Daring to Dream, p.1Suzanne Weyn
About the Author
Taylor Henry rode bareback across the cornflower-strewn field of tall grass on a glistening Arabian stallion. Clutching the creature’s glossy black mane, she leaned forward, gripping with her knees and thigh muscles, in a smooth rhythm with the ebony horse beneath her.
The last yellow rays of sun streaked the gathering purple-pink of the sky. The golden lines seemed as though they were trying to write her a message. In fact, she was starting to see letters forming. What did they say? She could almost make it out.
“CARE TO SHARE THAT WITH THE REST OF THE CLASS, TAYLOR?”
Taylor was pitched forward over the head of the stallion and landed with a thud in her seat at Pheasant Valley Middle School.
Looking down sharply, she stared at the sketch she’d been so absorbed in drawing. The field of breeze-wafted flowers was there, and so were the sunset and the majestic, racing Arabian. But all their vividness had faded back to number-two pencil gray the moment she’d been abruptly tossed out of the scene.
Looking up at her frowning teacher, she began to twirl her long brown ponytail nervously. “It’s just something I was drawing,” she told Mr. Romano.
Her eighth-grade social studies teacher strode down the aisle toward her. Mr. Romano was probably one of the cooler teachers at Pheasant Valley Middle School, but Taylor knew from experience that daydreamers annoyed him.
Mr. Romano lifted the sketch and quickly examined it. “Not bad,” was his surprisingly mild comment. “Are you a horse enthusiast?”
“You could definitely say that.”
“Is this your horse?” he asked.
Before Taylor could admit that the animal was the horse of her dreams — but only her dreams — a snort of derision erupted from across the classroom. “As if!” Plum Mason scoffed.
Taylor narrowed her eyes in the girl’s direction. Plum ignored her, but the uneasy way she fussed with her sparkling diamond stud earring proved that she’d caught the look. Fluffing her long, curly blonde hair, Plum shifted in her seat. “I mean … a horse costs a lot of money,” she explained sweetly to Mr. Romano. “Even I don’t have one.”
“And if the princess doesn’t have a horse, no one else can have one, either,” taunted a lanky blond boy slumped in his chair, legs sprawled into the aisle.
“Shut up, Jake!” Plum bristled hotly. “You’re an idiot!”
Delighted that he’d ruffled her, Jake Richards grinned. “Poor Plum. Daddy won’t buy her a pony.”
Plum sneered at him. “Loser!”
“Hey! Hey!” Mr. Romano intervened forcefully. “Let’s not be calling names.”
“Well, he is,” Plum mumbled.
The buzzer for the end of last class sounded, and Taylor’s shoulders sagged with relief. Plum and Jake’s fight had gotten her off the hook.
“Your reports are due Monday. The differences between the old and new periods of the ancient Egyptian empire,” Mr. Romano shouted to the departing class. “Typed! Double-spaced!”
He handed Taylor back her sketch. “So? Is this your horse?”
Taylor laughed lightly but with a note of sadness. “I wish it were, but no. We could never afford a horse, especially now that …” She looked away, wishing she could roll back her last three words. It wasn’t something she wanted to talk about.
He waited for her to continue. “Now that what?” he prompted after another moment passed.
“Nothing. It’s just that a horse is way too expensive, is all. Plum was right about that.”
He nodded. “But you like horses?”
“I’m crazy about them,” Taylor confirmed. “All animals, really, but most of all horses. I have horse posters in my room. I read horse books. I even order horse catalogs and go online to their websites just to look at all the cool gear. Kind of weird, I know.”
“And you like to draw them,” Mr. Romano added.
Little red flags marked uh-oh popped up in Taylor’s brain. He was heading the conversation back to what she was in trouble for doing.
Taylor looked away sheepishly and nodded.
“During my class,” he continued.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “Ancient Egypt is very interesting and all, but it just seems like … a really long time ago.”
“So it doesn’t hold your attention?” he inquired.
“Not as much as horses,” she said truthfully.
Mr. Romano stroked his chin. “Okay, here’s your penalty for daydreaming in my class. Horses were introduced to ancient Egypt around 1700 B.C. They were used mostly for chariots by the military. I want an additional two pages about horses in ancient Egypt.”
“Two typed pages?” Taylor squeaked in objection. “That’s a lot.”
He nodded. “Well, maybe it will help you keep your mind on class next time.”
A heavyset boy with short-cropped, white-blond hair stuck his head into the classroom. “Taylor, you’re going to miss the bus!” said Travis Ryan, Taylor’s best friend.
Taylor sat in one of the middle seats of the school bus with a Dover Saddlery catalog on her lap, thumbing through it and talking to Travis, seated beside her. “Look at these dressage coats — and I love the velvet helmets,” she said with wistful longing. “Could you imagine me in one of those outfits?”
She could imagine it: the high white collar, formfitting jacket, and gleaming knee-high black riding boots, her long brown ponytail bundled into a net-covered bun beneath a rounded velvet helmet.
“No, it’s definitely not you,” Travis said, honest to a fault as always. “You’re not the type. Plum Mason is more the type for that stuff.”
