THE LAST RIDE
The morning, when Elisabeth was supposed to get on the plane home, Kate woke up and took a relaxing bath. Today was the day of her retirement. She decided to retire not because she was getting old, but simply because the career of a professional jockey required a young, agile body and her body was nothing like that anymore. However, Kate didn’t plan on abandoning the academy just yet. Her students were one of the reasons why she was still so full of life. Besides, horses and everything around them was her biggest passion, so if she couldn’t ride herself, she would at least train others.
After the bath, Kate went outside and still dressed in her bathrobe she started baking a loaf of Country Bread for breakfast.
She took her first bite and the door to the terrace opened. It was her handsome and still relatively young husband. I’m so damn lucky to have such a good looking husband at my age, Kate thought to herself while she watched him approach to the table.
“Good morning, darling,” said David and gently kissed her. Then he sat at the table and cut a slice of bread.
“I’m going to retire,” told him nonchalantly Kate.
“Retire?” David asked, dumbfounded.
“Yes. I think it’s about time.”
“What do you mean about time? You’re just fifty-six!”
“It doesn’t matter, Kate, you’re not… you’re not…”
“I am, David, at least for the career of a professional jockey.”
Kate was right. Professional jockeys retire at the age of 45, sometimes even earlier.
“Well, then, I think you should retire. And what about the academy?”
“When Elisabeth comes back-” Kate started talking about her plan concerning the academy, but got interrupted by David’s ringing phone. David looked at the screen and when he saw it was their daughter, he quickly stood up and moved aside from the table, so Kate wouldn’t hear what he talked about with Elisabeth, because Kate still thought that Elisabeth was in France.
“Hello, Elisabeth! I’m so happy you finally called! Is everything all right? Are you at the airport? How was your vacation? And what about your boyfriend? Is he coming back with you?”
“Dad, DAD! Slow down.”
“Sorry, Liz. Tell me.”
“I need to stay in China for another week… Could you buy me a plane ticket for the next week? Please?”
“Another week? Why? Did something happen?”
“No, no, everything’s fine!” Elisabeth lied to him. She felt very bad about herself, but she had no other option. If she told him the truth, he wouldn’t buy her the ticket.
“So why don’t you come back home? What will I tell to Kate?”
“Who is it, dear?” Kate asked suspiciously, but David ignored her.
“Please, Daddy, I’m sure you’ll come out with a good excuse.”
“All right then.”
“You’re the best, Dad! Thanks!”
“But promise me, that you will tell me everything and I mean EVERYTHING, when you get back home.”
“Say hello to everybody for me!”
“I will. Bye, sweetheart. Take care of yourself.”
“Sure,” said Elisabeth and looked towards the Dragon’s Maw. “Bye, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Liz. Bye bye.”
David sat back at the table. “So? Who was it?” Kate asked him again.
“She says hello… and uh… she really likes Shang Les Sims – I mean Champ Les Sims. A lot. She also asked me if she could stay one more week.”
“Ah, and what did you tell her?”
“To have fun, of course,” he smiled at her, but deep inside he was thinking about the real reason why Elisabeth wanted to stay in Shang Simla for another week.
“Good, good. I’m happy she is enjoying herself. Now, if only she met a graceful French gentleman and brought him back with her…,” daydreamed Kate.
Later that morning, David drove Kate to the Little Pony.
“Are you sure about this?” Cécile Pétite, the director of the LP equestrian center, asked Kate about her decision.
“Yes. I am, Cécile.”
“Very well then,” Cécile said with a sad voice. “I will organize one last race in your honor. You have given so much to the equestrian community, Kate. I want to make sure, that nobody will forget the day you retired from the Little Pony equestrian club.”
“Thank you, Cécile, but I don’t feel like racing anymore. I’m sorry.”
“No, Kate, I am. I can’t believe you’re retiring… After so many years and so many golden cups…”
“The time to pass the torch to the next generation has come. I believe there will be even better jockeys than I was…”
“I must admit – I hoped that your daughter would follow in your footsteps. She has talent.”
“I know, Cécile, I know… Maybe one day she will return back in the saddle,” told her Kate and remembered what happened after Elisabeth won her first race.
“It is true that the past influences the present. However, it depends only on us if we want to get influenced by it or finally leave it behind and start living our tomorrow already today. Time is running, Kate. For all of us.”
Kate listened carefully to what Cécile had to say. At first, she felt confused, but on the second thought, she understood, that Cécile was referring to Elisabeth.
“Will you at least let me organize a retirement party for you?” Cécile interrupted Kate’s thoughts.
“Mhmh,” she confirmed and her eyes sparkled.
“No racing. Unless you want to, of course.”
“Great,” said happily Kate. “I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself,” she laughed.
“So it’s settled then. I will call you later. Bye, Kate. Have a nice day,” Cécile smiled at her and hugged her.
“You too, Cécile. Thank you for everything, Bye,” said Kate and left.
Later that day when Kate was scattering the hay in the garden, her cellphone rang. It must be Cécile, she thought to herself.
“Hello, Kate! Do you have a minute?” asked her Cécile.
“Sure,” answered Kate and stubbed the pitchfork in the haystack.
“Okay. So, I called everyone in town to make sure they have no plans for this Saturday.”
“Yes. Do you have some plans already?”
“I don’t know… don’t think so.”
“Marvelous! Is 2 PM fine for you?”
“I guess yes.”
“Great, so don’t make any plans! Bye-bye!”
“Wait just a moment!”
“What is the program of the party?”
“It’s a surprise, honey, just make sure to bring Lady with you.”
“So it is a race?”
“No. But what kind of jockey would you be without a horse?” Cécile laughed in the phone.
“I’m becoming suspicious.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fun!”
“I will try to trust you. Oh, did you call George?”
“Oh no! I didn’t! I haven’t realized he was back in town! Would you like to call him yourself, Kate?”
“Yes, I’ll call him right away.”
“Perfect. So this Saturday at 2 PM! See ya!”
“Bye, Cécile. And thank you.”
Kate dialed George’s number. They haven’t seen each other in a while and this was a good occasion to change that.
Come on, George, pick up, Kate thought to herself as he was not answering. She was about to hang up the phone, when he finally answered.
“Hello Kate,” said a female voice.
“Yes, it’s me,” said George’s daughter.
“Where is George? Can I talk to him, please?”
“I’m afraid you can’t, Kate. He died early this morning. I’m sorry.”
“Oh no…,” sighed Kate and sat down on the haystack. “This can’t be true…”
“I’m sorry, Kate,” said Faith and started weeping. “He… he loved you so much, Kate. You were like a daughter to him.”
When Faith told her this, Kate couldn’t hold her tears any longer. “I’m so sorry, Faith… I really am… I wish I could see him one last time…”
“I believe he wished for the same thing before he died, Kate.”
“I will never forgive to myself that I haven’t called him earlier, Faith. If only I could thank him for everything he’s done for me…”
“I think you have one last chance, Kate. We’ll lay him to rest by my mother and my sister this Saturday at sunrise. I believe George would be happy if all your family could come to say goodbye.”
“Thank you, Faith. Of course, we’ll come.”
Kate was devastated. George was her best friend, she loved him as a father. Kate wasn’t strong enough to talk to anyone, so instead she spent the rest of the afternoon taking care of her silent friend.
Kate thought of the horses that once belonged to George. She thought of Bella and the first race they won together. Even though Bella was long gone, she was still very alive in Kate’s heart.
All the happy memories made her almost forget about George, however, when she remembered about the day when Bella passed away, she burst into tears. She wasn’t there for Bella, she wasn’t there for George… Will there be someone for her when the time comes?
When the sun started rising on Saturday morning, Kate, David, Finn and Zac put on their best clothes and headed down the hill.
It was a beautiful day of June, Saturday 19th 2027.
To Zac’s immense happiness, Amanda answered the door. He was successfully avoiding her since he got to know that the Vanderburgs moved to Monte Vista. Zac wasn’t ready for this. His legs suddenly became very heavy and he couldn’t catch breath, let alone his ability to speak.
“Hello everybody, follow me to the backyard,” Amanda said sorrowfully and disappeared in the house. She looked different in Zac’s eyes. It wasn’t the Amanda he remembered. It looked like a part of her went missing. Her grandfather’s death was one of the reasons for sure, but he felt that something else was wrong.
Their garden was such a peaceful place. The birds were singing in the trees, the fresh morning breeze was playing with the leaves and the sound of the water in the fountain was so soothing. It almost felt like heaven.
Faith was standing above her father’s grave together with her daughter Reese and mother-in-law Catarina.
Everybody except of Finn and Zac gathered around the grave.
“Come on, man! Pull yourself together!”
“I don’t want to go there, Finn.”
“Listen, she already saw you, so what’s the big deal? Don’t behave like a kid and let’s go!”
“I just don’t feel like… uh… I didn’t have to come here in the first place,” said Zac and looked down to the ground.
“Excuse me? Are you here because of George or because of her? Plus making everyone wait for us doesn’t really draw attention away from you.”
“Hello Finn! Hey Zac!” called Max as he ran past them.
“See? Now everybody knows that you’re here. Come on.”
“Fine, fine,” said Zac and followed his brother to join the others.
Kate looked upon the gravestone. She actually didn’t know how old George was. She ran her eyes over the dates. September 22nd 1937 – June 14th 2027. It wasn’t difficult to count George’s age, he would celebrate his 90th birthday in September.
“Thank you for joining us today,” Faith said to David while Kate was still looking down on the gravestone. “You were like a family to him, we’re happy to have you.”
“We’re happy to be here as well. George was our very good friend,” he said, took Kate’s hand and held it firmly. “We will miss him dearly.”
“Today we say goodbye to our beloved George…”
“The words you said were heartbreaking, Faith. George would be moved if he could hear you.”
“He told me once that leaving you was the biggest mistake of his life. He loved you, Faith. He loved you with all his heart.”
A smile appeared on Faith’s lips. Deep inside she always knew her father loved her, she only never figured out why he left her all alone when she was still a child. “Sometimes, I wanted to take back the time, you know, just to spend a day with my mom, dad and my sister. But then I know what would happen and I don’t think I could go through all that again…”
“I know what you mean, Faith… One day, we’ll have all the time we ever wanted to spend together with them.”
“It was nice to see you again, Finn. The occasion wasn’t the best, but I’m really happy nevertheless.”
“Yeah… Maybe you can come over sometime, we don’t live so far away,” Finn winked at Max.
“That would be awesome! You guys are so cool, grandpa had told me so many stories about you!”
“Stories? What kind of stories?”
“I’ll tell you some other time, it’s really not appropriate today…”
All Finn could do was stare at the kid. George sure was a funny guy. May he rest in peace.
After the lunch, Kate returned home to change into her riding clothes and prepare Lady for the ceremony. David, Finn and Zac headed directly towards the Little Pony’s equestrian grounds.
“Today is a special day for us, Lady,” said Kate and took a carrot from the pocket. “You and I, we’re not gonna race together anymore.”
She looked into Lady’s dark eyes and gave the carrot to her. Lady gently sniffed Kate’s hand and the next second the carrot was gone.
“I had a great time with you, my dear friend,” Kate whispered to Lady and caressed her on the nose. Lady happily whinnied. She saddled her up and rode down the hill to the Little Pony equestrian center.
Kate thought of George all the way there. She passed along the park where she learned from him about her victory in the first race of Monte Vista. Kate wished she could take back the time and see his happy face again.
“Hello everyone! Thank you for joining us today in the celebration of the greatest jockey that Monte Vista has ever seen! Please, give a big round of applause to our dear friend Kate Loewe!” said Cécile and everybody except the Gilmans happily clapped their hands.
Lizette looked like a younger version of her mother Melanie.
Finn spotted his girlfriend Malika Williams in the crowd.
“Finn!” she called and a big smile appeared on her face.
In the meantime, while everybody was listening to Cécile’s speech, Kate was getting ready for her last ride. Even though she didn’t come here to race, Kate decided to show off her riding skill one last time.
The very moment Kate sat in the saddle Cécile noticed the uninvited guests. The happy smile suddenly disappeared from her face.
A journalist from the Monte Vista Daily approached Kate to ask her a couple of questions. When she told him everything he wanted to know, Kate posed for a picture on Lady’s back.
Cécile turned on the megaphone and pointed it in the direction of the Gilman family. “Show us what you’ve got in yourself, Kate!” she screamed so loud, that Lizette almost lost her eardrum.
She walked to the ice cone stand and got herself a ball of cherry ice-cream.
Cécile and Melanie Gilman were arguing. When Lizette passed around, she heard her mother complain about being excluded from the equestrian club for no reason.
“Nobody has ever proven anything!”
“You’re wrong, Melanie. Everybody knows very well what happened all those years ago when you lost your first race. You’ve poisoned Caesar the way your daughter poisoned Freya!”
“You have no proof!”
“This discussion is over.”
“This is absurd! Nobody has ever proven anything!”
“I truly feel sorry for you, Melanie,” said Cécile and walked away.
“I hate you!” Melanie screamed after her, but Cécile ignored her.
Kate felt great. All eyes were on her. Riding her horse in front of all the people was truly satisfying and her sons were so very proud of their mother.
Later that afternoon, when Kate changed from the riding clothes and joined the party, not only her friends, but also people she didn’t know started coming to congratulate her on her retirement.
Others were having a late lunch. Cécile spared no expense.
“I’m sure they will, but first you have to finish the school and get a job,” laughed David.
“Good point,” Zac agreed with him.
The Williams were enjoying their stuffed turkey only a couple of tables from them.
“Now that you make me think about it, yes, it is,” Aimee said with a worried voice. “I have no idea what I’m going to do… I love my job.”
“Come on, Aimee! We’ll finally have time for each other,” Marley smiled at her. “Or for our grand kids,” he added and looked at his daughter. Malika nearly choked when she heard that.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Lizette told to her parents and raised from the table.
“Where are you going, Lizette?” asked her Melanie suspiciously.
“To the stables.”
“Please, don’t do anything stupid,” warned her her mother. Without saying a thing, Lizette headed for the stables.
Zac overheard their conversation and didn’t like it at all.
“Dad,” he whispered.
“Why are you whispering?”
“I think Lizette Gilman is up to something.”
“Come on, Zac! She would have to be really stupid to even think about doing something after what happened…”
“Well, I wouldn’t be so sure,” told him Zac and followed her to the stables.
He found her with a pitch fork in her hand. Are we gonna feed horses poisoned hay again? Zac thought to himself.
He sneaked behind her silently.
Lizette was an easy target. And also a very annoyed target.
“What the hell do you think that you’re doing?!”
“Scaring you, I guess,” he said while shrugging his shoulders innocently.
“Well, you are not funny!”
“I didn’t really want to be funny,” he said sarcastically.
“Go mind your business,” said Lizette and her lips twisted into an angry grin.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
“Do you really think I’m so naive, Lizette?”
“What do you want from me?!”
“You know why I followed you, so don’t play the stupid and hand it over.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Listen, I’m not in the mood for your games. Hand it over and it will stay between us.”
“Over my dead body!” said Lizette and stuck the pitchfork in the haystack.
“Be reasonable for once and-” he didn’t finish his sentence, because Lizette slapped him.
“I told you already, GO MIND YOUR BUSINESS!”
“Listen very carefully, I don’t usually hit girls, but I think I’m going to make an exception today,” said Zachary and jumped on her and brought her to the ground.
Meanwhile, at the training grounds…
“It’s been pleasure working with you, Kate. Thanks for everything,” said Cecilé and hugged her.
“I wish you and your family all the best as you enter into a new phase of your life. May you enjoy all the extra time that you’ll be spending with them,” told her Aimee Williams.
Kate felt very moved. “Thank you, Aimee.”
Marley was on his way to congratulate to Kate as well. He wasn’t so agile anymore and also his legs weren’t as strong as they used to be. Becoming an elder had its pros and cons. For instance, you had all the time in the world to do everything, but what was the point if you needed twice as much time to do it…
“So, what can I tell you, my dear friend,” Marley smiled at Kate. “Welcome to the club!” he laughed.
“I must warn you though. Don’t expect any fancy races with golden cups and shiny medals. In our club, we only watch races on TV.”
“Great. Can’t wait,” she said idly.
“I’m warning you, Richard, take back what you’ve just said or things will get crazy.”
“Do you think you can scare me, David?”
“I don’t really care about scaring you, Richard. Take back what you’ve said and apologize.”
“I hoped you weren’t like the rest of your family.”
“Surprise!” Richard laughed maniacally and hit David’s face. “Looks like things are getting crazy indeed! For you!”
“You asked for it,” said David and clenched his fists.
“Please, Richard, stop!” Melanie called desperately at her husband, but David has already threw himself at him.
When Kate turned around her heart almost stopped beating. It was the first time she saw David in a fight.
Nobody knows where David learned to fight, but one thing was clear. Richard won’t be able to sit for a week.
“Oh my god, David! What happened?” asked him frightened Kate as she ran her hands all over his body to make sure everything was in its place.
“Everything’s okay, darling. Everything’s okay,” he said softly, kissed her lips and hugged her tightly.
Little did they know that not everything was exactly okay…