Authors: Laurie Halse Anderson
Horses were always something that I admired from a distance. To be honest, they scared me. They were so big and had big teeth and big hooves, and … yes, I know it sounds silly, but I always figured horses were out to get me.
I had a lot to learn.
I started with a horse barn near my house where the owners were very patient and kind to me; just like they would be with a skittish horse. I learned how to approach a horse, how to make friends, and, eventually, how to ride. It wasn’t scary at all. It was like flying.
In this book, David already knows about horses, but he has a lot to learn about responsibility. That’s something that most of us struggle with while we’re growing up. If you are going to work with animals, you have to be responsible and kind and willing to try new things. It is always worth the effort.
Laurie Halse Anderson
Fight for Life
Thanks to Kimberley Michels, D.V.M., and Judith Tamas, D.V.M. Special thanks to Lynn Willoughby and Glen Michalak of the Delaware Valley College Equestrian Center of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, who run an amazing barn.
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in the United States of America by Pleasant Company Publications, 2000
Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2007
6 7 8 9 10
Copyright © Laurie Halse Anderson, 2000, 2008
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For my husband, Greg, who makes me laugh
ne waiting room—totally swept,” I announce, parking the broom against the wall of the clinic. “Can we go now?”
Brenna Lake turns around at the front door. “Duh, no, David. We can’t go until Mr. Quinn calls.” She sprays window cleaner on the messy nose prints left by a Saint Bernard. “Keep sweeping,” she orders. “I can see dog hair everywhere.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask. “I did a perfect job.”
“Yeah, right,” Brenna says.
We’re on cleaning duty today at Dr. Mac’s Place, the veterinary clinic across the street from my house. I always knew I’d end up working here. I’m close by, I’m great with animals, and people love me. It took a few years of pestering Dr. Mac, the vet, but she finally caved in.
There are five volunteers: Brenna, Zoe, Sunita, Maggie, and me. Dr. Mac—also known as Dr. J.J. MacKenzie, Maggie and Zoe’s grandmother—brought us together a couple of months ago. The clinic was overrun with sick puppies, and she was desperate. We’ve been regulars ever since.
We help her with all kinds of cases—real emergency room stuff like surgery and day-to-day things like checkups and shots. The medical details are cool, but sweeping floors is the pits. I try not to clean too much. It’s bad for my health.
A few more minutes and we are out of here. Today we’re taking a road trip.
Brenna sprays the next pane of glass. “I don’t know why you’re so excited. All we’re going to do at Quinn’s Stables is shovel manure and bounce along on old horses. What’s the big deal?”
What’s the big deal
?” I stare at her. Did she really say that? “We’re going to be with horses.
That’s the big deal! We’re going to ride, and groom, and—and—everything!”
My broom falls to the floor with a bang, and Sunita looks up from the receptionist’s desk. She’s been entering addresses into Dr. Mac’s computer. Sunita is the quietest of all of us. She’s probably the smartest, too.
“Brenna’s teasing you, David,” Sunita says. “I think she’s as excited as you are.”
“Am not,” Brenna answers.
“How can you not be excited about riding a horse?” I ask.
“Look, I’ve ridden before,” Brenna says, rubbing the window harder. “It was the most boring half hour of my life.”
Brenna is one of those natural kind of girls: old jeans, work boots, save the whales, that kind of stuff. She was the only one who wasn’t totally psyched when Dr. Mac told us we’d be helping out at Quinn’s Stables for a few weeks. I’ll fix that.
“You had a slowpoke, that was the problem,” I tell her. “You need a good horse. Mr. Quinn has tons of them. But you can’t ride the quarter horse, the one he’s picking up in Maryland today. He’s all mine.”
“The horse cost a quarter?” Brenna teases.
“No—it’s a kind of breed. Quarter horses are strong and fast. You’ve probably seen them on TV. They use them in rodeos for roping and barrel racing. Has to be a smart horse to do that.”
“Mr. Quinn won’t let you ride a fast, expensive horse,” Brenna scoffs. “Not with your history.”
“What history?” Sunita asks.
“Didn’t you hear what he did?” Brenna puts down the window cleaner and paper towels. “It was in the newspaper last year. David was riding with a bunch of people at Quinn’s Stables and took off from the group. It took half the police force to find him.”
“That was you?” Sunita asks. “No—even you wouldn’t do something like that.”
