Chapter 9: Fire
"Two weeks until the Luxemberg!" Lance said excitedly as everyone sat down at the dinner table.
"We'll win enough money to make you rich, plus be able to buy twenty more horses!" John laughed.
"I'm not really that hungry," Justin suddenly changed his mind about dinner. "May I be excused?"
"Um, sure" Marie replied. Justin got up and walked upstairs.
"I have to win that money!" Justin said to himself as he sat on his bed. "If Lance rides Shadow then I will never have a chance. Somehow I have to get Katie on Shadow!" he walked over to his window and looked across the valley on the other side of the road. The sun was setting and leaving the sky a bright orange hue.
"What's up with Justin?" Katie asked as she dived into her spaghetti.
"Who knows. He's as unpredictable as the weather!" Lance replied.
"Why do you say that?" John asked curiously.
"Because for example, one minute he likes Katie and then the next it looks like he hates her" he answered.
"Lance!" Katie exclaimed, jumping up and running out the house.
"Lance, what are you talking about?" Marie asked.
"Nothing, mom. I need to go talk to Katie. I'll be right back!" he finished and ran out of the house.
"Leave me alone!" Katie yelled, knowing it was him.
"I'm sorry" Lance replied, standing beside her at the fence of the broodmare pasture. Katie looked at him strangely.
"What's wrong with you lately? You're being all nice to me" she asked.
"Nothing is wrong with me. Its just that their is something weird about Justin and I just want to protect you!" Lance informed her.
"Since when have you wanted to protect me? All you ever did was fight with me!" she exclaimed.
"We're brother and sister. Fighting is natural. But I've always protected you. I just havent shown it" he replied.
"Why?" she questioned quickly.
"I don't know for sure but, what I do know is that I'm your big brother and I always will be no matter what. I will always be here to protect you." he said calmly.
"JC told me that before. I didn't believe him" she said, looking at the ground.
"Told you what?" Lance asked.
"That you cared and that you always protected me but you just havent shown it" she replied.
"Well, I hate to admit it but he was right," he paused. "Did you ever think of him more than a best friend?"
"What? No!" she blushed.
"Well you should! You two would look good together!" Lance laughed.
"Shut up!" Katie playfully punched him in the shoulder.
"Come on! Lets go back up and eat!" Lance finished, putting his arm around Katie's shoulder as they walked back up to the house.
Katie looked at her clock. It was 4 a.m. She woke up abruptly. The sounds of horses screams were everywhere. She looked out her window. The three barns were on fire.
"Mom! Dad! The barns are on fire!" she yelled loudly, her voice shaking the house. In seconds, Katie, John, Marie, Lance, and Justin were all out in the front yard.
Katie called the fire department and soon thereafter, JC and Kelly had both arrived. They took a head count. There were ten mares with or without foals in the broadmare stable, twenty-two mares in the mare stable, and thirty-one stallions in the stallion stable.
"Oh my gosh! Someone get Comet and Wonder out!" Katie exclaimed in horror.
"The barn is fully engulfed. I'll have to go around the back and open the back gate. I won't be able to get inside!" John yelled, taking off for the broadmare barn.
"Sadie!" Kelly cried.
"I'll get her and the other mares!" JC yelled. "Lance, you need to get the stallions out!"
"Be careful!" Katie cried still watching for her father to rescue Comet and Wonder. Marie stood beside her as the sound of firetrucks raced down the road.
JC returned with Sadie as a few other mares charged out from behind him. Suddenly the broadmare stable collapsed and with a domino effect, the mare stable collapsed also. The cries of horses still inside pierced the night air.
Katie cried as her father came back empty handed. Comet and Wonder had been stuck inside the collapsed broadmare barn.
"Where is Lance?" John exclaimed, out of breath. Everyone pointed to the stallion barn. Stallions raced out the front doors. Lance came out running with Rocket. Justin took him quickly.
"No, Lance! Don't go back in!" Katie still cried.
"You are not going back in there! It's too dangerous!" John yelled to him. Gripping his arm tightly.
"I have to get Shadow and Sundown! I have to save them!" he exclaimed, ripping loose of his grip from John.
"Lance!" everyone yelled. A few minutes later, gallantly, Shadow jumped through the flames that fully engulfed the front doors to the barn. The firefighters arrived after Lance went back into the barn. Frantically they searched for him but they quickly retreated.
"Where are you going?" John asked nervously. "Keep looking!"
Suddenly, the stallion barn collapsed. Lance was still inside.
Chapter 10: Shadow Of A Doubt
Burning embers still cracked and the smell of smoke still lingered in the air. Kelly was hysterical in Marie's arms. JC held Katie tightly as Joey and Chris stood on her other side. Justin had dissappeared once again. What remained of the three barns were the walls of the stalls. There was the horrible sight of horses still laying inside that were caught in the fire. And then there was Lance. Katie stared in disbelief into what remained of the stallion barn. A bright white sheet had contrasted with the dark black burnt wood. She couldn't say a word, or cry. Lance was laying in front of Sundown's stall. The firemen confirmed that the stall door was jammed. Sundown was also still inside the barn.
"He died trying to save Sundown," JC barely mumbled. "I feel so bad."
"It wasn't your fault, JC. He tried to save Sundown because you were his friend. He would have went in there for anyone. That's how much of a great person he was." she abruptly stopped, trying to hold back tears. She couldn't cry now. She had to be strong for everyone. But, inside she was breaking down and it would only get worse.
An ambulance arrived and paramedics took Lance's lifeless body away. Marie and John had become as hysterical as Kelly had become. Katie rushed to her mother's side. Then, out of the silent air, a distant neigh was heard. Everyone turned and looked out past the barns. Katie let go of her mother. For a brief moment her saddness was gone. Justin was walking towards them with Comet on one side and Wonder on the other.
"Oh my gosh, Justin! I can't believe this! I thought I had lost them too!" she said in amazement.
"I found them out wondering in one of the pastures. It's amazing that they had gotten out. None of the other mares had been able to get out the back doors!" Justin replied, tying them both up on the fence, where all the others were.
"Thank you so much!" she exclaimed, giving him a hug.
"Is everyone ok?" Justin questioned.
Katie put her head down and then looked back at her family. Everyone was all huddled together. A police officer was with them now.
"No" was all she muttered.
"What's wrong?" Justin asked sincerely, lifting her chin with his hand.
"Lance died in the stallion barn" she sobbed, no longer being able to hold back her tears. Justin held her tightly.
"I'm so sorry!" he replied, but behind her back he put on a sly smile. Unfortuneatly, JC had noticed and immediately knew what was going on.
The funeral had seemed to go on forever but it was finally over. After a dreary September morning, John, Marie, Katie, JC, Justin, Joey, Chris and Kelly all settled down at the farm. They watched videos and looked at pictures of Lance for hours. Grieving but relieving heartache and pain. JC had stayed by Katie's side most of the day. Justin had kept his distance. Katie hardly paid any attention to even notice.
"Katie, I need to talk to you about something very important" John had entered the living room and sat down on a chair. Everyone also gathered in the room.
"Okay" was all she replied while grabbing a tissue from its box.
"I need you to listen to me carefully," he continued. "Most of the money we had went to the funeral arrangements and most of our successful horses were caught in the fire except for Shadow and Rocket. So, right now we are flat broke. To keep this farm, we need you to ride Shadow in the Luxemborg" he said sternly.
"That's impossible..." she was cut off.
"Listen to me," he repeated. "We need Shadow to win and you have to ride him!" he exclaimed.
"But why? What about Rocket?" she questioned.
"Yeah, what about Rocket?" Justin asked inquizitevly.
"Rocket has a torn ligament in his leg from getting out of the barn. He can't run. You and Shadow are our last hope!" he replied.
"Let Justin ride him. I can't!" she cried.
"You know that's impossible, Katie! No one can get ten feet near him except you. He will trust you. He will know what's going on" he finished.
Katie remembered the other night when she and Lance had talked by the fence. He said he would always be there for her and he would always protect her. She believed he was with her. She knew that somehow he would help her with Shadow.
"Okay, I'll do it! But, most of all, I'll do it for Lance!" she replied, grabbing another tissue.
"We're leaving in ten minutes!" John yelled from outside the truck. He had loaded Shadow and was waiting for everyone to come out of the house.
JC went into the feed barn to grab some hay for the net in Shadow's trailer when he noticed something shining in the sunlight. After digging in the hay, he uncovered a can of gasoline and some matches. He feared the worse and called to John. He looked at what he discovered and looked silently at JC when Katie's voice was heard. They walked out of the feed barn, loaded up, and continued their way to the track.
