Authors: Bonnie Bryant
“He’s been in love with you since he met you!” Carole proclaimed.
Deborah shook her head. “I can’t believe it,” she barely whispered.
“It’s true!” Lisa cried. “He kept saying all day that he
wanted to make a ‘very important announcement,’ but he never got to it because we kept interrupting. And then we heard him say to Mrs. Reg that he had wanted to ask you to marry him!”
Deborah stared at Lisa. Or, rather, she looked at Lisa, but her eyes stared right through her to some place the girls couldn’t see. Then she dropped her eyes down. A few tears fell onto her cheeks, and she wiped them away.
“Don’t cry, Deborah,” Lisa begged. “There’s still time to fix things. I’m
of it.” She put an arm lightly around Deborah’s shoulders to comfort her. Carole bit her lip. Stevie gulped.
Deborah looked up. She was smiling and crying at the same time. “I’m deliriously happy. I can hardly believe it. Marrying Max would be a dream come true.”
Stevie whooped while Lisa and Carole let out huge sighs of relief. So far, none of them had ever cried for joy, but they had heard it was something adults did occasionally.
“Now, if he’ll only get around to asking me!” Deborah added.
“What do you mean, asking you? This is the nineties!” Stevie said.
Carole and Lisa shook their heads frantically. The last thing they needed was another Stevie-Lake-never-fail special now that they had un-messed-up almost everything
they had messed up to begin with. Stevie, however, was rolling along at full force already.
“When you want to get the scoop on a big story, do you wait for it to come to you?” she asked Deborah.
“Of course not,” Deborah replied promptly. “If I didn’t go after it, I’d never get the story—or I’d get it so late it would hardly be worth it.”
“Precisely,” Stevie said.
“So what exactly are you getting at?” Deborah asked, although from the glint in her eye, she already had a hunch about what Stevie was thinking.
“I’ve got an idea, see,” Stevie began.
Y THE TIME
The Saddle Club reached Pine Hollow, it was fully dark. On their way back through—and this time
the fields—they had glimpsed the moon rising and the first stars coming out. It was a clear summer night.
“Perfect night for fireworks,” Stevie observed as they crossed the last field and came out onto Pine Hollow’s outside course.
“Sure is,” Deborah answered with a chuckle. She was riding double with Carole on Starlight.
Carole smiled. During the long walk back, she had had more time to talk with Deborah. Carole realized now that Deborah
eager to learn more about horses. But the reporter had been nervous and uncomfortable around
the other riders. Knowing how much horses meant to Max had only aggravated the situation. And today at the picnic, she had decided to stay out of the way as much as possible to protect herself. But it was obvious from the questions she asked Carole that she genuinely liked horses. She had even been hesitant about riding with Carole because she thought it might strain Starlight’s back. Carole explained that riding double was all right as long as you didn’t make a habit of it and made sure that you both sat well forward, not back on the loins.
For her part, Deborah seemed impressed with Carole’s knowledge and—even more—with her ability to teach what she knew. All the way home Deborah peppered her with questions. “What’s the point of trotting over cavalletti?” “How do you know when to use a crop?” “What’s a martingale?” “How do you tell what diagonal you’re on?”
After answering all of them, Carole laughed. “Now I understand how you get the big stories. This feels like a Know-Down!” she said. Deborah, of course, asked what a Know-Down was, and so they told her all about Pony Club, Horse Wise, rallies, ratings, and finally, games.
“Oh, so you mean that miserable event where I got completely soaked was supposed to foster horsemanship and friendship, huh?” Deborah inquired.
“That’s right,” Carole said sheepishly.
“That was completely my fault, Deborah. I forgot to
warn you about the side effects of being a human target,” Stevie said.
“That’s okay,” Deborah said. “If I’d known, I would’ve carried a water gun myself and shot back.”
“You learn fast,” Lisa complimented her. Lisa had also gotten a chance to talk with Deborah during the ride. She had asked all about what it was like to be a journalist for one of the country’s largest, most respected newspapers.
“It’s great,” Deborah told her. “There’s really never a dull day. You learn so much, and you’re constantly on the go. And, you know, you meet the most
people.” She winked at Lisa, who grinned back.
“So I guess in a way, we should all be thankful to the drug ring at the track or you’d never have had to learn about horses, and you’d never have come to Pine Hollow,” Stevie pointed out.
“I always say, give credit where credit is due,” Deborah said. “Especially when it applies to love or my own byline.”
Stevie wanted to clap Deborah on the back. Anybody who could quip the way she could was A-okay in her book. Instead she said, “I have just one more question.” They had reached the stable and were about to dismount. “Were you
buying the paper to brush up on local news?”
“I most certainly was,” Deborah replied indignantly.
Then, trying to stifle a grin, she added, “I was trying to find out if they’d have any use for a reporter from the
—I figured at least then I’d be in the area!”
“You mean you were planning to come back, after all this?” Lisa asked.
“We redheads don’t scare off
easily,” Deborah said, with a toss of her shining hair. She swung down off Starlight gracefully.
“Ah-ah-ah-CHOO!” At the unmistakable sound of Max’s sneeze, Deborah and The Saddle Club whirled around.
“Deborah!” Max cried. He ran up to her and, oblivious to Carole, Lisa, and Stevie, embraced her. “Where did you go? I—I thought you had left for good. I—”
Max paused midsentence as he noticed the girls. “How did you get her back?” he asked, all at once putting two and two together. “What’s going on? How did they find you?”
