The estate car chugged along the steep, narrow lane, its green paint hidden beneath layers of mud. Ellie Carrington sat in the front, her feet jostling for space with old drink cans, empty sandwich packets, a grooming brush with hardly any bristles left and a frayed red headcollar. She hugged her arms over her chest and stared out of the window at the hilly countryside they were driving through.
Falling-down stone walls divided the fields, topped with loose strands of barbed wire. Many of the fields were bare and empty. In others, sheep grazed the short grass, their fleeces a dirty grey-brown colour, their backs turned against the wind. In the fields lower down the mountains, a few shaggy cattle were grazing.
I hate it , thought Ellie bleakly, looking at the snow-capped peaks to her left. I hate it here .
An image of the lush meadows and the rolling hills of her home in New Zealand filled her mind. Not home . Her grey-blue eyes prickled as the thought slammed into her. Not any more .
She stared fixedly out of the window and began to wind a strand of her long, wavy blonde hair round her index finger, counting in her head with each turn. By the time she reached seven, the band of hair was beginning to cut off the feeling in her finger, but thankfully the tears had started to sink down inside her again and she was back to just feeling numb. Numb was good. It was better than hurting. In the last six months she’d learnt lots of little ways like that to stop herself crying.
The day her life had changed seemed both like yesterday but also a lifetime away. She’d been at the stables where she kept her pony, Abbey, and where her mum kept her three horses. She’d been there with her best friend, Rachel. Ellie’s parents had gone away for the weekend together, so she’d arranged to stay with Rachel that night. But from the moment Rachel’s mum had arrived at the yard, much earlier than arranged, Ellie had known that something was wrong. She knew she would never forget the words Rachel’s mum had said: Ellie, honey. There’s been an accident …
She had gone on to explain how a truck had skidded across the road that Ellie’s mum and dad were driving along. Their car had been hit and they had both died instantly.
Ellie could barely remember the months following. They were just a blur, moving out of her house, selling the horses, the discussions over where she should live. Her dad had been English, and had an older brother, Len, who lived in England still. Her mother was an only child from New Zealand. At first, Ellie went to live a short distance away with her New Zealand grandma, but she was old and not very well. A month ago her gran had fallen and needed a serious hip operation, and it had been decided that Ellie would move to England to live with Len at the start of the next year.
‘It’ll be the best thing for you, sweetheart,’ her grandma had said. ‘You’ll be with your uncle and cousin – Joe’s sixteen, only a year and a half older than you, and you’ll be living on a horse farm. Your uncle shows horses and ponies. Think how much you’ll like that.’
Ellie had loved horses ever since she could remember, but even the thought of living with horses wasn’t enough to persuade her. ‘I don’t care. I don’t want to go to England. I want to stay here with you. I can help look after you, Gran. Don’t send me away,’ she’d begged.
She’d heard the unhappiness in her gran’s voice. ‘The doctor says I’ll be in hospital for a long while and then a nursing home. You have to go, Ellie. I’m sorry.’
None of Ellie’s arguments had made the slightest difference. Her grandmother and the other people in charge of her parents’ will had decided it was best that she went to live in England. She was fourteen and had no power to change their minds.
So here I am , Ellie thought, staring desolately out of the window.
She thought of Abbey, her pony, who had been sold, and a lump started to form in her throat. They had found a good home for the mare with two young girls – really she had become too small for Ellie in the last year and would have had to be sold anyway, but Ellie had thought she would get another pony. Now she had nothing. Just herself and her suitcases.
She looked across at her Uncle Len. His face was lined and weather-beaten, his hair cut so short he almost looked bald. His eyes were the same grey-blue as Ellie’s, but they were hard. He hadn’t said much to
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