“Why?” Taylor demanded, feeling offended for some reason she didn’t fully understand. “Why should she have this stuff and not me?”
Travis shrugged. “I don’t know.” He pulled an X-Men graphic novel from his pack and began to peruse it. “Don’t get all mad about it,” he said, his eyes on the page. “It’s a compliment to you, sort of.”
Taylor wasn’t so sure about that.
Travis looked up. “Hey, I hear Plum and Jake Richards broke up.”
“Where have you been?” Taylor asked. “That’s old news.”
Travis went back to his graphic novel. “You know I don’t pay attention to gossip.”
Taylor did know. She wished she could block out this kind of drama, too. There was way too much of it in the eighth grade in her opinion.
Returning to her catalog, Taylor continued to go through it. She didn’t agree with Travis. The English riding gear was graceful and elegant.
“Whoa!” Travis cried.
“What happened?” Taylor asked.
“Wolverine almost got destroyed!”
“How many of those things do you read a week?” Taylor asked.
“I don’t know. It depends on how many come out that week,” Travis replied.
They sat together, each reading, for the next five minutes until Travis craned his neck over to look at Taylor’s catalog. She was checking out the English-style riding helmets. “Do they have cowgirl hats in there?” Travis asked. She supposed he was suggesting that a cowgirl hat was more her style. And maybe it was.
“Then why do you bother with it?” he questioned.
“The stuff is cool to look at. I’d like to learn it someday.”
“Stick with Western riding,” he advised. “I can’t picture you being all fancy.”
“Mmm, maybe,” she grunted.
Taylor had taken Western-style riding lessons starting when she was ten, down at Westheimer’s barn, a small operation consisting of five box stalls full of scruffy, aged horses. The owner, Ralph Westheimer, a rangy cowboy in his fifties, had taught her the basics of riding. He didn’t usually say much more than “Heels down” or “Back straight” as he stood in the center of the corral and observed her endless circles.
Still, by the time she was twelve, she could walk, jog, lope, and gallop. Well, to be honest, she’d galloped only once, when the bay gelding she’d been on had been spooked by the blowing branches in the woods next to the corral and she’d nearly lost control of him.
Taylor had continued to take lessons at Ralph’s place until the middle of last July. Then her mother had said she needed to stop. The lessons cost too much.
Turning the page to see even more helmets in the section, Taylor studied a photo of a girl who looked about thirteen, her own age. She was wearing one of the helmets and jumping a gorgeous chestnut horse. How graceful and elegant she looked! On Taylor’s list of Things I Really Want to Do Someday was to jump a horse — and you only jumped in English-style riding.
Taylor knew it wouldn’t be hard to find a place to take English riding lessons. Pheasant Valley was most definitely horse country. It was dotted with stables, horse barns, and ranches that boarded horses, gave lessons, and offered trail rides. They ranged from no-frills places such as Westheimer’s to spectacular spreads like the one owned by Mrs. Ross. At the moment, the bus was winding down the incredibly curving road that bordered the lavish Ross River Ranch.
On the right they passed a fenced pasture with a red barn where two brown geldings tranquilly browsed the grass. Closer to the road, a dappled gray mare with a dark gray mane and tail grazed beside her frisky baby, who was black with three white socks. With her fingers pressed longingly on the bus window, Taylor sighed at the calm, majestic strength of the mother and the delicate spiritedness of her long-legged baby. “Aren’t they beautiful?” she remarked.
“I thought you wanted a black horse,” her friend reminded her.
“A black Arabian is my perfect dream horse,” she agreed. She’d fallen in love with the idea ever since reading The Black Stallion in the fifth grade. “But all horses are so gorgeous. I heard that Mrs. Ross rides a Thoroughbred for dressage, and even competes.”
Taylor had never met Mrs. Ross, but she’d seen her gliding regally out of her sporty BMW, a very thin woman in her late fifties or early sixties, black hair pulled back in a sleek bun as if she were a ballerina. Devon Ross was said to be one of the wealthiest women in town, maybe the whole area.
“What’s a Thoroughbred?” Travis asked.
“It’s a very fancy horse breed.”
“What’s dressage?” Travis inquired with an edge in his voice. The suspicion in his tone reminded Taylor of the time in the third grade during a unit on France when he’d asked their teacher, “What is escargot, anyway?” When told it was cooked snails, he’d turned to Taylor and held his nose while he pointed his finger down his throat.
“Dressage is sort of like dancing ballet on horseback,” she explained.
Travis threw his head back and laughed. “Do the horses wear tutus?”
Taylor pushed his arm. “You know they don’t!”
He continued to chuckle with amusement. “Wouldn’t it be funny if they did?”
“No! Dressage is really cool. I’ve seen it on TV, on one of those cable sports channels. There was this gorgeous horse standing on two legs and turning in a circle. I thought the rider was going to slide down his back, but somehow she stayed on. I can’t imagine doing that.”
Taylor’s stop was in view, so she grabbed her hoodie and backpack. She was about to ask Travis if he wanted to take a bike ride with her later, but then she remembered her Egyptian report. The trip was probably better put off for another day. “See ya,” she said, and hurried to the front of the bus with two sixth-graders and a seventh-grader.