It was a little more complicated than Brenna makes it sound. It happened at the end of fourth grade. Fourth grade stank. I wish I could sweep up the whole year and throw it in the trash. My dad left when I was in fourth grade.
Dad was the one who taught me how to ride. He went to high school with Mr. Quinn, and they had been good friends ever since. Dad had me up on a horse before I learned to walk. Riding was our thing to do together.
I had been thinking about Dad during that famous ride, the one that got me in trouble. He and Mom had separated a few months earlier. He kept promising to visit me, but he hardly ever made it. He promised lots of things that never happened.
Mom was the one who took me to Quinn’s that day. She knew how bummed out I was. The split was hard on her, too. I wasn’t planning on getting in trouble. I must have lost track of what I was doing. I was just thinking about all the things I wanted to tell Dad, and the next thing I knew, my group had vanished. It really wasn’t my fault that they left me behind like that. I tried a couple of shortcuts, but they didn’t work like I thought they would. We ended up at the mall, of all places. I couldn’t do anything right that day.
When Mr. Quinn arrived with the police, he didn’t want to hear my side of the story. I should have paid attention, blah, blah. I didn’t listen, blah, blah. I wasn’t responsible, blah, blah, blah. And that was the end of horse riding for David Hutchinson.
Dr. Mac said the magic words, and Mr. Quinn is giving me another chance.
I really want to make a good impression. The stable is shorthanded because it’s final exam time at the high school. This is my chance. If Mr. Quinn sees how hard I can work, he might let me ride there again. That would rock.
Brenna starts on the window next to the front door. “If you don’t sweep the floor properly, the only thing you’ll be riding is that broom.”
“That’s so funny, I forgot to laugh.”
I sweep the fur balls behind the potted plant. No one will see them there.
“Is it safe to come out?” a voice calls from the kitchen.
Zoe peeks through the door that connects the clinic to Dr. Mac’s house. “Is that rat gone?” she asks.
Zoe’s a little high-strung, but she’s cool. She’s hanging here for a while so her mom can move to Hollywood. Her parents are divorced, and she never sees her dad. I can relate to that. Zoe was raised in New York City—excuse me, Manhattan—and living here has been something of a shock for her. Like when a ferret came in earlier, she freaked.
“A ferret is not a rat. It’s not even a rodent,”
Sunita explains with a sigh. “Ferrets are related to weasels. Relax, Zoe.”
“It has little beady eyes,” Zoe says. “I hate those.” She eases into the room and closes the door behind her. “Your mom called again, David. That’s the fourth time. You really should call her back.”
“She probably wants me to take out the trash,” I say. “I’ll call her later. Hey, Zoe, what do you get when you cross a horse with the house next door?”
She rolls her eyes. “I don’t know, David, what?”
“How funny. Did you think that up by yourself?”
The door to the Doolittle examination room swings open.
“The rat! Yikes!” Zoe dashes back into the house just as her cousin Maggie walks out. Close behind Maggie is a college-age guy named Erik holding Rascal-the-ferret’s carry cage. Dr. Mac brings up the rear and motions for the owner to go to the receptionist’s desk.
“How’s Rascal?” I ask.
“He’ll make it,” Dr. Mac answers. “No broken bones. No internal bleeding. He is one frightened ferret, though. That was quite a fall he took. It’s a good thing he landed on a hammock.”
Maggie peeks in the cage. “Don’t be such a knucklehead,” she cautions the ferret. “Next time you’ll really get hurt.”
“He went right through the screen window,” Erik explains as he writes out a check. “He just flew. Sometimes I think he has more energy than brains. What am I supposed to do—keep the windows closed all the time?”
Dr. Mac takes the check from him and hands him a brochure.
“This will give you some tips on how to make your apartment safer. Make sure there are no openings around the pipes under your sink, or he could squeeze in and get trapped in the wall. Don’t let him chew on rubber toys, because rubber bits can block his intestines. And he needs a collar with an identification tag and bell, too. That way you won’t accidentally step on him.”
“Sounds like work,” Erik says as he folds the brochure and sticks it in his pocket.
“It’s worth it,” Dr. Mac assures him.
As Rascal and Erik walk out the door, Dr. Mac
glances at the clock. It’s almost four. “Where’s Lucas? It’s a long drive to Maryland and back, but knowing him, he started before dawn.”