“I don't know if thisâthis Patricia is the kind of friend we want Peg associating with,” Mrs. Gardner began.
“Oh, now, Helen, the girls haven't done any harm,” Uncle Roger protested.
“And I have to confess that I'd be relieved if my little girl put off dating boys for just a bit longer,” added Mr. Gardner as he entered the kitchen, one of Della's famous Bloody Marys in hand.
“I suppose Father knows best,” Mrs. Gardner relented with a smile. “I must speak to Carol now, arrange for a tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte with Fred.”
As she left, Uncle Roger shook his finger at Peg. “And don't you have a tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte as well? Scat!”
Peg biked to the stables a trifle more slowly than usual. She longed to see Pat, yet she also dreaded the encounter. As she biked under the wooden sign, she saw Mrs. Huntley striding toward the little office.
“Mrs. Huntley!” she called. “Is Pat here?”
“Yes, Peg, she's here. She's in Garbo's stall, saying goodbye.”
“Goodbye!” gasped Peg. “You're notâyou're not going to fire her just because she's a girl!”
“Girl or not, she's the best stableboy I've ever had,” Mrs. Huntley replied. “Pat's quitting. I'm not sure why.” Continuing into the office, she said over her shoulder, “Maybe you can figure it out.”
Peg sped into the stables and, like a homing pigeon, flew to Garbo's stall. Pat was there, her face buried in Garbo's neck. “Pat, you can't quit!” Peg exclaimed. Pat jerked around and Peg's eyes widened. Now she understood that sore spot on Pat's chest. With an effort, she pulled her eyes back to Pat's face and continued. “You're the best stableâstable
this place has ever had!”
“What are you doing here?” heâno,
“I came to find you,” said Peg. “My uncle's taking us to lunch at the country club, remember?”
“I thought you'd never want to talk to me again,” Pat muttered, turning away.
“Oh, Pat, don't be silly.” Peg's voice shook. “I feel terrible about last night. I was such a dope. I'd feel the same way about you if you were a girl or a boy or . . . or a horse!”
“I was going to quit because I knew coming to the stables would only remind me of youâ” She turned toward Peg, her gray eyes full of unshed tears. Peg stared back, unsure of what to do next. Suddenly, with an anxious whicker, Garbo nudged Pat toward the lanky redhead. Then Pat's arms were around Peg, and when their lips met, Peg knew that everything was all right again.
“Pat.” Mrs. Huntley's jovial voice broke into their tender interlude. “There are stalls to be mucked outâthat is,” she added, peering into the stall with a smile, “if you
still working here!”
“Yes, ma'am!” exclaimed Pat, and they all laughed together. Peg helped Pat clean stalls and the morning flew by. When Uncle Roger telegraphed his approval of Pat with winks and nods as he drove them to the country club, Peg thought she couldn't contain any more happiness. Luncheon was gay, with Uncle Roger telling funny stories of his adventures in Hong Kong over the Caesar salads and roast beef. As the meat plates were cleared away, Uncle Roger questioned Pat about her ambition to be a veterinarian. “My roommate, Bruce, knows some people at Cornell,” said Uncle Roger. “Maybe you and Peg should come to the city for a weekend sometime, and we could arrange a chat. How would you like that?”
Peg met Pat's glance, each filled with delight. “That sounds lovely, Uncle Roger!” cried Peg. “When you're a vet, Pat, you can tend to the horses in my stable!”
“Wonderful idea,” approved Uncle Roger. “Ah,” he said as three plates of floating island were set flaming before them, “now this is something like it!”
Oreola woke up with a start as the automobile came to a sudden stop. She peered through the dust-covered window and saw that Pa and Uncle Jo-Jo had already gotten out and were looking under the hood of the old Model-T. “Might be a piece of tumbleweed got kinda twisted âround the rear axle agin', like in Sweetwater,” she heard Uncle Jo-Jo suggest. Pa said nothing. He just sighed and got down on his hands and knees to crawl under the jalopy.
“Orie, I'm going to see if your pa needs help. You keep an eye on the young'uns,” said Oreola's mother, struggling out from under a pile of bedding in the front seat. The whole car was stuffed so full of their belongings, the clothing, farm-tools, and the bits of furniture they'd been able to take from the farm in Oklahoma after the bank foreclosed, that there was hardly any room for Ma, Pa, Uncle Jo-Jo, the five Budd children, and Grandma Jennie.
Grandma Jennie sat at the other end of the backseat from Oreola, knitting and sucking her toothless gums. In between her and Oreola were the four little BuddsâJeff, the twins Bob and Bunnie, and little Loula Mae Budd, who was only two. Now all of them were awake, whimpering and fidgeting so that Oreola could hardly stand it.
“Grandma Jennie, I'm goin' to climb up top and git me some fresh air,” said Oreola. “Likely we'll be here for some time.”
Grandma Jennie nodded and cackled to herself in that way she had. Oreola cranked down the window, squeezed out from under the rolled-up rug that lay across the little Budds, and nimbly climbed through the opening. Getting a foothold on the rearview mirror, she grasped onto the tie ropes and pulled herself to the top of the car, where the mattresses were piled. Way up there, Oreola could feel a faint cool breeze. She lay back on the topmost mattress and tried to imagine, for the thousandth time, what California would be like.
