NEW RELEASE - Angels Club
Authors - Courtney Vail and Sandra J. Howell
Genre - Middle Grade General Fiction
Word Count - 55,000 words
Synopsis: Nearly twelve, Jacinda Gonzalez collects insults rather than friends in her new school, but she finds escape from her bullies at the therapeutic riding farm where she volunteers. When a malnourished horse shows up as a rescue, she takes it on as a project horse, and the horse's sweet nature inspires her to spread kindness around to make a positive difference in the world. Appropriate for horse lovers of all ages.
Excerpt: The tacked-on chores made it a long day of work for Kat and me. Emily helped out with some too. She especially loved opening the gate to let some of the horses out to play and graze.
After brushing Ginger and giving her the shiny apple I promised her, which she thanked me for with a sweet nuzzle, I dashed back to the barn holding the disheveled mare that was now my very own big project. Under all that dirt, I was pretty sure she was all white, but she could have some special markings too, which would be cool.
Kat and Em were still with her, talking about her current state of yuck. Man, I really wished they’d give her a break. She couldn’t help it, and this condition was only temporary.
“Awww,” I whined, rubbing her between the ears on her matted head. “Poor thing. Besides neglect, I wonder what other nightmares she’s been through. It’ll be dark soon. We don’t have time to beautify her today. We’ll have to tackle that huge task tomorrow.”
“Beautify her? Humph. Doubt that’s even possible,” Kat said, punctuated by a sneer.
“Sure it is. Have some faith, in her and in us. With a good wash, or a couple, and some grooming, she’ll at least look halfway decent, and definitely smell way better.”
Kat said, “I don’t know. She’s a walking disaster.”
The horse drooped her head low again and slowly munched up a blade of hay.
My heart ached for her. I really think she knows exactly what we’re saying. Or most of it. “She may be a walking disaster right now, but she has the most beautiful eyes ever. Did ya see ’em? They’re so gorgeous, they pull me right in. Not only do they hold so much emotion, look at those curly lashes. They’re like dainty butterflies.”
“What, do they speeeeak to you?” Kat mocked with a wiggly dance.
“Yes, they do, as a matter of fact. And they say, ‘I’m better than this. Don’t judge me.’”
“Hey, can I help you clean her up tomorrow? Please?” Emily cried with one clap and pleading eyes.
I looked at Kat for her opinion and she shrugged that she didn’t care. “Yeah, sure,” I said, “if your mom doesn’t mind you being here all day. Giving her a bath’ll be a lofty job. We’ll want to see if she’s been handled too. We can definitely use more helping hands.”
“No, my mom’ll be thrilled I found something to do on my own. She’s always wanting me to make more friends.”
I cringed with a lop-sided sneer because my mom was always nagging me about the same thing, but Emily’s frown and head droop said she’d read my expression all wrong.
“You don’t want to be friends?” she creaked. “I thought ... I thought...” Two giant tears rapidly formed and rolled down her cheeks in uneven streams. I didn’t think tears could form and melt that fast. “You two are the only kids who’ve looked me in the eye all week. Whether I’m on my crutches or in a wheelchair, people ignore me and act like they don’t see me at all.” Her voice started breaking like glass. “So, I was hoping, I mean, I just assumed ...”
“No! We’re friends, we’re friends!” I cried, cutting her off and waving my hands. “Oh my gosh. Please don’t cry. Of course we can be friends. I don’t have a single friend in school, not one. So when I did that whole face scrunch thing, I was thinking about how my mom’s always badgering me too, not that I didn’t want to be your friend. Sorry.” I looked at Kat with insistent eyes and a finger wave to back me up.
Kat nodded and rubbed Emily’s shoulder. “Yeah, of course we can be friends. We’re always looking for more friends, Em. So don’t flip.”
“Never. Trust me. You wouldn’t wanna see my cartwheels,” Emily said, smiling big at her own joke and wiping her eyelids.
We all fell into a fit of laughter at that. I was glad she had a sense of humor about her condition.
“Why would people not wanna look at you though?” Kat asked. “I don’t get it. You’re so crazy-adorable. Wish my curls were glossy like yours. All I have is a pompom.”
Emily bit her lip and her eyes got shinier. “Well, my mom says people feel sad or awkward when they see me in a wheelchair, or my funny walk, and they don’t want to offend me by staring or saying the wrong thing. But I’d much rather get a stare or a blunt question than the pretending-I-don’t-see-you thing I usually get.”
“That’s so awful,” I said, rubbing her upper arm. “Not to mention rude.”
“It so is!” Kat cried. “See? That’s why I like to be loud and sarcastic. Being short puts me below the eye level of most, but my big mouth makes me impossible to miss or ignore. You should try talking to people first, to break the ice and show off your inner sparkle. Jacinda and I can help you with that.”
“I’d love that. Thanks. Uh, I’m so relieved.” Emily patted her chest with both hands. “I thought I was getting ditched again.”
“Nah. We squabble sometimes, but we never ditch. Right, Kat?”
