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A Horse to Love
By Marsha Huller
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One Young lady - and I use that term loosely - I'm tired of your despicable behavior. You have exhausted this court's patience. I'm sending you to the Chesterfield Detention Center!"
Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most ordinary thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death at a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no "ordinary" thirteen-year-old. Her anger matched the judge's. Only Wilma Jones, her court-appointed lawyer, prevented Skye from exploding.
"Cool it," the lawyer, Wilma, squeezed out of her mouth as she grabbed Skye's arm.
Skye opened her mouth and yawned deliberately, pulling her arm from the woman's grasp. Her brown eyes then pinched into slits as she shoved her fingers through her long dark hair. She folded her arms and slumped down farther, stretching her legs under the table and crossing them with a jolt. Her glare shifted from the judge to the anxious attorney seated next to her.
"Get real," Skye snapped. Her lips tightened into an unmistakable display of disgust as she once again turned her scowling face to the judge.
"Twenty years on the bench in Pennsylvania, and I have never seen a record like this for a girl your age," the judge continued. He slid reading glasses onto his face and lifted a paper. "Five foster homes. Drug and alcohol abuse, vandalism, shoplifting - and that's just this past year! This reads like a record for someone at the state penitentiary!" Continuing down the paper, he pointed sharply at the bottom. "Oh - and this is the best part. You didn't do any of it! C'mon, Skye," the judge barked as he yanked off his glasses and glared. "What do you think I am, stupid?"
Skye popped into an upright position, mouth open, more than willing to answer. "Now that you ask -" she said.
Wilma glared and dug five long red fingernails into Skye's arm. "Knock it off!" she whispered.
Skye wasn't one to take advice from anyone, even if polished nails were sinking into her flesh. With a yank, she pulled free and folded her arms. Then down she went into her super slump, staring at a scratch in the table. She glanced up at the judge and then looked down again.
"It's not a question of if you are going, but for how long!" Judge Mitchell declared.
The paneled courtroom, damp and empty except for six people, held an eerie quiet. All that could be heard was April rain pelting the towering windows on each side. Nothing stirred for what seemed like hours.
Skye glanced at the judge and then at the plump court reporter sitting in front of his bench. Everyone was waiting. Skye leaned forward, resting her right elbow on the table. Placing her head on her open hand, she glanced to the left, past her lawyer who sat with hands folded, to a man in a blue suit. "Dork" Dansing, prosecuting attorney, Skye thought, scowling. He's always sticking his nose in my business. Next to Dansing, pushed back from his table, sat a woman whom Skye had never seen before. Just as Skye's glance found her, the woman looked over and smiled.
Skye was so amazed that someone would actually smile at her that she couldn't help but stare. As silence radiated from the bench, Skye examined this new but interesting enemy.
Not bad for thirty-something, Skye thought.
The solid-framed woman wore a dark green pantsuit. Two very blue eyes radiated from a pleasant face framed by short, frosted hair.
She looks like Ida Markham, Skye thought, remembering one of her former foster mothers. Wonder if they're related? Could've come from the same litter.
"Skye!" Wilma whispered. "The judge is waiting for some kind of response from you. Act like you're the least bit sorry and he might go easy. I'm trying to get your sentence shortened."
"Yeah, right," Skye returned in a loud, sarcastic whisper.
"Girl, I'm trying to help you. Now cool it!"
Wilma stood. "Your Honor," she apologized, "I beg the court's indulgence. I think Skye has learned her lesson this time. She really is sorry." The lawyer gently placed her hand on Skye's shoulder.
Like a faucet that had sprung a leak, Skye's eyes glistened with moisture as she stared at the judge. She realized that turning on the tears was her last hope to avoid Chesterfield. Skye crumpled her face into an Oscar-winning pout and tears flowed down her now-red cheeks.