For the last year, the family had talked of little else besides Californiaâhow green it was, how the fruit practically fell off the trees right into your mouth, how a man could find enough work there to feed his familyâunlike Oklahoma, where crops and jobs and whole families had just disappeared in a cloud of red dust these past few years. Of all the Budd children, only Oreola could even remember a time when there'd been green on their farm and more to eat than grits. Oreola thought about the raisin that each of the Budd children had found in their Christmas stockings this past year. The little ones had gobbled theirs up straightaway and then cried when it was all gone. Oreola had meant to save her raisin for something special but, in the end, had divided it up so that her little brothers and sisters could each get one more sweet taste.
Since they'd set out, two weeks earlier, the whole family had made a game out of saying what they all hoped for when they got to California. Pa hoped to make enough money to buy a new farm and Ma hoped for a new dress, her first since before Oreola was born. Uncle Jo-Jo said how he'd heard they had some mighty pretty gals out in California and maybe he could meet himself one who wouldn't hold it against a feller if he'd spent a little stretch in the state pen. Grandma Jennie hoped she could get herself some new teeth and Jeff, Bob, and Bunnie never stopped talking about raisins. Only Loula Mae and Oreola never joined in, Loula Mae because she was too young to talk much yet, and Oreola because she was too shy to say that the only thing she hoped for was a best friend.
When Oreola was nine, she had read a story in her school reader about two girls who were best friends. They had gone for walks together and combed each other's hair and told each other everything. Oreola had known that she would never be best friends with any of the girls in her classâSissy Jenkins was too stuck-up, Betsy Pearson was mean as a rattlesnake, and Evie Sue Tyler just wasn't right in the headâbut she had hoped that maybe some new girl would come to the school to be her best friend. Then the money to pay Miss Littleton had run out and the school had closed.
That had been three years ago, but Oreola had never stopped thinking about it. She'd even fashioned herself a doll out of a corn cob, some straw, and a couple of lima beans and named it Annie, like one of the girls in the book. Oreola looked wistfully down at Annie, whom she always kept close at hand, and smoothed down the few strands of straw that served as her hair. Yes, California was sure to be better.
They were somewhere in Texas now and Pa had heard that cotton pickers were making 14 cents a bale. He hoped to make enough money to get them a piece farther along the road to California, but when Oreola sat up and looked around from her perch atop the car, all she saw were fields of brown grass, in all directions.
Then Oreola's eyes were caught by a movement. There was a little black foal in one of the fields, switching his tail back and forth as he nosed at the long grass. As she watched, the foal kicked up his hind legs and ran in a little circle.
Oreola slid off the mattress and landed lightly in the dirt by the side of the road. Her bare feet made no sound as she ran through the grass toward the little foal. But the horse sensed her coming and, with a funny snort, kicked up his heels and trotted away. “Wait, little horsey, wait!” cried Oreola, running after him. But the little horse was too fast. With a whinny, he threw up his heels and disappeared in the tall grass.
Then Oreola heard a distant put-put-put. Pa and Uncle Jo-Jo must have gotten the old Model-T started again! Turning around, she realized she'd traveled quite a piece from the road, chasing the horse. The auto was small in the distance, and as she hurried back across the fields, she saw the old car move slowly forward. “Wait, wait!” she screamed, running and stumbling through the field. But the car put-put-putted down the road, and soon disappeared over a small rise. Oreola sank down in the grass. She often rode on the mattresses up on top of the carâno one would realize that she wasn't there until they stopped for the night. How would they ever find her again? She began to cry bitterly.
” said a voice quite near her. Oreola scrambled to her feet. A Mexican girl her own age, as short and plump as Oreola was tall and lanky, pushed her way through the tall grass. The girl had wavy black hair, covered with a red kerchief, and big brown eyes, which examined Oreola with friendly curiosity. “Who are you?” the girl asked in English.
Oreola wiped away her tears. “I'm Oreola Budd.”
“And what is that you are holding?” the girl inquired.
Oreola looked down to see that she was still clutching Annie in her hand. The sight of the doll made Oreola acutely conscious of her twelve years. “It's jist a doll,” she replied, trying to take on a careless tone.
“A doll? But it is nothing more than a corn cob with some straw,” the strange girl said, puzzled.
“No, looka here. Don't you see she got lima bean eyes?” Oreola explained. “Her name is Annie.”
The girl peered closely at Annie. “Ohhhh!” she said admiringly. “Now I see.” She smiled broadly, adding, “And her name is nearly the same as mine! I am Ana Maria Leticia Ortiz.”
Oreola stared, disbelieving. Could this be her Annie? And she hadn't even had to go to California to find her, she thought wonderingly. Thinking of California, Oreola remembered her plight and the tears flowed down her cheeks again.
“What is wrong, Oreola?” Ana Maria asked sympathetically.
“I was traveling through with my family, but they done gone off and left me.”