Emily wiped the lingering wet ribbons off her face, and the white mare, with her head turned, saw that and circled around and moseyed up to her. She rubbed against Emily’s face and licked her.
“Oh my goodness! What a lovey-dovey girl we have here,” I cried, patting our new equine friend. “She’s so sweet like Ginger and Sassy. Even after all the neglect and whatever else she’s been through, she’s trying to cheer you up and comfort you, Em. See? I told you there are some special horses who are just naturally angels.”
Emily curled her fingers under her nose. “Uck, although she stinks like she’s lived with a gang of wild hogs, that’s what you should call her.” She giggled at the horse’s eyelash tickle. She stroked the horse’s head. But, not ready for a slimy face-to-face smooch, she tried to shoo it back with her fingers.
Kat nudged the horse away from Em’s face.
“Call her what?” I said.
“Nah, I was thinking, Dirt Digger myself,” Kat said with a sneer, brushing the mare’s filth off her fingers. “It’s so much more fitting.”
“We are not calling her Dirt Digger,” I spat.
Kat cracked up. “How about Toad then?”
“No,” I growled. “I really like Angel. It’s a good name for her. Thanks for suggesting it, Em. I bet if we can get her looking up to her natural glory, she really will look like an angel, or the swift-footed carrier of one. Maybe she’ll even look like a unicorn.” I scratched the mare under the chin and neck, and she lifted her head, telling me, more, more, more.
“Doubt that, but you can call her whatever you want,” Kat said. “She’s your horse.”
“She’s not mine … just my sweet-as-candy project horse.”
“I really like ‘Angel’ as her name. It’s perfect.” Emily beamed.
“Perfect? Ha,” Kat shrilled. “She’s so far from heavenly, even demons are pinching their noses and are racing away to find some sulfur to sniff. I’m not even lying when I say that’s the ugliest, most wretched horse I’ve ever seen in my twelve years of existence.”
“She’s not ugly,” I said, rubbing her back. “She just … needs some sprucing and primping.”
“Or a lit match.”
“Hey, cut it out!” I whacked Kat’s arm. “That’s not even funny.”
“You know I’m kidding! I hate to see any creatures in distress.”
“You’re twelve?” Emily cried. “Never would’a guessed that. You look younger than me.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Kat groaned, crossing her arms. “I was asked to play Baby Jesus in the church play last Christmas, but they changed their minds when they saw my tinsel teeth.” She grinned wide and goofy to show them off.
Emily bowled over, laughing and clutching her stomach.
“Apparently, Jesus doesn’t really sparkle.”
Emily kept on laughing.
“Shut up,” I bellowed. “She’s exaggerating. She does that. Like, constantly.”
Emily looked at Kat and then at me with a crinkled nose of confusion. “Last week, Jacinda, you said you were almost twelve and live right down the road. You don’t go to the same school?”
I shook my head with my lips curled in. “Nope. Annoyingly, I was held back in third, so I’m only in fifth now, which puts me embarrassingly in the same new school as my six-year-old sister, Tia. Being in a sea of mostly ten-year-olds, and younger, only makes me stand out like a freakish, lumbering giant.”
“You’re not that tall.”
“I’m 5'4", and most of the kids stand beneath my shoulders.”
“We’re all pretty much freaks then,” Emily said. “We’ve got a gimp, a tree, a shortcake and a smelly disaster of a horse.”
“Hey! Don’t call yourself a gimp!” I yelled.
“Oh joy,” Kat muttered. “We’re like the Island of Misfit Toys. We should form our own club.”
I could tell by her sarcastic tone she was joking, but I nodded, loving the idea. “Yeah. We should.”
“I was joking!” she screeched with laughter.
“I know. But it’s a fab idea. I’m just not sure what our club should be about, but we’re all unique and talented in some way. So, I’m sure, combined, we can all put our hashtagable awesomeness to good use. Once we get Angel looking parade-worthy, we should, at the very least, try to find Angel’s previous owner. It’s not his fault he was hospitalized or whatever. We can send him pictures and some ‘Hope You Are Feeling Better’ cards. I really do hope he’s doing much better.”
“Me too. You have a really big heart, Jacinda,” Emily said with a smile. “I like that. It’s a great idea, one I should have thought of because I’ve certainly seen my share of hospitals. I know, just know, that man will love it. You were very patient with me, waiting for me to get up on the horse. You pushed me in exactly the way I needed without making me feel like a baby chicken. Hey! Maybe we should just do nice things for people and try to help whoever we can, especially other freaks like us.”
“Exactly.” I nodded with my smile sliding into an even bigger crescent moon. “The world is full of meanies. Each one of us here has been beaten down or ignored, so let’s be the opposite and try to make the world a little brighter. Instead of being more monsters in the mix, we can be angels instead.”
Emily’s bright smile said she adored the concept we came up with, and I took Kat’s nod of approval and shoulder shrug as good enough to be in too.
“Awesome!” I crossed my arms with a bounce of pride and elation. It was as ragtag and pitiful as this horse, and very tiny, but I had myself a club! An Angels Club.