Finding the Good

Finding the Good

by Tanya Patterson


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Seventeen-year-old Jackie Gates is more accustomed to wearing designer clothing and possessing expensive gadgets and electronics than wondering how she'll eat and pay next month's rent. But she knows that running away and leaving Fort Worth, Texas-and her former life behind-is what she needs to do. Life in Castlewood, Ontario, is tough, but her goal of earning the local scholarship to veterinary school is in her sights. Her passion for horses and her need to make money lead her to a much-needed job as a farmhand at Starcross Farms. It's here she befriends Dusty Houghton, a local boy struggling with school and his parents' recent divorce. She also finds herself face-to-face with the very reason she ran away-her horse, Texas. After one year of being mistreated and abused, Texas is far from being the horse she used to know. Certain she can mend the damage of his former abuse, she struggles to keep the balance of her new life from tipping into the old one. Just when she's close to finding a solution to keeping the job she needs, the horse she loves, and the boy she has grown too close to, a tragic accident threatens it all. The accident jeopardizes not only her life but adds to the risk of uncovering secrets-and the unasked questions from her past.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462066575
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/09/2011
Pages: 364
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.81(d)
Age Range: 4 Years

Read an Excerpt

Finding the Good

By Tanya Patterson

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Tanya Patterson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-6657-5

Chapter One

Sitting in the corner of a local coffee shop, seventeen-year-old Jackie Gates searched the classifieds. She held a lukewarm coffee in one hand and propped her head up with the other. Her stomach growled in complaint at the plain bagel she had eaten for supper, but she ignored it. Her eyes kept moving back to one ad in the newspaper that was spread out on the table before her.

Starcross Farms — Position Available Wanted male or female available mornings and weekends. Light farmwork. Horse knowledge a must. Accommodations available. Please apply in person.

Jackie had read it over so many times she had it memorized.

"I never had much luck with that paper either," the waitress commented as she wiped off the table beside Jackie.

Jackie lifted her head and smiled. The waitress looked a couple years older than Jackie. Her blonde hair was piled on top of her head, and she had a pencil tucked behind her ear. "I think I'm looking for a job that doesn't exist."

"The perfect job never does." The waitress laughed and moved on to the next table, which was occupied by an older couple.

Jackie folded the paper and tucked it into her knapsack. She pulled out a textbook and a binder and placed them on the table. A group of kids entered the coffee shop, and she recognized them from school. A few of them were in some of her classes. They laughed and talked as they made their way across the room to choose a table. If they had recognized Jackie sitting there, they didn't let on.

Jackie had attended Castlewood High since the start of school in September, and she still hadn't made any friends. The town was small, and everyone seemed to have their own established groups. She didn't exactly look like the rest of the girls; she was tall with a slim, muscular build and dark brown hair that fell in curls halfway to her waist. She had been meaning to get it cut, but for now, she just wore it in a braid or tucked in a ball cap. She had a round, thin face with the hint of one dimple on her left cheek. Her eyelashes were long, but her most intriguing feature was the pair of deep emerald-green eyes she had inherited from her grandmother. She wore dark-rimmed glasses, and her blue jeans and buttoned shirts or baggy sweatshirts didn't quite match what the other girls were wearing—short skirts, low-cut shirts, and skinny jeans with boots. Not that she cared, but there was a time when she had fit in. Not so long ago, she used to do her hair and makeup and dress like them; there was a time when she was like one of those girls, laughing and hanging out with her friends. There was a time she used to laugh a lot.

"We're discussing our English assignments. You could join us." A pretty brunette stood at her table and smiled.

Jackie jumped, suddenly realizing she had been staring. She recognized the girl as Dawn. They shared a few classes, and Dawn was the student council secretary.

"We were just complaining about Mr. Neil and trying to come up with subjects for our independent study."

Jackie met the other girl's eyes and smiled nervously, shaking her head. "There's somewhere I need to be." She started stacking her books and papers.

"We meet here every Monday at this time," the girl continued. "You're welcome to join us."

"That's nice of you," Jackie said, realizing that aside from her teachers at school and the waitress that poured her coffee, Dawn was the only other person she had actually spoken a full sentence to in a long time. She stuck her arms in her navy down jacket and stood, gathering her things. "I need to get going."

"Every Monday," Dawn repeated and then left to join the other girls at their table.

Jackie slung her knapsack over her shoulder, tossed some change on the table, and then rushed to the door. No wonder I don't know anybody. Every time someone comes around, I run. She paused at the door to take one last breath of warm air before merging into the cold March air. The snow crunched under her boots as she crossed the parking lot toward the apartment building on the other side of the street. Trying to hide her face under her collar, she hurried around back to number seven, where she put her key in the lock and threw the door back. She tossed her knapsack onto the floor and didn't bother taking off her coat or boots because the apartment was cold.

