Chapter One: Calm Before the Storm
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivien Greene
Evangeline Gibb’s spirits were low. It was Monday of the Spring Break, and all her friends were away with family, either skiing down exotic slopes or sunbathing on romantic beaches. And here she was, mucking stalls in her grandmother Mary Parson’s four-stall wooden barn. Sixteen-year-old Evie envisioned a lonely week of boredom.
The snow should have melted by now, she brooded. Flowers should be shooting up. Birds should be singing. Leaves should be sprouting. But no. The tree branches were stark and budless against the gray, unsettled sky, and here she was, bundled up in her old winter jacket with her blue knitted toque pulled over her long red hair. When Evie exhaled she could see her breath. The water tap was stiff with frost and she’d had to use the hairdryer to get the water running.
At least the pipes weren’t frozen, she thought begrudgingly. She switched on the old barn radio beside the telephone.
“Good morning this Monday, March twelfth, at two minutes to eight. The current temperature is minus four, but good news folks. By two this afternoon we’ll hit plus seven. You heard right! Our wintery weather will move down to New York. Might as well… they blame us anyway.”
Dumb joke, Evie moped, as she put down her pitchfork to empty the wheelbarrow. And the very idea of a spring thaw seemed a distant dream.
Followed by her tall black dog, Magpie, she pushed the heaped cart over icy ruts to the manure spreader. In her irritation, she shoved it harder than required up the slippery ramp, and the whole thing tipped over, spilling horse manure and urine-soaked wood chips onto the ground.
“Arghhh!” she yelled. “Sheeeeee-ite!”
Magpie scampered for cover and Evie stomped back into the barn to retrieve her pitchfork. Angrily, she forked up the mess and re-filled the barrow. “I can’t stand this!” she muttered aloud.
The winter had been especially long and harsh. With intense storms, high winds and frequent power outages, it had been so bad that her grandmother had finally invested in a generator. Evie was glad, since no power meant no water, and no water meant driving miles away and hauling it back for the horses to drink. And they drank a lot of water.
She dumped the twice-handled load in the spreader and carefully backed the wheelbarrow down the slick ramp. This time she managed to keep the front wheel from sliding off.
“Calm down, you jerk,” she told herself. She was acting like a spoiled brat and she knew it. Being on a horse farm surrounded by beautiful countryside wasn’t a bad way to live. Evie filled her lungs with fresh air and counted to ten.
She gazed over the sloping fields and winding driveway, fenced with ancient split-cedar rails. The property had been in the Parson family for years, and from the first time she’d laid eyes on it she’d thought it was totally charming. As she stood at the barn door, to her right the lane curved up to the yellow Victorian farmhouse with its white wrap-around porch. Looking left, it ran down to the gravel road over a quaint wooden bridge spanning the stream that meandered through the property, which gave the farm the name, ‘Parson’s Bridge’.
Her spirits lifted further as her gaze landed on the four horses in the big paddock out front, munching on the round bale of hay that Glen Judge had dropped off the day before. Each horse was attractive in its own way, Evie decided, from tall and thin to short and curvy. And all with such different personalities. She took pleasure in how pretty they looked against the white snow.
Each wore a different coloured blanket. Calm and collected Paragon was a lanky bay, and his blanket was bright green. He’d been Gran Mary’s show hunter and was still elegant and in surprisingly good shape. The retired old chestnut racehorse, Bendigo, who’d won half a million dollars in his career and was still feisty, wore burnt orange. Christieloo, Gran Mary’s cheerful, willing hacking horse, was a palomino. Her deep blue rug contrasted perfectly.
Lastly, but certainly not leastly, Evie thought, was her horse No Justice. He was a sleek black, and very nicely suited up in his blanket of crimson red. She called him Kazzam.
Her eyes rested on him. He belonged to her. Really, she reflected, she belonged to him. His bad temper was legendary but Evie understood what angered him and why, and she felt he usually had good reasons. She loved him for his distinctive personality. He returned the love by trusting her and allowing her to ride him. Together they made a great team.
How proud she was to have a horse like him. A smile slowly brightened Evie’s freckled face. The ebony gelding’s ear tips almost touched together when pricked forward, and he had a crisp white heart on his forehead. His alert eyes shone with intelligence and his profile was patrician, lending to his regal bearing and air of confidence. The black horse was small but mighty, standing only fifteen hands but possessing powerful speed. Kazzam was a Thoroughbred, bred for stamina and swiftness.
Nine months earlier, against all odds, he’d won an upset victory at Canada’s most prestigious Thoroughbred race, the Queen’s Plate. Evie had been the rider. She’d just turned sixteen and had barely made apprentice jockey in time. It sometimes seemed to Evie that it must have been a dream.
A training injury had sidelined their plans that year, and Evie was worried about further damage being done to the gelding if they raced again. She was contemplating what other career might suit him best, and for the past few months, when the weather permitted, she’d been training Kazzam to jump. It had begun as a strengthening exercise, but the small black gelding had such an aptitude for the sport, and was so eager to work, that Evie had expanded their training schedule. She’d found the book, ‘How to Train Your Jumper’, at Booklore in Orangeville, and Gran Mary helped her pace out the proper striding. They did gymnastics and triples and bounces and oxers. She dragged out old lawn furniture for him to jump, and an old blue tarp from the barn became a water hazard. Evie admired his talent and brains. He learned very quickly, and once he figured something out, he never forgot. Plus, they were having lots of fun.
She stretched out her arms and shoulders, noticing how the sun was trying hard to break through the clouds. The day was starting to look promising.
Normally on school mornings, Evie would get to the barn by six o’clock. She’d feed the horses their grain, and blanket them while they were eating. After turning them out into the field, she’d scoot back to the farmhouse for a shower and a bowl of oatmeal before catching the school bus at seven thirty. She mucked the stalls after school, unless Gran Mary had time to do it.
But today was a school holiday and Evie could take her sweet time. Like mucking stalls is a holiday, she thought wryly. Although to be perfectly honest, she really didn’t mind as long as there were horses that belonged to the manure.