Authors: Bonnie Bryant
Lisa smiled down at Maxi. “You’re awfully cute. Do you know that?” She suspected that Maxi did.
It was ten minutes since Deborah had departed to look for the new student. The other two members of The Saddle Club had not yet returned from their respective errands. Lisa was in Mrs. Reg’s office playing with Maxi.
Deborah entered. “How’s it going in here?” she asked.
“Great,” Lisa said, looking up with a smile. “I think Maxi likes the present we got her.” The stuffed horse had been a Christmas gift from The Saddle Club. Lisa had been delighted to find it tucked into the side pocket of the infant carrier.
“She sure does,” Deborah said. “It’s one of her favorites already. Will you come and help me welcome the new student? A car just pulled in, and I’m sure it’s her.”
“Sure,” Lisa said. She was glad to see that Deborah seemed calmer than she had a few minutes earlier. She stood up, being careful not to bounce Maxi around too much. “Let’s go.”
“I really appreciate your help,” Deborah said as she led the way toward the front of the building. “All of you girls, I mean. And I’m sorry if I seemed kind of hysterical before.” She sighed. “I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately. Maxi kept me up half the night last night.”
Lisa glanced down at the beaming baby in her arms. She could hardly imagine such an angelic creature giving anyone trouble. “At least you won’t have any problem staying awake to ring in the new year in a couple of days,” she joked.
Deborah rolled her eyes. “That’s true,” she said with a laugh. “Who needs a party when you have a baby?” She reached over and tousled Maxi’s downy hair. “She’ll be our own little noisemaker this year. I just hope she lets us
get more sleep in the new year than she did in the old one.”
Lisa smiled. She was sure that Deborah must be exaggerating, at least a little. She knew that babies were a lot of work, but she thought that taking care of a baby must be sort of like doing stable chores. It was hard work, but you really didn’t mind because it was for something you loved.
Lisa glanced again at Deborah’s tired face.
, she reflected,
I guess even work you love can pile up
. Sometimes completing the number of chores around Pine Hollow could seem like an impossible task. Maybe being a new mother was the same way.
She didn’t have any more time to think about it. They had reached the stable entrance just in time to meet a pair of people coming through it.
One of the strangers was a girl about Lisa’s age. She had short reddish brown hair, big hazel eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. The woman with her looked so much like the girl that Lisa knew they had to be mother and daughter.
“Hi there,” Deborah greeted the newcomers. “Welcome to Pine Hollow.” She introduced herself and Lisa.
“Nice to meet you both,” the woman said with a wide, friendly smile. She shook Deborah’s hand, then turned and gave Lisa’s hand a hearty shake as well. “I’m Joanne Lynn. This is my daughter, Brittney.”
“Hi, Brittney,” Lisa said, turning to the girl.
The new girl gave Lisa an uncertain smile. She scanned Lisa’s face for a second with apparent interest, then quickly looked down at her feet. Lisa noticed that those feet were clad in a scuffed, well-worn pair of riding boots. “You can call me Britt,” the girl said in a voice that was little more than a whisper.
Meanwhile, Britt’s mother was leaning forward to get a better look at Maxi. “What a cute baby,” she said, tickling Maxi under the chin. She glanced at Deborah. “Is she yours? I think I can see a resemblance.”
Deborah smiled. “Yes, she is. Her name is Maxine. I believe you spoke to her father on the phone—Max Regnery.”
“Right,” Ms. Lynn said. “Max and I chatted yesterday. He sounds like a lovely man.” She smiled even more brightly at Deborah, then turned to include Lisa in her frank, friendly gaze. “Britt and I just moved to this area, and she’s dying to find a new stable. She’s a terrific rider—she’s been doing it since she was knee-high.”
“Really?” Lisa said, looking at Britt. “That’s great. You must be really good.”
Britt shrugged. “I like to ride,” she said. Then she looked down at her feet again.
The new girl seemed uncomfortable being the center of attention. Lisa could already tell that Britt was very shy.
I wonder how she turned out that way with a mother like
Lisa thought. Ms. Lynn was so cheerful and likable that Lisa felt comfortable with her already. Her daughter, on the other hand, seemed remote and withdrawn.
Maybe she’s just timid around new people
, Lisa speculated. What could Lisa do to make her feel more relaxed?
Before Lisa could figure out what to say next, Carole arrived. “Hi,” she said breathlessly. “Nero’s ready. He’s waiting in the indoor ring.”
