Maple stepped into the cool shade of the breezeway. The
horses stuck their heads over the doors and watched her. One noticed the
carrots and whinnied. Then they all started whinnying, pacing around their
stalls and tossing their heads. One even bucked and cantered a tight circle.
They were freaking out. It was kind of scary.
Maple had a sense, always, that something terrible was about to happen now. Right now. She called it prophecy; her therapist called it generalized anxiety disorder.
"What are you doing?" A girl slipped out of a stall and into the aisleway.
She seemed older than Maple, but she was small and delicate. She was wearing a bright red coat, like a girl marked for death in a horror movie. But she had the face of the killer.
"You can't be here," the girl continued. "Didn't you read the signs?" She noticed the carrots. "Oh my God! Are you giving the horses carrots? Don't you know you can't do that? They could have Cushing's disease. Or bite you. I know this girl, and her mom got her finger bitten off by their horse, and the horse swallowed it. Seriously, I'm not fucking kidding."
Maple dropped the heavy bag on the ground. Her whole face burned. She wanted to run, but her legs felt weak. She was dizzy. She wished her mom were there.
Heather never seemed to be bothered by drama. In fact, she often seemed drawn to it. If there was a kerfuffle at a restaurant, if gunshots rang out, Heather drifted steadily toward it, clutching her purse and smiling benignly. Can I help?
"My mom-," Maple started.
"You need to leave," the girl said. "Seriously, you're actually trespassing. And why are you wearing riding clothes? It's Monday."
Maple burned up even more. She'd tried to warn her mother about this, when she had dressed Maple up like a doll.
A woman who must have been the other girl's mom appeared. She shared her daughter's red hair.
"What are you doing here?" she said. She also shared her attitude.
"My mom's here," Maple said, not answering the question. "I have to go get her." She took off like a lunatic toward the offices. She abandoned the carrots in the barn aisle.
"Hey!" the girl yelled after her. "You can't run around horses!"
Maple found her mom practically in the middle of breaking and entering. It would never have occurred to Heather that the office wasn’t hers to open.
"Why are you running?" Heather asked, trying a combination on the lock. "I was thinking I could write them a note. I think this is the main office. I've already left seven voice messages."
Heather had been trying to contact this barn since before the move. Instead of giving up, she got only more determined.
Maple was breathing hard. She was on the verge of tears. "They said we can't be here!" Her voice rose precipitously. "They said we're trespassing."
Heather perked up. "Who said that? Is someone here?"
Heather started in the direction Maple had come from, but then the red-haired woman appeared, matching daughter in tow. When she saw Heather, she smiled so fast it was like a quick draw in a shoot-out.
"Why, hello there!" Her eyes ran fast over Heather, like she was calculating the value of everything she saw-Heather herself included. "I'm Pamela and this is my daughter, Vida."
"I'm Heather. Parker. And this is my daughter Maple."
"I was just telling your sweet girl that unfortunately this barn isn't open to the public." Pamela was holding Vida's hand, their fingers laced, like they were best friends instead of mother and daughter.
"Oh, we're not the public," Heather said. They had been rich for a short amount of time, but Heather had adjusted beautifully. "We're here to sign up for riding lessons."
"It's Monday," Pamela said. "No one comes in on Mondays. And this isn't a lesson barn. They don't have school ponies or summer camps."
Heather stepped forward, crossed her arms neatly. Since she had become rich, Maple's mother had changed, although not completely. The root of what she had always been was still there. But she had become more herself.
"We just bought a house a mile from here," Heather said, as if that had anything to do with it.
But Maple could see Pamela's expression change. It softened a little, like the Parkers were closer to belonging not just there but everywhere.
"How lovely! That makes us neighbors," she said. "But I will warn you, this probably isn't the barn for you."
Maple knew the woman couldn't have tempted her mother more.
"There's a good riding school in Olivenhain. I can give you their number."
"No, thank you. I like this one. It's closer to our house. I want Maple to be able to walk to the barn if she wants to," Heather said. As if Maple would ever walk a mile. "Would you mind taking my number? Then you can pass it along to the owners for me. I've been trying to reach them."
"Kieran Flynn," Pamela said, like the name meant something to everyone. "He's the owner and the head trainer."
Pamela clearly didn't want to take her number, but Heather just waited. Pamela finally took out her phone. She typed Heather's number in quickly.
Then she added, "This is a show barn. Last year, we outperformed every barn at the Southern California International Horse Show. We demand total commitment to the program. We're a very tight community. You have to have your own horses, and your horses have to be in the training program. That means all of your rides are supervised by a trainer, and your horse is schooled by a Professional rider. It's really not a place for fun."
"Good," Heather said, taking Maple's hand like she was aping Pamela. "We don't want to have fun."
There was nothing Heather loved more than the word no.
Excerpted from Girls and Their Horses by Eliza Jane Brazier Copyright © 2023 by Eliza Jane Brazier. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved.