Winter Circuit (The Show Circuit -- Book 2) (10 page)

BOOK: Winter Circuit (The Show Circuit -- Book 2)
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“And now look at you,” Mike said when he’d finally stopped busting a gut over my previous ineptitude. “You actually got a job working with horses.”

“You never asked why I wanted to come here,” I said, turning serious. “Everyone else, that’s the first thing they want to know.”

Mike tightened his grip on his beer can, making the aluminum squeak. “I figured you had your reasons.”

“Everyone else figures it only has to do with Chris.”

Mike crushed the empty and tossed it into the open cooler in front of him full with half-melted ice and one or two fresh beers. “One thing I’ve learned about this business is not to spend too much time worrying about what other people are thinking. It’ll bleed you dry.”

“Good advice,” I said.


Chapter 13

The first thing Dakota said to me was, “Can you get my water and bring it to the ring. I like to hydrate halfway through my rides.”

Hydrate? What kind of thirteen-year-old used the word hydrate? Dakota Pearce. Dakota was disgustingly, disturbingly pretty. Weren’t thirteen-year-olds supposed to have braces, acne, and frizzy hair? Not Dakota. She had beautifully highlighted blonde hair, Neutrogena-commercial-worthy skin, and delicate features. She was tall and skinny and had straight white teeth. She didn’t look thirteen—she looked fifteen or sixteen. She looked like she should have been starring in a Disney Channel pre-teen show.

I had been over at the show grounds picking up Dakota’s two new coats from Charles Ancona when the Pearces must have arrived. Now, Dakota was pulling a hairnet over her beautiful hair, securing a hair elastic to create a long ponytail, and sliding on her Samshield helmet so the ponytail stuck out the back and the little hairnet ponytail she had created did too. It was the exact style top juniors used when schooling and Dakota could have done it with her eyes closed. At the same time, Fernando was taking Dudley, the seasoned eq horse, off the cross-ties. I hadn’t seen Dr. or Dr. Pearce yet.

I run-walked back into the barn to get her bottle of water, then sat by the ring watching Linda teach her. Dakota was a decent rider. She looked good in the saddle and found most every distance but somehow she looked a little disembodied. Technically everything was right and maybe that was even the problem. She had no individual style, no minor personality trait to her position like a certain way she held her neck or her elbows. She was too perfect—the product of endless supervised rides on superb horses where she never had to improvise or scramble. She was a singer who hits all the notes but has no character to her voice, nothing that distinguishes her.

Halfway through, Dakota motioned for her water.

“I’m Hannah, by the way,” I said as I handed it to her.

She rolled her eyes like she couldn’t have cared less who I was. I still hadn’t seen her parents. Somehow she had just appeared at the barn, dressed to ride.

It was only later, after the lesson, that I met them.

“So good to meet you,” Dr. Pearce told me in a British accent. “Call me Audrina.” She was impossibly glamorous in dark jeans and gorgeous boots that went over her knees. Her hair was long and stylishly tousled. It was terribly stereotypical but it was hard to believe she was a doctor, let alone a leading heart surgeon who dedicated her life to the less fortunate. I had assumed she’d be dowdy with a practical haircut and unstylish glasses.

The other Dr. Pearce was good looking too for a dad. Tall and well-built, wearing a baseball cap which gave him an air of youth and approachability. Audrina introduced him as Winston. What a bunch of names: Audrina, Winston, and Dakota.

“We are so happy you’ll be looking after Dakota,” Audrina said. “It’s dreadfully important to have the right minder.”

Minder—I guessed that was British for sitter. I didn’t mind the label. In fact, it seemed to make much more sense than sitter or nanny since Dakota was a teenager.

“I’m really looking forward to getting to know her,” I said, even though after our first meeting I wasn’t feeling too positive about it all.

We small-talked. Where I was from. How cold it had been in the Northeast. I explained how I had a horse with Chris Kern. I thought I saw Audrina’s eyebrows go up at that, like she was impressed. Then, when I could, I asked, “What will your schedule be like?” What I really wanted to know was how many nights I could spend with Chris.

“Yes, well, I’m glad you asked,” Audrina said. “We just signed on to the most tremendous opportunity in Guatemala.” She rubbed her hands together. “We’re opening our own clinic. The funding just came through.”

