You're nine years old. You should know better.”

Tory wished she could drown out Oliver's words. She hummed inside her head.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

This time, Tory let the hum escape so Oliver heard. His lips tightened in a line. She pressed her lips together too, and hummed louder.

Oliver sighed. “I think you need a timeout.
I want you to go and sit in the truck for an hour.”

Tory didn't care that timeouts were for babies. She
wanted
to sit in the truck. Then she wouldn't have to see nasty Julia or her stupid friend Deanna. Instead, she could think about Lucky.

Cathy came out to the truck and told Tory it was time for supper, but Tory refused to get out. She waited until it was dark before she ventured inside the house. The adults were in the living room, listening to more fire news on the TV. She hesitated in the doorway.

Cathy looked up. “The girls are in Deanna's room. We've put a sleeping bag and a mat in there for you.”

Tory's stomach rumbled, but Cathy said nothing about supper. Then Deanna's mother, Martha, said, “Go into the kitchen and help yourself to a big bowl of cereal, Tory. And a banana if you like.”

It took Tory a few minutes to find everything. As she ate her cornflakes, she decided that Martha was nicer than Cathy. She chewed slowly, imagining the Mathesons as her next foster family. She sighed.

She remembered to rinse her bowl and spoon and then went in search of Deanna's bedroom.

Julia and Deanna were lying on Deanna's double bed, in their pajamas, looking at magazines. Trying not to stare, Tory checked out Julia's cheek. There was still a faint red mark.
Good!

Tory changed into her pajamas in the bathroom. She crawled into her sleeping bag on the floor and closed her eyes tight. She heard Julia whisper something and then Deanna giggled. They were probably talking about her.

Tory scrunched deeper into her sleeping bag.

She fell asleep worrying about Lucky.

Chapter Seven

By early evening, Lucky had drunk most of the water. He had paced around and around the corral hundreds of times. He knew that the gate was open.

He also knew that it was time to go.

As he trotted through the open gate, he had only one thought:
Get away from the smoke!
Something told him to hurry, so he kept trotting through a field of tall brown grass that was so dry and brittle it scratched his legs.

An eagle soared high above him, its white head gleaming. A mouse burrowed into the grass to get out of the way. No one else saw Lucky go by.

At the bottom of the field, he crossed a creek bed that had dried up to a trickle. His hooves churned the last of the water to mud. When he scrambled up the far bank, he found another open gate, this one in the middle of a wire fence. On the other side of the fence was a thick pine and spruce forest. He gave one last lonely whinny, but no one answered him. He trotted through the gate into the forest.

Lucky followed a rough, grassy road with two ruts made by the tires of Oliver's ATV. The road went deep into the forest. Dead grass rustled against his legs; twigs snapped under his hooves.

The road ended in a clearing where Oliver cut up dead trees for firewood. Lucky stood still for a moment, thinking about what to do.

A Great Gray Owl swooped by on muffled wings. A squirrel chattered from the branch of a pine tree. In a small way they were company for Lucky, who felt very alone. He whinnied once, a shrill cry calling desperately to the other horses. When there was no answer, he left the clearing and set off on a narrow deer trail.

Away from the smoke – that was the rule that guided the pony, but the smoke followed him, burning his eyes and making it hard to breathe.

As the night shadows deepened, the trees closed in. The trail was so narrow that branches slapped against his sides and pine needles caught in his mane. He had never been in this forest before. Every one of his senses was alert to danger. His ears were pricked and his nostrils flared. His eyes searched the darkness.

But he was exhausted from his frantic day of racing back and forth in the corral, so he didn't notice the first gray shape that slipped along beside him through the trees. In a few minutes it was joined by another, and then two more.

Four timber wolves – cruising through the forest, empty stomachs grumbling, cranky from the smoke and the heat. Four pairs of golden eyes glowing in the night.

Lucky sensed something now. He broke into an anxious trot.

The wolves separated, two on either side of Lucky. They loped along easily, gliding in and out of the trees, keeping pace. There was no need now to stay hidden. They were hungry, but they were in no hurry. They could go a long way on their lean, strong legs.

Lucky stumbled, tumbling almost onto his knees. He scrabbled upright, his eyes rolling in fear.

Run!

He plunged ahead, the trail lost, his only
thought to escape the wolves.

Run
!

Suddenly he was startled by a newcomer, a young deer that bolted in front of him. It bounded through the trees, terrified, as it picked up the scent of the wolves.

The four timber wolves – their hunger growing – were distracted by the thought of easier prey. They veered after the deer and chased it down the side of a steep gully.