The old lady who owned the building didn't know enough to turn the heat up at night. Jackie had asked several times, but the woman was getting old and her memory and eyesight were going. Jackie didn't blame her for the lack of heat; she knew the lady's son had a lot to do with the distribution of heat to her apartment and the others. He lived somewhere on the other side of town and visited daily to hassle the tenants and argue with his mother about selling the dump. There were cracks in the walls and holes in the carpets. The sink had a permanent water stain around it, and it creaked and groaned when Jackie turned it on. She was just grateful to have a furnished place to stay for so little rent. Even now, she was starting to struggle with the monthly payments. She had to find a job. The waitress was wrong; the perfect job did exist.

Jackie collapsed on the bed after retrieving the newspaper from her discarded knapsack. She scanned the want ads again, stopping at the one circled. She had circled the ad three days ago, and for three days she had a battle in her mind about whether to walk to the farm or not. She had already calculated it would be about one and a half miles, which should only take her a half hour if she walked fast. Each night she would come up with some excuse for why she should wait. Tonight it was definitely too cold. But on the flipside, it was too cold to just sit there. The ad had mentioned accommodations, and even the barn was bound to be warmer than the apartment. She sat up and checked her watch. Five o'clock. If she left right then, she might be there before dark. She wanted more than anything to work with horses, but there was something holding her back.

She left the paper on the bed and headed back out into the cold. She didn't glance in as she passed the coffee shop, not wanting to see if the girls were still there. She headed toward the road that lead out of town, the same road she came in on six months earlier.

Jackie pulled her hood up, buttoned the top button of her coat, and pulled her hands into a pair of mittens she had picked up at the secondhand store in town. She walked quickly to stay warm, following along the winding turns of the road before she came to a bridge crossing over a small stream. Once the road straightened, the white fencing started. Jackie followed it for the next quarter mile until she came to a long driveway where the fence continued alongside it.

Jackie continued up the driveway, following the white fence past a beautiful, modern stone house. She headed past it toward the barn. There were a few vehicles parked at the entrance to the barn, and Jackie guessed that they belonged to the people who trained with the Birtwicks or boarded their horses at Starcross.

Jackie had looked up the farm on the school library computer. Starcross Quarter Horses was a well-established riding stable and training facility. It consisted of four barns, including an Olympic-sized indoor arena and a smaller indoor. There were miles of trails and surrounding fields with a river running through the middle. Everything was neatly kept with the main barn standing massively in the middle of the many surrounding pens and corrals.

She approached a set of doors on the left side of barn, gave her ball cap a tug, and reached to open them. She stopped when it opened in front of her and she almost collided with a guy from her school.

"Hi," he said, sounding startled.

She backed up a step, staring at his hypnotizing blue eyes, and swallowed trying to find her voice. She wondered if she had ever seen anyone with dark hair and eyes that blue.

He cleared his throat, returning her stare, and then smiled as she looked away with awkward shyness.

"I'm here to see Kate or Brian," Jackie stammered, staring at the ground.

"Kate's in the house, and Brian's in his office," the young man said, not moving from his position in the doorway. "Which one do you want?" His voice was deep, another contradiction she noticed. He was around her age, yet his voice was more mature.

When she looked up from the ground, he smiled again, this time revealing a set of straight, white teeth. She noticed his faded denim jeans and tan coat.

"I'm here about the job advertised in the paper." She mentally scolded herself for being so antisocial.

"Well, you had best talk to Brian." He stepped out of the way to let Jackie in out of the cold. "I'll show you where his office is."

He led her through the door into the hallway to the main barn. Two rows of stalls lined each side; it was clean and tidy. Each stall had a tack box in front of it in the blue and silver barn colors. A decorative stall sign was hung on each door, as were notes with emergency numbers. The sweet scent of hay and horses reached Jackie's nose as she passed a number of occupied box stalls.

Halfway down the hall, a door led to a set of stairs and then a fully decorated lounge equipped with television, VCR, and neatly arranged couches and chairs. The end tables were covered with books and magazines, and the walls were full of pictures and trophies. A giant window across the front wall allowed viewers to see the Olympic-sized indoor riding arena. Closets were conveniently located on the left of the door. The room was decorated in a southwest pattern using soft pastel colors. A counter with stools along it separated the room from a kitchen area. A fridge and stove occupied the far corner, beside the stove was the sink, and cupboards lined the wall. The warmth of the room was inviting, and Jackie could have easily curled up on one of the couches and fallen asleep.

She waited just inside while the young man opened another door and disappeared inside. "He'll be out in a minute. He's on the phone," he said when he appeared seconds later.

"Thank you."

"Jackie—right?" he asked.

"Yeah." Jackie shifted uneasily. She knew he recognized her from school.

"I'm Dusty. So what brings you here?" he asked, leaning on the door of Brian's office. "I mean besides a job."

"There aren't many other jobs around," Jackie answered. "Castlewood being so small and all."

"So then what brought you to Castlewood?"

"The chance to meet curious people," Jackie said, knowing it bothered the locals that they knew nothing about her.

Dusty smiled. "I was just trying to make conversation."

"It certainly wasn't the weather." She turned away, noticing he was staring.

"It's supposed to warm up." Dusty moved toward the counter to retrieve a school bag. "They say that today is the last of the bitter cold. Tomorrow it's supposed to get into the pluses." He slung the bag over his back and smiled at her, but she looked away.

"What should I know about the job?" she asked.

"There are a lot of horses here, and Brian and Kate don't have a lot of time to get to them all. So they're looking for someone to pick up the slack, like having horses tacked up and waiting so they can spend more time in the saddle."

"I see," Jackie said, trying to organize her plan in her head.

"They want someone to feed and be available to be here on the weekends when we go to horse shows, and flexible enough to go to the odd show and act as a groom." Dusty finished just as Brian emerged from his office.

"That's pretty well all I can get away with telling you." Dusty nodded to Brian. "This is Jackie. She's looking for a job. Jackie, this is Brian. Good luck."

"Thank you." Jackie shot him a weak smile and then forced herself to look Brian in the eye and shake his hand. "Pleasure."

Brian took her hand in a quick but firm shake. "See you tomorrow, Dust," Brian called after him and then turned his attention to the young lady in front of him.

"Later," Dusty answered and disappeared out the door, leaving Jackie alone with Brian.

"I take it you two know each other?" Brian said, offering Jackie a seat on the couch across from the chair he chose.

"We both go to Castlewood High," Jackie explained. Brian was a tall, well-built man, and he appeared much younger than Jackie had expected. She estimated him to be in his early thirties. He had kind, deep brown eyes with dark eyebrows that matched the color of the hair sticking out from under his ball cap. His face was unshaven and scruffy, contrasting with his clothes, which appeared clean and new. Jackie forced herself to make eye contact; she had always been told that was key. If you don't have confidence in yourself, then others won't have any in you either. The problem was that she had spent the last few years avoiding eye contact with almost everybody. It now made her feel uncomfortable and nervous.

"I'm sorry for not giving y'all a call before I came out here, but I haven't been here too long and I haven't quite got myself a telephone." Jackie bit her lip. She was trying to keep the strong Texan accent under control.

"It was a slow night anyway," Brian assured her. "Tell me what kind of experience you have with horses."

"I've been working with them all my life. I know how to groom and lunge a horse. I can muck stalls and throw hay and do any other farm chores. I know how to drive a tractor, and I can handle the hard work."

Brian nodded.

"But there is one thing, sir."

"What's that?" Brian asked.

"I don't ride."

"You don't because you don't know how or you don't because of something else?"

"I don't because I just can't," Jackie stammered. "I want to explain, but I can't really."

Brian stared at her for a moment before continuing. "I need someone who can work and ride the extra horses that we don't have time for. Forgive me, but is this something that you're going to overcome?"

"I hope so." Jackie lowered her head and stared at her hands for a moment. Then she lifted her head and smiled unsurely. "Have you ever wanted to do one thing your whole life and wanted to do it so bad that it was the only thing you thought about?"

"I'm doing it," Brian told her.

"Well, as I'm sure you know, there aren't many jobs out there. Especially jobs doing what you love. I'm a hard worker, sir, and I'm good with the horses. I'm sure if you just give me a chance, you'll see that."

"I'll tell you what, you come back tomorrow morning at six, and I'll show you around, introduce you to a couple horses, and we'll see how it goes. There hasn't exactly been an overabundance of people interested."

"That sounds great." Jackie smiled, relief spreading across her face. "I'll meet you here at six."

"At six," Brian repeated. "And call me Brian. 'Sir' makes me feel old."

"Thank you," Jackie said. She stood up from the couch and made her way toward the door.

"You're welcome," Brian said, also getting up. "I'll see you then."

Jackie smiled as she walked down the long lane. It had been a while since she had stepped foot into a barn, and just being there for that short time convinced her she would never be able to work anywhere else.

"Tomorrow will tell," Jackie said out loud as she met the end of the lane and rounded the corner to walk on the side of the highway. Brian seemed like a decent guy, and he hadn't said too much when she said she didn't ride. I'll just have to work extra hard, she told herself. It'll be a long time before an opportunity like this comes up again.

When Jackie got back to the apartment, she slipped into her pajamas and jumped into bed. Shivering, she pulled the blankets up around her neck. "I don't think I'll ever get used to this cold." She searched for her socks and tugged them on. She laid there a minute trying to think about the next day, but the only thing she could concentrate on was the fact that on Saturday there was bound to be a pile of people at the barn. She was never a big fan of crowds. She tossed and turned, finding it hard to fall asleep. It had taken her a long time to get used to the streetlight that shone in no matter what she put over the window, but she knew that probably wasn't the reason.


Excerpted from Finding the Good by Tanya Patterson Copyright © 2011 by Tanya Patterson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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