” said the other girl, taking her hand. “You can stay with us.”
There was a rustling sound, and the little black foal poked his head through the grass.
“El Cid! You bad one! I have been looking for you,” scolded Ana Maria. The foal nuzzled her cheek, until she giggled.
“Is this horse yours?” exclaimed Oreola. Her words tumbled over each other as she told the Mexican girl how she had followed the foal and so been left behind.
“El Cid belongs to my family,” said the girl, hugging the foal. “Come home with me, and I will show you the tricks I have taught him.”
Willingly Oreola followed Ana Maria. Being left behind did not seem so bad, now that she had made the acquaintance of the mischievous black foal and the friendly Mexican girl with the wonderful name.
Soon they reached the farmyard of a small white frame house, which was bursting at the seams with black-eyed, black-haired children, Ana Maria's brothers and sisters and cousins. Her uncle and her father had adjoining farms, Ana Maria explained, and everyone helped out on both. “We have to work very hard to pay the bank loan,” said Ana Maria.
Oreola nodded sadly. “You-all are sure lucky you still have a farm,” she said.
Oreola stood back bashfully as Ana Maria helped the women prepare dinner, enjoying the way they cheerfully laughed and chattered in Spanish. Her mouth watered at the many new and enticing smells. When the Ortiz clan seated themselves at the table, Ana Maria pulled Oreola into a chair next to hers. Oreola could hardly wait to dig in, but it was all so strange, she began to feel awkward. She picked up an unfamiliar implement and whispered to Ana Maria, “How does this-here thingamabob work?”
“This? But this is just a fork! Have you not seen one before?” responded Ana Maria, incredulous.
“We warn't fancy at home,” Oreola explained. “We never needed more'n a spoon.”
Ana Maria patiently explained the use of the fork and knife to Oreola, who found them quite useful for digging into the heaping plate of food in front of her. All of the food was delicious, but best of all were Mama Ortiz's tamales.
“They are famous through all the county,” said Ana Maria proudly. “There is no one who makes a better tamale than
After dinner, Ana Maria took Oreola out to watch El Cid play in the corral. As they perched on the fence and watched the spirited foal, Ana Maria told Oreola her dream was to someday compete with El Cid in the barrel racing competition in Austin. “It is the biggest rodeo in all the state of Texas, and when El Cid and I win there, I am sure to find a job as a horse trainer.”
In turn, Oreola confided to Ana Maria that she would one day like to be a nurse. “I know I'm a little short on readin' and writin' and figurin' and such,” Oreola admitted, “but sometimes when the young'uns got hurt, I fixed 'em up and Ma always said I did a right fine job of it.”
Later that night, when it was time for bed, Ana Maria asked Oreola if she would comb out her hair and offered to comb Oreola's. Oreola shivered with delight. She could hardly believe that it was all happening just like in the story. She finally, truly had a best friend! The girls snuggled down together in Ana Maria's bed, and whispered and giggled long into the night, even after they heard Mama Ortiz call sternly, “Ana Maria! Oreola!
Oreola woke the next morning to Mama Ortiz's call, “Oreola,
, see who has come!” She flew down the stairs, with Ana Maria right behind her. There was the old Model-T parked in the farmyard, and her ma and pa standing by it talking to Mr. Ortiz, while the little Budds stared out the window at all the Ortiz children who stared back at them. Mama cried and scolded Oreola, at the same time giving her a hug so tight Oreola could hardly breathe. Pa rested his hand on her head, and said only, “You caused us a peck o' worryin', Orie.” They had driven back through the night, asking at all the farms along the road if anyone had seen a girl with yellow hair and cornflower blue eyes.
Oreola was happy her parents had found her, but she was happier still when she heard Mr. Ortiz telling her father about the big cotton farm only three miles away. They would have work for a month, and she and Ana Maria would see each other every day! Joyfully the two girls embraced, pressing each other to their budding bosoms.
As they chugged away, Pa remarked to Ma, “I guess them Mexicans ain't so different from the rest of us.”
Ma replied, “Yep, the Lord visits hard times on the white people and the brown people just the same.”
Pa laughed grimly. “Or the bank does.”
The month flew by all too soon. Every evening, Oreola would walk the three miles from the pickers' shacks to the Ortiz farm. It was a long walk after twelve backbreaking hours picking cotton, but when Oreola arrived at the Ortiz farm and heard El Cid's spirited whinny and saw Ana Maria running to greet her, her hair flying in the wind, she would feel renewed. As they diligently worked, training El Cid, the worries and hardships that filled the rest of Oreola's life lay outside the corral, forgotten.
Some evenings Ana Maria and Oreola would ride through the fields on Blaze, El Cid's mother. At first, Oreola had been afraid to climb up on the big mareâ she'd only ever ridden Sal, the stubborn old mule who had pulled her father's plow back in Oklahoma. But with Ana Maria's patient instruction, Oreola soon lost much of her nervousness. Still, when Blaze would leap over a ditch or shy from a tumbleweed, Oreola would clutch tightly around Ana Maria's waist, and not let go until the ride was over. Ana Maria never complained.