Two cars, each with a waiting parent, were parked on the country road. “Ride, Taylor?” Mrs. Drew offered, sliding down her window, as she did every day.
“No, thanks. I’m fine,” Taylor declined. She’d accept a ride if it was raining or snowing or frigidly cold. But otherwise she liked to maintain her independence and act as if she preferred to walk home. It didn’t appeal to her to be thought of as needy. Her mother had picked her up at the stop for years, but these days she was so busy getting her new catering business going that it was impossible. Besides, it wasn’t that far from the stop to her house.
The cars pulled away, and Taylor squinted into the afternoon sun. She pulled her brimmed PV softball team cap from her pack and tugged it on to shield her from the glare. After working her ponytail through the back opening, she began to walk the steep hill toward home.
Pheasant Valley had been a summer resort town from the 1900s through the 1940s. It was dotted with lakes, forests, and open fields that made it a great vacation spot. In the mid ’40s people started moving into the summer cottages, which they winterized by adding heat and insulation. Most of those houses were small and clustered close together. Bigger, year-round homes were soon built on two-acre plots. Pheasant Valley was mostly countryside interspersed with these older, close-together communities and the somewhat newer two-acre developments.
Taylor’s house was at the back of one of the modern housing tracts, but it was not the same as the other split-ranch-style houses. Built in 1821, it had once been the only house on the hill, and it still had the original hand-sawed beams holding up the ceiling. Taylor loved that her old former farmhouse — one of the first in Pheasant Valley — was unique among the houses in the town, even though it wasn’t as fancy or big as some of them.
Near the midpoint of the winding road, a beat-up blue Ford Caravan rattled toward her from the direction of her house. She recognized the noisy van instantly.
Her mother’s close friend, Claire, a petite woman in her forties with short brown hair and large brown eyes, pulled up beside Taylor and rolled down the window. From the backseat, Claire’s brindle-coated pit bull, Bunny, barked a greeting.
“Taylor, hi! I was just at your house looking for you. I need you to come with me,” Claire said. “You’re the only one around right now who knows anything about horses.”
Without a second thought, Taylor hopped into the van, accustomed to its ever-present odor of wildlife. When Claire said, “Come on, I need your help,” Taylor always dropped everything and went, often despite her mother’s halfhearted protests.
“Where’s the rescue?” Taylor asked, knowing from experience that they were headed out to help some injured or abandoned animal.
“North Somerville,” Claire reported, continuing down the hill Taylor had just climbed. “I got a call from the ASPCA about a horse and pony abandoned in a barn.”
“Are you kidding?” Taylor cried, horrified by the idea. “Who would do that?”
“It was a neighbor who called them,” Claire revealed. “She said something about the couple being divorced and both of them driving off without taking the horse and pony with them. It seems there hasn’t been anyone around in over a week, and the neighbor was pretty sure the animals were still in the barn.”
“Why didn’t she go look for herself?”
Claire shrugged. “At least she called.”
In a little under a half hour of driving, the woodsy landscape dotted with horse pastures gave way to rolling hills of beautifully manicured lawns in front of impressive mini mansions. Claire turned the van up a long drive at the address she’d scrawled on the back of
“Wow!” Taylor breathed, mouth agape, amazed by the grandeur of the huge brick home they were approaching. “Somebody really lives here?”
“I know. Can you imagine?” Claire agreed.
At the house, Claire rang the bell. When no one answered after several minutes, Taylor followed her across several yards of slightly overgrown grass to a cedar-shingled outbuilding. “This looks more like a big storage shed than a barn,” Taylor observed.
“Let’s take a look,” Claire suggested, cautiously pushing open the building’s door.
As Taylor stepped in behind Claire, she was suddenly plunged into complete darkness. Flailing blindly, she found Claire’s wrist and wrapped her fingers around it. “Do you see them?” she asked softly.
The next second, hot breath poured down Taylor’s neck. Crying out in fear, she leaped away. Horse hooves pounded the ground beside her, and an angry neighing exploded into the blackness.
Throwing the door open wide, Claire let enough sunlight pour into the building to reveal the powerful form of a black gelding. Ears flattened defensively, he snorted at them and stomped the ground, black eyes blazing.
Once her pounding heart slowed back to normal, Taylor became aware that she was detecting the heavy, acrid odor of urine. The pungent smell of a horse badly in need of grooming was also unmistakable. Horse droppings were everywhere.
His head lowered, the black horse kicked the back of the building with his rear legs, making Taylor flinch.
“When was this guy last fed?” Claire wondered aloud.
They scanned the area for any sign of feed or hay and spied nothing. Taylor realized that she could make out the lines of the horse’s ribs.
“I brought a bag of oats. Will you be okay here while I run to the van for them?” Claire asked.
“Uh-huh,” Taylor confirmed, keeping her eyes on the gelding.
Claire left and Taylor stood in the half-light of the building, taking her surroundings in with increasing clarity as her eyes adjusted. It was a simple arrangement, with two stalls on the right and room to tack up on the left. The black horse was out of his stall and standing in the open section.
Daring to Dream by Suzanne Weyn / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes