Hope Haven

Hope Haven

by Victoria E. Mora

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462008926
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/06/2011
Pages: 136
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.32(d)
Age Range: 15 - 17 Years

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HOPE HAVEN

A Novel
By Victoria E. Mora

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Victoria E. Mora
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-0892-6


Chapter One

DAWN TO DUSK

Pressing my face into the cold glass, I gaze out the window of our sterile house. I fix my eyes on the aging willow and wait, half-heartedly, for the tree to transform into a handsome prince like it did when I was a kid. Back then, my fantasy prince would dismount a golden horse and twirl me around and around until the orange sun faded below the horizon.

Mom's voice drones from somewhere behind me. "Lou, didn't you hear me? I've been calling you for ten minutes! It's time for Grandma's bath." Mom's slippers brush back and forth across the hardwood floor. She's pacing again.

"This summer is shaping up to be a first-rate disaster," I grumble.

Ignoring Mom, I strain my eyes, hoping for a glimmer of movement, of transformation, but the shining sun mocks me, as it has since summer started. I squint against the light and try one last prayer: God, if you're listening, please make things the way they used to be. But there is no answer. There is no prince either, only a wasting willow with droopy branches, and the black hole in its trunk remains faceless.

"Lou!" she shouts again.

Mom's insistence drags me into the present. I peel my face from the glass and abandon my fantasy, leaving it to wither in the sun.

"Dad's meeting me at the barn, remember?" I throw the comment spitefully like a dart.

"Fine," she whimpers, "leave me to take care of everything." It was a direct hit. For a moment, Mom winces in the doorway like a wounded dog, and then she bristles. "You're sixteen years old, Lou. That's old enough to help out around here."

She's still beautiful, even behind limp hair and with a pale complexion. On her better days, we've been mistaken for sisters, but in a home where death lives, a shower and makeup are luxuries. I almost feel sorry for what I've said, but Mom rolls her eyes and turns away, and I'm effectively dismissed.

"Will you at least take some towels to Grandma's room?" she asks over her shoulder as she slinks down the hall.

"Okay," I mutter and listen to her shuffle back to Grandma's room.

The gray door into death's chambers looms at the end of a long, shadowy hall. I can hear Grandma behind it as I pause to rebalance the towels. Her soft moans give our summer meaning, like going to the beach for vacation. After a couple of weeks, the enchantment of waves slapping the shore or the smell of salt in the air fades. But if I stand still long enough, their inescapable force intoxicates me all over again.

"Lou," Mom whines from Grandma's bedside. "Don't just stand there!" I creep past the door and stretch the tower of towels toward her.

Of course, taking care of Grandma hardly qualifies as a vacation. The only smells in our house are rubbing alcohol from Grandma's bath and pine disinfectant-a poor covering for Grandma's illusive bowel movements. Both fragrances linger on Mom like bad perfume. It is the smell of death-a stench that can't be washed off with soap and water.

Mom tells time by Grandma's schedule. If she isn't feeding Grandma or bathing Grandma, she's changing her or giving her medication. Grandma's dying sucks the life out of Mom. "Here." I drop the fuzzy towels into Mom's lap, but some tumble to the floor. I hurry toward the door before she can assign more chores.

"Don't worry about picking that up. I'll get it," she says. I can tell she's rolling her eyes without even looking back.

I pause in the doorway and glance over my shoulder. Mom's already elbow-deep in sudsy water. "I'm going straight to Dad's house after the barn." She nods but doesn't say a word, and I have no idea what she's thinking.

I grab a couple of green apples off the kitchen table, hop on my silver bike, and pedal toward the only place where I can escape- Hilltop Hunters. It's been three years since the first time I raced out of the house to see my horse Dawn Treader. My entire life has turned upside down since then.

I finally had the horse of my dreams, but then everything else started falling apart. First of all, my parents got separated. They promised to at least try working things out. That was about the same time Grandma got sick. In the beginning, Mom stayed busy with Grandma's cancer treatments, so I could understand why there wasn't much progress in the marriage-mending department. But when the doctor announced the treatments weren't working, Grandma moved in. Dad was officially on the back burner. Now, even with the constant flow of hospice visitors, our home feels empty. It's definitely quieter, and since Dad's been gone, there hasn't been any laughter.

"Lau-ren," Chad the barn manager shouts and waves his arms frantically in my direction. I drop my bike into the square-shaped hedge and yank my favorite pink hat down low. But when I see Dad round the corner, a soda in one hand and a wide grin fixed on his face, I gallop like a wild horse across the manicured grass.

"Hey, Pony-Girl," he hollers. When Dad smiles at me, I feel like the center of his universe. "How are Mom and Grandma?" he asks, wrapping an arm around my shoulder.

"The same," I say, inching closer to him.

Chad throws his shoulders back, removes the cowboy hat, and rakes his manicured fingers through perfect hair. "Lauren Hart," he says, exaggerating my name, "what did I tell you last week about throwing your bike around?" He sticks his nose in the air and adds, "I know we're all supposed to be having oodles of fun, but someone might catch their foot on that bike of yours and get seriously injured."

I roll my eyes under the brim of my hat, and Dad squeezes my shoulder. "Hurry up before you get us in more trouble," he whispers. I can't help giggling even though I know it will irritate Chad.

"Wait one minute!" Chad shouts before we're even ten feet away.

"I told you so." Dad chuckles and pinches my arm.

"We need to discuss that horse of yours." Chad folds his arms across his chest.

"What do you mean?" I glance sideways at Dad, hoping he can help me out of whatever jam Dawn has gotten us into this time.

"Dawn jumped out of the paddock again yesterday," Chad says. "I've already moved her into the field with the highest fence."

"Need I remind you, this is Hilltop Hunters and not the cowboy corral? We can't have horses running around loose." Chad runs his fingers through his hair again as if the very thought of a loose horse dishevels him. He throws his shoulders back and storms away before either of us can say a word. As soon as Chad slams the office door, we explode into laughter.

"Why is he like that?" I ask after catching my breath.

"I guess that in Chad's eyes, your ex-racehorse doesn't fit in at Hilltop Hunters." Dad pops the brim of my hat down.

"Hey!" I say, shoving it out of my eyes. "I don't get it. Dawn would have gone to the killers if we hadn't bought her at the racetrack. Now Dawn and I are number one in the Junior Hunter Division."

"Unfortunately, Lou, some people are like that. Chad will probably still act the same way, even if you and Dawn win the championship at the national finals this summer."

I hitch up my jeans and kick a big rock. "Well, I think that stinks."

Dad sniffs the air and grins. "Me too," he says and snatches the hat off my hair. "Let's race!" He jets away before I can argue.

I sprint past the barn in a whir and catch a glimpse of Dr. Shaffer next to his vet truck. He waves, and Dad makes a beeline toward him, signaling me to go on ahead.

I'm panting by the time I reach the back pasture. "Dawn," I huff breathlessly. She whinnies and prances toward the gate, flipping her hooves and swishing her tail. After three years, she still makes my heart pound.

"Even with those muddy socks, you look as fancy as any horse I've ever seen on the cover of a magazine." Dawn tosses her mane as if she agrees.

"Do you want a bubble bath?" I ask. She shakes her head and snorts. I take that as a yes.

After a sudsy soak-down, I hook Dawn to the crossties. Dad and Dr. Shaffer are absorbed in an animated conversation. I can tell by Dr. Shaffer's hearty chuckle and the way Dad is swinging his arms wildly overhead that he's describing his narrow escape from a swarm of yellow jackets at the construction site last week. Everyone laughs when Dad's around. Dad waves good-bye to the vet and strolls toward me.

"Are you almost done, Pony-Girl? We have a date, remember? Tonight I'm taking my favorite girl to dinner and a movie." He tosses me the sweat-scraper from Dawn's grooming bucket.

"In that case, I suppose I can wait 'til tomorrow to ride." I grin and scrape the water off Dawn's ticklish belly.

"Your yellow horse cleans up pretty good," Dad says.

"You're so silly. For the thousandth time, palominos are gold, not yellow." I hand him the sweat-scraper.

"If you say so," he says with a wink. "Are you leaving her in the paddock overnight?"

"That's a good idea. We have a lesson tomorrow, and since I haven't ridden in a few days, Dawn probably needs the extra exercise."

"I'll lock up your tack trunk and turn off the barn lights." Dad smiles but his eyes look sad as he turns away. I watch him shuffle down the stable aisle.

"I don't understand, Dawn." The smell of peaches drifts off her coat. I lace my fingers through her wet mane, and we wander down the path. "Mom says the separation is the best thing for our family. If that's true, why does everyone seem so unhappy?" Dawn shakes her head and snorts boogers on me.

"Hey!" I scold, wiping my arm across my jeans. "As for you, Dawn, you better stop fooling around. Your antics are about to get us kicked out of Hilltop." I latch the paddock gate behind her, and she pops her nose over the top rail. "I expect you to be perfect tomorrow. We only have a few more months until the national finals, and this is our year. Agreed?"

I check the latch. She snorts and shakes her head. I plant a kiss under her forelock and whisper, "Goodnight, Dawn."

Chapter Two

A HEAVY NIGHT FALL

"Are you ready to paint the town red?" Dad asks, and a grin spreads across his rugged face.

"You bet. Can we have barbeque tonight?" I kick off my sandy paddock boots and fold my legs on the seat.

"My phone's ringing. Give me just a minute, and then I want to hear how Mom is holding up." Dad presses the speaker button on the phone. "Hello?"

"Hi John, this is Dr. Shaffer. Listen, something has happened to Lauren's horse. You better get back over here pretty quick."

"Dr. Shaffer, what happened to Dawn?" I yell, straining against my seat belt.

Dad slams on the brakes and edges the car toward the curb.

"Lauren, calm down." Dr. Shaffer says, but before he can add another word, Dad snatches the phone off the speaker stand.

He parks the car on the side of the road and stares solemnly at me with his ear pressed to the phone. "Okay, Doc. We're coming. Please, just do what you can."

I choke on a lump in the back of my throat and barely spit out the question. "Is Dawn going to be okay, Dad?"

"Lou," he whispers. "Dawn caught her knee jumping out of the paddock." He pauses for what seems like an eternity. "She pulled the fence down on top of herself when she fell. I'm driving back to the barn now, but you need to prepare yourself."

"No!" I groan. "I shouldn't have put her back in the paddock. It's my fault." Tears spring from my eyes, and I collapse against the dashboard.

"It's not your fault, Lou. I'm here. I'm right here with you. We'll get through this together." He fastens his seat belt and shifts the car back into drive.

The road in front of us stretches out forever. Outside, a red light turns green. I rest my face against the car window and remember the first time Dr. Shaffer called us about Dawn. It seems like yesterday, even though it was three years ago.

"Hello?" Dad answers the phone sounding slightly annoyed. Our home phone rarely rings so early on a Saturday.

"Hey Doc, what can I do for you this morning?" He smiles. "Really?" Dad's eyes brighten as he glances over his shoulder at me, and a silly grin covers his unshaven face. I can't hear anything from Dr. Shaffer's side of the conversation.

Dad glances at the chrome-faced clock on our kitchen wall. "Okay, we'll be there." He quietly places the phone in the cradle and stuffs his hands deep into his front pockets. Before saying anything, he marches across the tile floor and plants a mushy kiss on Mom's tanned forehead.

"You have five minutes to get dressed if you still want a horse. Happy birthday, Pony-Girl." Dad smiles and winks before grabbing the keys off the counter.

"Yes sir!" I knock my chair over backward clambering from the table, but that doesn't slow me down.

"Don't worry about picking that up. I'll get it." Mom laughs as I race out of the kitchen.

The faint glow of dusk peeks through the trees, casting long, eerie shadows on the rocky path in front of me. I stumble from the parking lot toward the burning light in the barn where Dr. Shaffer is waiting.

At first, I don't recognize the dark mound that Dr. Shaffer is kneeling over. I chew the side of my thumb and watch helplessly as his hands glide over Dawn's body. The seconds tick past, seeming more like hours. Finally, Dr. Shaffer stands and wipes his hands, leaving streaks of red across his dusty blue jeans. His grave expression says everything before he even opens his mouth. Dad squeezes me tightly to his side, and I brace myself for the news.

"Your horse is pretty sick, Lauren. Dawn lost a significant amount of blood before I found her. On top of that, she tore a tendon when she pulled down that fence rail. Even if she makes it through this trauma, Dawn will never compete again." He swallows hard. "I'm sorry."

When no one speaks, Dr. Shaffer says, "Do you understand what I'm saying? Dawn will never jump again. She will never be able to do what she used to do. We need to consider putting her down."

I throw a trembling hand over my lips to keep from throwing up. "Dad, noooo." They are the only words I can find. I yank on Dad's shirtsleeve and pray for the slightest glimmer of reassurance.

Rivers burst from my eyes, while my heart screams in my head. But Dad says nothing. Instead, he lifts my chin as though looking for an answer on my face. "Lou, Dawn is a show horse. She won't be able to compete anymore, honey. We have to look at this from every angle."

"But Dad, she's my horse. I'll take care of her; I promise. I'll do whatever it takes. Please Dad, first you, and then Grandma. Not Dawn too."

Please God, don't let Dawn die.

I collapse, crying into Dad's chest. I cry for Dawn and my family. But most of all, I cry for me. I don't want to lose everything that I love.

Dad strokes my cheek with a rough thumb. I see the storm clouds in his eyes clear, and behind them I glimpse a rainbow of hope. Dad dabs my cheeks with a rumpled handkerchief. "Okay," he says.

Dad crouches beside my blood-stained horse and strokes her mud-smeared face. Dr. Shaffer kneels beside him. They whisper quietly, and then Dr. Shaffer sprints to the vet truck. He returns with his cell phone and a handful of syringes.

"Lou, Dr. Shaffer is stabilizing Dawn to be trailered to University Vet Hospital. He'll need to operate."

I throw my arms around his neck before he can finish. "Thank you, Dad. Thank you."

"I'm not done, Lou. There is something you need to know. Even if Doc can save her, Dawn will never be the same. It'll be a long recovery, and you're going to be responsible for her rehabilitation. You won't be able to ride her, Lauren. Are you really up for this? It's a lot of responsibility for a sixteen-year-old. Dawn will need extensive care every day."

"Dad, I mean it; I'll do whatever it takes. You'll see. I'll get Dawn back on her feet in no time." I squeeze his neck again and whisper in his ear, "Thank you."

Dawn's breathing slows to a rhythmic whistle, and her eyelids droop as the medication takes effect. I study her face, trying to memorize every detail. She blinks and stares back.

"Don't be afraid," I whisper. "Dr. Shaffer is going to fix you up, and then I'm going to nurse you back to health-I promise. I love you, Dawn." I press my palm against her sweat-lathered neck, and Dawn's eyes flutter shut.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from HOPE HAVEN by Victoria E. Mora Copyright © 2011 by Victoria E. Mora. 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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Hope Haven 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Much like Lauren Hart, the main character, I spent my teen years riding horses. I'm always looking for new horse books, and even though Hope Haven is a young adult novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The author paints a sensory picture throughout, and I could actually smell the hay and see the sunset. All great memories for me! The author did a great job capturing the relationship between Lauren and her horse. It rang true with my own experience, so much so that I found myself pulling out old photo albums of my beloved horse. You'll want to keep a box of tissue close at hand. There are definitely tender moments. Overall, very inspiring and a great read.