“Oh my goodness, that’s amazing,” I gushed, even though I didn’t know what it meant exactly.

“We’ll fly back and forth when we can,” Winston said, and I noticed he played second fiddle to her. “But we’re really going to be depending on you this winter.”

“Of course,” I said. “Totally.” I liked the word “depend.” Not many people had ever depended on me. But it scared me a bit too, since it essentially meant I was going to be stuck with Dakota, who I was pretty sure might be as difficult as I had been told.

“Here’s the thing,” Audrina said. She stepped a little closer to me, giving me a sense that we needed to pull together. “You can’t let her out of your sight. We’ve had some… problems with her.”

I must have looked shocked—this hadn’t been in the job description—because Audrina immediately tried to minimize, gesturing with her hands. “Nothing that bad, just regular horse show stuff she’s gotten into. But we want her to focus on her riding and not get distracted.”

Distracted. I didn’t want to hear that word again. And how was I going to keep tabs on Mary Beth and spend time with Chris if I was glued to Dakota?

“Basically pretend you’re her shadow,” Winston said.

I couldn’t tell if he was trying to inject some humor or comment subtly and ironically that his wife tended toward the overprotective and dramatic. I looked at him meaningfully to try to tell but his face was unreadable. Maybe he was serious. My stomach started to ache—what had I gotten myself into? Should I quit right now? But I needed a job. Audrina probably
being dramatic. I had plenty of experience with dramatic mothers. I needed the money and a reason to be here in Florida. Dakota was tough on the outside but surely she would warm up to me. Wasn’t that what kids did, tested limits at first? Taking care of her couldn’t be as hard as taking care of Logan had been in Vermont when I didn’t know the first thing about horse care. Like Mike had said, I was tough. I’d bond with Dakota over TV shows and music. Soon she’d think I was cool. I was dating Chris Kern—that had to count for something. She’d become like my younger sister…

“No problem,” I told the Pearces. “It’s going to be a great circuit. So when are you leaving?”

Audrina’s hands fluttered around her throat. I felt uneasy—this situation was seeming weirder by the moment.

“Tomorrow morning,” she said.


Audrina and Winston left on a seven a.m. flight the next day to go back to New York so they could “pack, prepare, and whatnot” before they left for Guatemala. Talk about a quick turnaround.

Dakota slunk out of her room at 8:30 and I asked what she’d like for breakfast. Audrina had given me the rundown of what Dakota ate but I wasn’t sure what Dakota would
to eat. I thought maybe I could be the one to let her get away with snarfing down coffee and a donut, at least at first, so we could build rapport. I could be the cool babysitter who let her be a kid in the way her parents didn’t.

“Didn’t my mom tell you? A four egg-white omelet with spinach and tomatoes—no cheese. A bowl of blueberries and strawberries. No raspberries. I hate the seeds.”

“Okay,” I said, taking out the eggs. “Yeah, I know, the seeds always get stuck in my teeth.”

I was trying to be funny—to bond with her—but she didn’t even smile. Instead of feeling funny, I felt uncouth, like Dakota never got anything stuck in her teeth, ever. I tried to remain hopeful as I cooked. I had to give her time. Her parents had just dropped her and ran, and that had to suck, even if they were going to help the world be a better place. Maybe that was even worse because then she couldn’t hate them. If they’d just ran off to be together in Bora-Bora or were workaholics for the sake of making millions, she could full-out hate them and not feel the slightest bit guilty about it.

“I guess your parents were really needed in Guatemala,” I said, thinking I might get her talking about the subject. Maybe she could admit to me, and only me, how she really felt about them going.


“It must kind of suck to have them leave so soon.”

Still nothing.

“I mean you must be super proud of the work they’re doing over there…”

Continued staring at her iPad.

I slid the omelet onto a plate and brought it over to her. I glanced at her iPad. It was open to a website and I swear I picked off Chris’s name.

“What are you looking at?”


Well, at least she’d spoken. “What’s that?”

She positioned the iPad so I could see it. I stepped closer to have a look. It appeared to be a bulletin board with threads about different subjects to do with the horse show world. There were no ads. It wasn’t a fancy site, just bare bones.

“This is like a gossip site?”