Deborah disentangled herself from Max’s arms and put a finger to her lips. “You’ll learn everything you need to know, all in good time,” she told him.
Max was about to protest when, in the near distance, a crowd cheered, drowning out his words.
“The fireworks must have begun!” Stevie yelled.
“If we hurry, we won’t miss much,” Lisa urged.
Max glared at them, but Deborah took him by the
hand. She led him off toward the hill where everyone had gone for the best viewing.
In a flash Lisa and Stevie had their horses back in their stalls. Having walked all the way home, they had cooled off completely from the long gallop. Carole decided to bring Starlight with her. She took every opportunity to expose him to new things and wanted to see how he would behave with the noise and the crowd.
“You know you really should rub down Barq and Topside with liniment,” she pointed out reluctantly, joining Stevie and Lisa at the door.
“Carole!” Stevie wailed. “We can’t miss the fireworks!”
“Who’s going to miss the fireworks?” Red O’Malley demanded, emerging from the feed room.
Lisa sped through an explanation. “You don’t say,” Red answered. Three heads nodded vigorously.
“Go on, then. I’ll do the horses. Never was much of a fireworks fan, anyway.”
The Saddle Club looked at one another for a second.
“Well, get going or they’ll be over!” Red barked. Stevie and Lisa thanked him profusely—and ran. Carole followed, leading Starlight at a quick trot.
It took only a few minutes to race up the little hill that overlooked the field where the fireworks were being set off. From a distance they could see all of the picnic-goers settled on the blankets that Mrs. Reg always provided.
“We made it!” Stevie hollered, as all three of them joined the crowd. She gave Carole ten fingers to hop up on Starlight for a better view.
“All you missed were the dumb ones at the beginning,” little Christine Kiernan told them.
“The end is always the best part, isn’t it?” Lisa said to no one in particular.
Willow Creek was known for its fireworks, and this Fourth of July display was no different. Once it really got going, everything was spectacular, both the groundworks—lights displayed from the ground—and the regular fireworks high up in the dark sky. There were dozens of starbursts in different colors up above and then a Catherine wheel from below. Back in the sky there was an astonishing burst of red, white, and blue lights in the shape of the American flag. The crowd cheered happily, including Max and Deborah. They were standing together, slightly apart from everyone else.
Then there was a moment’s pause as the technicians reloaded, followed by an unusual-looking set of groundworks.
“It looks like letters, doesn’t it?” Mrs. Reg said.
“Probably ‘America the Beautiful,’ ” Holly suggested.
“I don’t think so—that’s an M,” Nicole said.
The crowd fell silent, trying to puzzle out the message. They saw “M-A-R—”
“ ‘Mar’—what’s that?” Tiffani asked.
“Wait, it’s ‘marry’!” Mrs. Reg fairly shouted. Everyone waited breathlessly. “M-A-R-R-Y M—” sparkled across the sky.
this?” Margery Tarr asked.
Finally the whole thing appeared: M-A-R-R-Y M-E M-A-X! The crowd seemed to turn as one to look at Max. Max, however, did not have to turn very far. He had eyes for one person only, and she was standing right next to him: Deborah Hale. She gazed up at him steadily.
Max grasped her shoulders. The crowd drew in its breath. Max looked completely overwhelmed by this romantic—not to mention very original—method of popping the question. He tried to speak but instead sneezed violently. Deborah blushed as crimson as her hair. And then, while everyone looked on delightedly, Max Regnery the Third leaned down and kissed Deborah Hale on the lips, sealing the deal.
The kiss got a bigger cheer than any of the fireworks. Stevie, Lisa, and Carole whooped with everyone else. Then they turned to each other and exchanged high fives.
“Best Fourth of July picnic I’ve ever been to,” the TD’s waitress said, shaking her head in amazement.
“Then you had a good time?” Stevie asked eagerly.
“Oh, sure,” the waitress said. “But you should have told me what this Max guy was into—if I’d known, I would’ve brought firecrackers instead of ice cream!”
FTER THE YOUNGER
children had all gone home, taking their parents with them, and Mrs. Reg had disappeared into the house to call relatives with the news, and Red had finally driven off in his pickup, and Deborah and Max had left for Washington to tell her parents, and every last barn chore was finished, Lisa, Stevie, and Carole found themselves alone in the tack room. None of them was eager to part company. As Lisa put it, “What’s a Saddle Club success story without a sleepover afterward?”
Fortunately Stevie predicted that her mother would be in a good mood after all the work she and her brothers had put in this week. She was right. Mrs. Lake picked them up, drove them home, and cooked a huge spaghetti
dinner, complete with garlic bread, even though the other Lakes had eaten already.
About halfway through the meal, the phone rang. Stevie ran to pick up the receiver. To her delight it was Amy calling for Chad. This was the opportunity for revenge that she’d been waiting for.
Stevie yelled upstairs for him.
“I’ll take it up here!” Chad called back.
“Okay!” Stevie called. She held the receiver in her hand, getting ready to make a crack about being “green” with envy that the phone call was for him. But when Chad picked up the upstairs receiver, he sneezed loudly three times in a row. Carole, Lisa, and Mrs. Lake all looked up at the noise. Quietly Stevie hung up the phone.
Turning back to the table, she commented, “Looks like hay fever is starting all over again.”
“Do you think Chad’s getting sick?” Mrs. Lake asked.
“Don’t worry, Mom—he’s not really sick,” Stevie said knowingly. “Just lovesick.”