Wilma reached into her pocket and handed Skye a wad of tissues. Skye dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. With her puppy-dog eyes and quivering lips, she repositioned in the chair, folded her hands around the tissues, and smiled innocently at the judge.
"I'm not buying it!" Judge Mitchell announced. "I've been through this act before and it's getting a little old. Save your tears for Chesterfield, Skye. They don't work anymore. Sorry, Wilma. Nice try." The judge stacked a pile of papers. "Does anyone have anything else to say?"
"If it pleases the court," Samuel Dansing said, standing, "Eileen Chambers would like to request that she and her husband, Tom, be granted custody of Skye Nicholson. I believe Your Honor is aware of the Chambers' fine record as foster parents."
"Eileen," Judge Mitchell said emphatically, "I was afraid that's why you were here. You don't want this kid. Trust me. She ran the last two sets of foster parents out of the business."
Eileen Chambers glanced over at Skye and then stood to her feet. "Your Honor, we'd really like to give this a try. We've had troubled kids before and -"
"Not like this one, you haven't. I mean it. You're diving in way over your heads."
"It's worth a try, Your Honor. I think we can help her."
Judge Mitchell leaned back in his leather chair and stroked his beard. He glanced at Eileen, then at Skye.
Eileen waited patiently. Skye sat quietly with fake ribbons of tears still trickling down her face.
"I'll consider my decision. Until then, we're adjourned," Judge Mitchell said. He rose, gathered a thick pile of folders, and hastened off to a side room, slamming the door.
* * *
After a week in juvenile hall, Skye found herself seated in front of a battered wooden desk at some place called Maranatha Treatment Center. All she knew was that she wasn't going to Chesterfield and she would be going to another foster home. Skye acted like the thought didn't bother her one way or the other. More foster parents. Big deal, she told herself. Her last set of foster parents had dropped her off at the Children and Youth Agency two weeks ago.
Easy come; easy go. Another day in the life of an unwanted nobody, she thought, looking around the empty room. So what else is new?
Down in her super slump, Skye folded her arms and crossed her legs, her eyes exploring every corner of the cramped office. The walls were a faded yellow that matched the worn-out carpet perfectly. She took a deep breath and wrinkled her nose. Yuck! Smells like the boys' locker room at school!
She scanned the two big windows on either side of the desk and decided they were probably last painted before she was born. The only bright spots in the whole place were colored posters spaced evenly on the walls, posters about God and courage and peace. Finally, out of boredom, Skye focused on a name plaque on the desk: Eileen Chambers, Special Needs Therapist.
Great! Skye complained to herself. Someone else who thinks she can figure me out. The only special "need" I have is to get outta here!
Behind her a door opened and closed. Skye looked up to see Eileen Chambers approaching the desk. The woman settled gracefully into a rickety swivel chair, looked at Skye, and smiled. Skye stared openly at her bright yellow T-shirt with the letters MARANATHA in rainbow colors splashed across the front.
"Good morning, Skye," Mrs. Chambers said. "How are you today?"
Skye lowered her head, her face wrinkling into a pout.
"Oh, the silent treatment?" the woman said. "Okay, have it your way - for now."
Skye listened while Mrs. Chambers shuffled papers, opened and shut drawers, and squeaked the stubborn chair. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the woman spoke, and Skye glanced up.
"According to this, you've got some pretty big problems," Mrs. Chambers said, holding up a folder with papers sticking out. She dropped it in the middle of the desk. "All of us here at Maranatha Treatment Center are willing and able to help you find some solutions, young lady."
Why does everybody who sits behind a desk call me "young lady"? Skye griped to herself. They all know I'm not a young lady. Never have been - never will be.
Mrs. Chambers leaned back in the chair as far as she could. "Skye, Judge Mitchell has placed you into our after-school program."
Skye just stared into her blue eyes.
"You certainly have made quite a reputation for yourself at Madison Middle School." The woman slipped a paper from the folder and placed it on the desk. "This list of offenses is something else. And what's with this assault on Hannah Gilbert? You threw soda in her face and set fire to her books."