“They’re gossiping about your boyfriend. Is he still your boyfriend?” Dakota smirked at me. She pointed to a thread entitled “Chris & MB.”

Re: Chris & MB

By Equitate37:

Is Chris Kern single again? Or is he back together with MB?

Re: Chris & MB

By Ridingmyassoff:

He’s still with the girl from the summer. And I say girl because I think she’s 16.

Re: Chris & MB

By Luv2Gossip:

She’s definitely not 16. I heard she went to college and they’re still together. But can’t imagine that will last long.

Re: Chris & MB

By HJPrincess:

Can totally see him getting back with MB. They were cute together.

Re: Chris & MB

By Wankie23:

Who is MB?

Re: Chris & MB

By Ridingmyassoff:

Wankie23, have you ever been to a horse show? Or are you 60 and used to show in the 80s? Find another site to bother with your lame-ass posts. Everyone knows who MB is.

Re: Chris & MB

By HJPrincess:

MB is Mary Beth McCord. Ridingmyassoff, you don’t have to be so angry. Wankie23 might just not know who MB is.

Re: Chris & MB

By Ridingmyassoff:

I’m sorry but if you have the screen-name Wankie23, you are asking to be shit on.

Re: Chris & MB

By Dapplegray:

Chris is so hot. One of the hottest guys out there.

Re: Chris & MB

By Love2gossip:

Are you kidding, HJPrincess? MB is a raving bitch. Remember when she reamed Chris out for not watching her go in a grand prix? It’s all about her with that girl. Chris deserves better.

Re: Chris & MB

By Doublecombo:

Yeah, but she has $$$$$$.

Re: Chris & MB

By Love2gossip:

You think she’d buy him horses? Puh-lease.

Re: Chris & MB

By HJPrincess:

I’ll bet you they’re back together by week 3.

Re: Chris & MB

By Love2gossip:

Probably right.

I tried to act like what I’d read wasn’t confirming every worry I’d had about Mary Beth. “You read this stuff?” I said to Dakota.

She sliced her omelet delicately. “All the time. Everyone does.”

“Do you post on it?”

She made a bored face. “Are you going to give me a lecture on Internet safety?”

“No,” I said. Maybe I had been, but I covered by saying, “You could post that Chris and I are together and really happy.”

“No,” Dakota said dismissively. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that any time soon.”


Chapter 14

I expected to get lots of texts from Audrina and Winston checking on Dakota. I had figured from the whole speech they’d given me about her, they’d constantly be asking whether she’d gotten her schoolwork done, how her riding was going, and generally whether she was behaving. But I received only one text the first week, telling me they were in Guatemala and to contact them if I needed anything.

The week went by quickly as we amped up to show the following week. Linda and I went over the plan for what classes each horse would be doing and what preparation they would need to be ready, whether they needed lunging, flatting, a serious school in draw reins. There were final lessons and final jump-schools by Linda and last minute tack changes. Linda had a good sense of humor and liked to imitate the foreign trainers that were in abundance at the show grounds. “First we dressage, then we do jumping,” she would say in a heavy accent as she and Dakota headed out to the ring.

When she wasn’t riding, Dakota did her schoolwork, met with her tutor, and spent time with her friends—other privileged teenage girls like her who spent their winters in Florida. They hung out at the horse show or at the pool at Dakota’s house, taking endless selfies and posting them to Instagram.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d read on HorseShowDrama and went back to the site to see whether people had written more about Chris and Mary Beth. I wondered whether Mary Beth had asked Chris again to help her with her horse. I kept wanting to ask him but I never found the right time to bring it up.

I decided that Mondays would be Chris and my couple’s day. A day for us to sleep late, have sex, lounge around his condo. It would be our day for escaping everything and everyone horse show and focusing on us. Our connection to each other. No matter what had happened during the week, we would have Mondays.

This Monday would be the first of these perfect days, and we would continue to have them throughout the circuit—a day for us to reset our relationship.

Audrina told me that for the Sunday nights and Mondays that they weren’t there, Dakota would sleep over with a friend of hers whose mother was staying for the whole circuit. It seemed like a good sign that Audrina realized I should have an official day off—either that or she knew I would need a break from Dakota or else I’d quit.

BOOK: Winter Circuit (The Show Circuit -- Book 2)
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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