“Thanks, Carole,” Deborah said. She introduced Carole to the Lynns. “Carole and Lisa are two of our best young riders,” she went on. “I’m hoping they’ll help me give you two a tour of the place.” She gave Ms. Lynn an apologetic smile. “I’m afraid I can’t seem to locate my husband at the moment. But he’ll be along soon, I’m sure.”
“No problem,” Ms. Lynn said. “We’re in no hurry. Right, Britt?”
Britt nodded silently.
“Great. How about that tour?” Ms. Lynn turned her bright smile and twinkling hazel eyes on Carole, who automatically grinned back.
“Let’s start at the tack room,” Carole said. “Come this way.” She touched Britt on the elbow. The girl jumped in surprise, but she followed obediently as Carole led the way down the hall, pointing things out as they walked.
Lisa dropped behind a little, watching Britt. She could tell that the girl wasn’t doing much more chatting with Carole than she had with her. But she did seem very
interested in seeing the stable. She even asked Carole a question or two, although she spoke so quietly that Lisa couldn’t quite make out what she was asking.
After a moment, Ms. Lynn fell into step beside Lisa. “Have you been riding here long, Lisa?” she asked.
“Not as long as my friends have,” Lisa said. She looked around at the familiar scene. It was hard to remember a time when she hadn’t come here, although it really wasn’t that far in the past. “But long enough to know that this is the best stable around. I’m sure Britt will love it here.”
“I hope so,” Ms. Lynn said. Her smile turned a little wistful and she lowered her voice. “In case you haven’t noticed, she’s a little shy. But only with people, never with horses. She loves them all.” The woman glanced down one of the long rows of stalls as they passed it. “She must get that from my late husband. She sure doesn’t get it from me. I never even saw a horse up close before Britt started taking lessons.”
Lisa laughed as she and Ms. Lynn paused outside the tack room. Carole, Britt, and Deborah had already disappeared inside. “Don’t worry, the horses here are really friendly,” Lisa assured the woman. “And the people are almost as nice.” Maxi wiggled a little in the carrier, and Lisa helped the baby find a more comfortable position as Ms. Lynn peeked into the tack room. Lisa could hear the sounds of one of Carole’s enthusiastic horse-related lectures heating up inside.
Ms. Lynn pulled her head back and looked at Lisa. “Sounds like they’re having fun in there.”
“I’m sure Carole is,” Lisa said. “I just hope she doesn’t get so caught up in what she’s saying that she won’t let Britt get a word in edgewise. She gets that way sometimes when the subject is horses.”
Ms. Lynn laughed. “Don’t worry,” she assured Lisa, leaning back against the hallway wall. “Britt is a good listener. She could listen to horse talk all day and be as happy as a clam.” Maxi reached out toward the woman, and Ms. Lynn offered the baby a finger to grasp. “Do you go to school here in Willow Creek, Lisa?”
Lisa nodded. “I go to the public school in town.”
“That’s where Britt will be going when classes start up again in January.” Ms. Lynn shook her head. “I really hated to pull her out of her old school in Ohio in the middle of the year, but I didn’t have much choice. I work for a politician who was just elected to Congress in November. She asked me to move here and work for her; her term starts this January.”
“That’s really great,” Lisa said sincerely. Willow Creek was within commuting distance of Washington, D.C., so she knew a lot of people, including many of her parents’ friends and a few of Max’s adult riders, who worked for the government in one capacity or another. She was always interested in meeting the people who had moved to the U.S. capital from all over the country—even all over
the world. It made her sleepy little town seem much more exciting.
“This way,” Carole called over her shoulder, hurrying out of the tack room. She almost bumped into Lisa. “Oops. Sorry about that. I was just going to take Britt to meet some of the horses.”
“Good idea,” Lisa agreed. She smiled at Ms. Lynn as Carole hurried off with Britt in tow. “Nobody knows the horses around here better than Carole. Just don’t tell Max I said so.”
The woman chuckled. Deborah, who had just emerged from the tack room and joined them, laughed, too. “I’m afraid Lisa is right about that,” she admitted. “Carole is certifiably horse-crazy.”
“The best kind of crazy,” Ms. Lynn said. “At least that’s what Britt tells me.”