"I just don't like her stupid face, that's all!" Skye snapped. "Someday I'm gonna punch her lights out."
"There's more to life than hating people. What are you trying to do? Prove you're the toughest kid at Madison?" Mrs. Chambers smiled discreetly.
"Yeah, that's it," Skye sneered.
"Anyway," the woman continued, "your life is about to take an about-face. Honey, you have so much potential, but it's buried pretty deep. We can help you find the other you."
"Honey's for bees, and I ain't sweet! My name is Skye!" She pulled her arms tighter against her chest.
"All right, Skye," Eileen Chambers said sternly. "You have much to learn. One of those things is respect for authority." She leaned forward, folding her hands on top of a pile of folders. "Here's the deal. Are you listening?"
"Yeeeesss!" Skye drew out her response like air escaping from a bicycle tire. She tightened her shoulders and clenched her fists.
"I hope you're willing to accept the terms of the judge's decision. Frankly, you have little choice. Your only other option is Chesterfield for who knows how long. I'm sure you'd rather not go there. Now, here's the plan." She pulled out another paper from the same folder. "First - and you're going to like this - you'll go back to Madison after you serve a ten-day suspension. You really should have been expelled, you know. But I think everyone is willing to give you one more chance since you'll be living with Mr. Chambers and me at Keystone Stables."
"What's Keystone Stables?" Skye asked harshly.
Mrs. Chambers smiled again. "Well, it's our home for one thing. And it's also a special needs dude ranch, licensed by the State of Pennsylvania. We operate on state funding, grants, and private donations. You should love it there. But back to your daily routine; after school every day you will be transported by van here to Maranatha Treatment Center for counseling. Any questions so far?"
Skye folded her arms tighter. Staring at the floor, she counted slivers of caked mud left by other people's sneakers. This woman would never know if she was listening or not.
"Look at me when I speak to you, young lady."
Silence. Finally, Skye felt compelled to look up.
"Thank you. Next, and most importantly, you will spend an unspecified length of time in our care, not only as a Maranatha client but also as a foster child in our home at Keystone. Maybe a year - it's all contingent on your behavior. The Johnsons have already brought all your clothes and signed the release papers, so we're ready to move you today. I'll be your caseworker here as well as your foster parent, so get ready. We're going to be spending a lot of time together - like it or not."
Skye's eyes flared, and her cheeks flushed with anger. "You have got to be kidding! You're going to be my counselor as well as my foster mother? I'd rather rot in juvie!" Skye ran her fingers through her hair angrily as she glared pitchforks at the woman.
"That can be arranged, Miss Nicholson!" the woman retorted as her blue eyes locked on Skye's. "We need to get some things straight right now." She leaned forward all the way over her desk. "Sit up in that chair when I speak to you!"
Skye reluctantly sat up and scowled.
"Number one: your days of telling people what to do are over," Mrs. Chambers lectured.
"Number two: this is what the judge ordered. We will all comply with every word, including you."
"Number three: Chesterfield always has empty cells for kids who think they know everything. All I need to do is pick up that phone. Any questions?"
Eileen Chambers leaned back into her chair, certain she had made her point. "And one more thing: you may call me Mrs. Chambers or Mrs. C, but never Eileen. Is that clear?"
"Ei -" Skye's face turned red and ice hung from her voice.
"Yes, Miss Nicholson?" Mrs. Chambers said as she leaned forward, daring Skye to try it.
"Ei - Will I have my own bedroom?" Skye's voice changed, now showing some concern amidst her anger.
"It's all taken care of." Mrs. Chambers relaxed. "We have lots of room at our house. And," she added with a twinkle in her eye, "there's also a surprise waiting for you."
Excerpted from A Horse to Love by Marsha Huller Copyright © 2009 by Marsha Hubler. Excerpted by permission.
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