"I can't do this!" Katie yelled after unsuccessfully mounting Shadow.
"Yes you can! Trust him and he will trust you!" John exclaimed, holding onto Shadow so that she could mount once again. Other jockeys were watching in disbelief at Katie's attempts to ride the unruly horse. Katie jumped up once again and this time Shadow stayed still. She looked over at Palisades jockey. He just laughed and walked away.
"We'll see who gets the last laugh!" she said to herself as she walked Shadow around. JC and John walked off quickly, leaving her by herself on Shadow. She only hoped that he would stay calm.
"I will always be here to protect you" a voice called out to her.
"Lance?" she questioned to herself but the voice did not answer back. Only the sound of trumpets were heard, the race had begun.
"Let's go!" John had returned and grabbed ahold of Shadow's bridle. JC gave her a thumbs up. Kelly, Joey, Chris and Marie stood by him. Justin quietly stood behind them.
"Have faith and he will trust you" the voice called out to her again. She knew it was Lance as she entered the track. She was number 4. Palisades was 3. He was her only competition and she had a score to settle.
"You beat JC on Sundown and you beat me on Sundown which resulted in broken legs. You won't beat me again!" she said confidently to herself. She looked into the stands and saw everyone standing along the fence, including Lance. A smile came to her face. He didn't scare her. His vision comforted her and gave her strength.
The bell had gone off and the gates opened. Her attention went from the stands to the track. In a heartbeat, Shadow had jumped to the lead going in front of the stands. She felt the pounding in her heart, the thrill of emotion of riding in competition once again. Shadow's gates were as smooth as silk. His muscles tightened with every stride. Palisades had come up to challenge. Katie anticipated his arrival. His jockey had not been prepared with Shadow's early lead. But, there they were, as planned, head to head, with no other horses in sight, going towards the last turn. As to Katie's amazement, Palisades had taken over the lead and was moving farther ahead of them around the turn. Then there was Lance again, urging Shadow on, yelling with the others as if he were really there. Oh, how she wished he was. And how she wished she could be near him and run around like kids like they used to in the fields in summer. She remembered the day under the willow tree, the mall, the childish fights, the
skinny dip in the pool. She missed him, his voice, his gentle touch with horses. She missed him as her brother. She had to win this race. It was the only way. Her attention once again moved back to Shadow. With a hidden burst of speed, Shadow regained his lead in a matter of seconds. Out of nowhere they had come up around Palisades, like a rocket going off. And in those seconds Katie had gone across the wire. This time in front of Palisades. At least by a length and a half. They had won the Luxemborg.
Katie jumped off of Shadow after pictures were taken in the winners circle. Shadow was taken back to his stall as Katie walked across the track. JC walked up to her and congratulated her.
"You two look good together" she heard Lance's voice again. She remembered he said that, that night by the fence. She just shook it off and walked out towards the stables.
"What's going on?" Katie questioned as police cars were everywhere. Justin was in handcuffs and was being put into one of the cars.
"JC found some stuff in the feed barn. We immediately reported it and they went to check it out. They found fingerprints on the stuff. They were Justin's!" John explained to her.
"Oh my gosh!" Katie said in disbelief. Anything she had ever felt for Justin had vanished into thin air.
"It'll be okay, Katie. I'll always be here for you!" JC said to her as she turned around to look at him.
"I know you will be. You have always been here for me just like Lance was and still is." Katie moved closer to him.
"Lance will always be with you in your heart just like you will always be in mine" JC confessed. Katie kissed him and he kissed her back. Lance was right once again.
"Shadow!" Katie called from under the willow tree. JC sat beside her, setting out the picnic he had planned for her. The pounding sounds of hammers were heard in the distance. The finishing touches of the new barns were almost completed for the 15 new horses that they had bought.
Shadow peeked his head through the hanging branches. He started to sniff her clothes like he did at the beginning of summer. This time she didnt push him away. She gave him a juicy red apple and he stood there content.
"Shadow!" they heard a voice call from out in the pasture. It was Lance. Shadow perked his head up, twisted his ears toward the sound, and trotted out from the tree.
Katie and JC looked at each other and smiled. Visions of the young, carefree, blonde haired, green eyed boy filled their minds. Sweet memories of Lance would stay with them forever.