Lisa glanced down the hallway at Britt’s departing back. The more she heard about the new girl, the better she liked her. At least in theory. It was just too bad that Britt wasn’t as friendly and outgoing as her mother.
“What kinds of horses did Britt ride at her old stable?” Deborah asked as she, Lisa, and Ms. Lynn strolled down the hallway after Carole and Britt.
“Actually, she had her own horse,” Ms. Lynn replied. “His name is Toledo. She boarded him at the stable. Unfortunately, he was already quite old when she got him a few years ago.” She glanced forward at her daughter’s
back. “We decided to let him retire and stay in Ohio rather than trying to move him here with us. He’s got a beautiful little pasture at the stable there. But Britt misses him terribly already, as you can imagine.”
Lisa nodded sympathetically. She couldn’t imagine leaving a beloved horse behind in another state. But it sounded as though Britt had made her decision based on what was best for her horse. That was another big point in her favor, in Lisa’s book. She was sure her friends would agree. “That’s tough,” she said softly.
Deborah nodded. “Poor girl. I hope we can help keep her busy so that she doesn’t feel too sad.”
At that moment, Britt came hurrying back toward them. “Hey, Mom,” she said. Her voice was still soft and quick, but now she was smiling. Her face glowed with excitement. “Come here and see. There’s a horse here who looks a lot like Toledo.”
Ms. Lynn allowed herself to be dragged away down the aisle. Carole walked over to talk to Lisa while Deborah wandered around the corner to look for Max.
“Which horse is it?” Lisa asked curiously.
“Romeo,” Carole said.
Lisa nodded. Romeo was a boarder. He was a good-natured brown gelding that belonged to Polly Giacomin, a girl in The Saddle Club’s riding class. “Britt seems nice, doesn’t she?”
“Nice and shy,” Carole agreed. “But she seems to know a lot about horses.”
Lisa smiled. She knew that was all the endorsement Carole needed. “Did she tell you about her old horse?”
“Not very much,” Carole said. “What’s the story?”
Lisa told her what she knew. She had hardly finished when she heard a voice behind them.
“Here we are!” Stevie announced. She barreled around the corner, pulling Max along behind her by the arm.
Carole and Lisa hurried to meet them. “Where were you?” Carole asked Max.
Max gave her a glance that was halfway between amused and annoyed. “Do I work for you three now?” he asked. “When was the coup?”
Stevie rolled her eyes. “It’s a good thing we’re here,” she told him. “Otherwise your wife would have gone crazy and your new student would have wandered off to another stable before you ever got back.”
Maxi spotted her father and stretched out her arms toward him, babbling.
“I see you’ve kidnapped my child, too,” Max said, letting the baby grab on to his fingers. “What have you done with Deborah?”
“Max!” Deborah cried, rounding the corner. “Thank goodness Stevie found you.” She dragged him off in the direction the Lynns had gone. “Can you watch the baby for a few more minutes?” she called over her shoulder.
“No problem,” Lisa called after her. She turned to Stevie. “Where did you find him?”
Stevie waved one hand uninterestedly. “Oh, he and Red were having some kind of debate with the grain delivery guy,” she said. “But that’s not important now. What’s the story with the new girl? Is she our age? Is she nice? Can she ride?”
“Let’s go see for ourselves,” Carole said, answering the last question first. “Max is supposed to watch her ride right now.”
The three girls hurried to the indoor ring. They arrived just behind Max, Britt, and the others.
“I hope Britt doesn’t get nervous with all of us watching her,” Lisa said.
But the new girl hardly seemed to notice their presence. She walked up to Nero, one of the oldest and steadiest mounts in the stable. He had been trained by Max’s father and was always a safe choice for a new rider.
As soon as Britt was in the saddle, The Saddle Club could tell that she could have handled a much more spirited horse. She mounted easily with a boost from Max, took the reins with confidence, and soon had Nero trotting around the ring. She touched him with her boot, and he broke into a lumbering but enthusiastic canter.
“Wow,” Carole said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw Nero canter.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him canter,” Lisa said. “Britt’s good, isn’t she?”
Stevie nodded, looking impressed. “She makes old
Nero seem like a lively young thing,” she said. “No easy task there.”
As Britt continued her ride, with Max watching carefully, Ms. Lynn came over to The Saddle Club. Lisa and Carole introduced her to Stevie.
“Britt really seems to like it here,” the woman said happily. “I was afraid we would have to try out a few stables before she found the right one.”