Lucky kept running, his chest tight and his legs aching. He crashed through bushes and dodged trees until his sides heaved and dots of foam flecked his sweat-darkened neck. He ran until he could run no more.

Then he stood, head hanging.

Night closed in around the abandoned pony. He was worn out. He desperately needed water. And he had no idea where he was or where to go.

Chapter Eight

“Don't forget to include Tory,” said Deanna's mother, Martha.

It was morning and Tory was in the kitchen, still finishing her toast. Martha was talking to Julia and Deanna in the living room. She didn't know that Tory could hear.

Tory stopped chewing so she could hear even better.

“We were going to go riding,” said Julia. “There's nothing here that she can ride.”

That made Tory think of Lucky again.
A lump formed in her throat and she put her toast down. She couldn't eat another bite.

“After your ride, then. How about taking a board game out to the deck?”

“I tried playing Monopoly with her at home,” complained Julia. “She picked up the board and tipped it over when she was losing.”


After
you cheated,” Tory muttered under her breath. Julia, who had been the banker, had thought Tory was so stupid that she wouldn't notice when Julia gave her the wrong money. And why did Martha think that Tory wanted to play with Julia and Deanna anyway?

She threw the rest of her toast in the garbage and then stomped outside through the back door. The sky was blue and there wasn't a hint of smoke in the air. It was hard to believe that a forest fire was raging not that far away. She supposed it had something to do with the wind, because Deanna's dad said that a few days ago they had had a lot of smoke.

Everyone was hoping rain would come and put out the fire, but Tory couldn't see one single cloud. And it was hot already, though it was only nine o'clock. The day stretched ahead.

She watched from the back step while Julia and Deanna walked over to the barn in their riding clothes. A black Lab with runny eyes lay down beside her and she patted him gently. Deanna had a tabby cat, too; Tory had found him curled up on the end of her sleeping bag when she woke up. She spotted him now, crouching in the tall grass beside a fence.

Tory wished again that Cathy and Oliver had some pets. Not that it really mattered. The summer would be over soon and she would be leaving. Linda still hadn't told her where she would be going. Sometimes she felt like throwing up when she thought about moving to a new family. Would they like her? Would they want her? Or would they just send her on to some other family?

In a little while Martha came outside. “How would you like to go to town with me?”

There was nothing else to do. “Okay,” said Tory.

Going to Springton with Martha was a lot different from going with Cathy, who always had a list, and hurried from store to store with no time to really look at anything.

Martha let Tory take five minutes deciding what kind of cookies to buy. At the drugstore, Tory looked at all the stuffed animals. At the tack store, she admired the saddles and colored halters and decided which one would look best on Lucky.

Then they went to Dairy Queen and Tory got fries
and
a Blizzard.

As she slurped up her Blizzard, she examined her idea about the Mathesons being her next foster family. Martha liked her, she could tell. And there was plenty of room to bring Lucky. That is, if Oliver and Cathy let her. They probably would. She had heard Oliver complain lots of times that since Julia had outgrown Lucky, they really didn't need him anymore.

Thinking of Lucky made Tory bite down hard on her lip. She decided instead to think about the news that Deanna's father had announced at breakfast. “They're containing the fire. They've got extra fire crews working. They're going to keep it out of the valley.”

“Our beautiful house,” Cathy had cried thankfully. “Maybe we can go home soon.”

Martha had turned to Tory. “That old Lucky will be waiting for you when you get back, Tory. You wait and see.”

In the afternoon, while Julia read, Deanna showed Tory how to play one of her games on the computer. She gave Tory a super-long turn. She was a lot nicer when you got her away from Julia.

By bedtime, Tory had convinced herself that it was going to happen. The Mathesons really would let her come and be their new daughter. The only bad thing would be that Julia would come to visit sometimes, but Tory could pretend to be busy on those days.

Just before she brushed her teeth, she slipped down to the kitchen for a glass of milk. She stopped at the doorway. Cathy and Martha were sitting at the table with mugs of tea.

“I can't imagine why you decided to take a foster child,” said Martha. “Tory seems like such a needy little girl.”

“We mostly did it as a favor,” said Cathy. “Linda Jenson, her social worker, is a friend of mine. And it's just until they can find her a more permanent home.”

“Well,” said Martha, “it's a lot of responsibility, taking on a foster child. You just don't know what kind of problems you're getting into.” She added firmly, “We would
never
take that risk.”

Tears stung Tory's eyes. She crept off to bed.

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