Read Holiday Horse Online

Authors: Bonnie Bryant

Holiday Horse (8 page)

BOOK: Holiday Horse
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“I
NEVER KNEW
babies could have insomnia,” Carole said twenty minutes later. She was in the living room, watching as Maxi crawled busily around the floor among her toys.

Lisa was sitting next to Carole on the couch. She sighed and rested her chin on her hand. “
I
never knew someone so cute could scream so loud,” she said. “My head is still throbbing from the racket.”

The girls had rushed back into the nursery at Maxi’s first scream. As soon as they had entered the room, the baby had stopped crying. Within seconds, she was as happy as she had ever been.

But when the girls had once again tried to leave her alone in the crib, the same thing had happened. And again, as soon as they were back in the room, Maxi was happy again.

Lisa had rocked her for a few minutes. Then they had tried to leave again—with the same result.

This time, Stevie had suggested letting her cry for a little while. Her theory was that Maxi would wear herself out pretty soon and fall asleep.

It was only after ten straight minutes of ear-shattering screams that Stevie had remembered that her parents often tried the same trick with Stevie and her brothers when they were arguing or roughhousing or otherwise making noise. It never worked.

“I know what you mean, Lisa,” Stevie groaned. She had collapsed on the floor next to the baby. Maxi giggled and crawled over her stomach. Stevie didn’t move. “I feel like I’ve just been to the loudest rock concert in history. They say those can ruin your hearing.” She grimaced. “If that’s true, maybe Maxi won’t be a horsewoman when she grows up after all. She’ll be a rock star.”

Lisa giggled. “She’d look awfully cute as the star of her own music video, wouldn’t she?”

The others had to laugh at that. Carole leaned over and grabbed Maxi as she crawled toward the couch.

“Let’s try rocking her,” she said. “Maybe she’ll get sleepy again like she did when Ms. Lynn was here.”

While Carole was rocking Maxi, Lisa decided to heat up the baby’s bottle. “If she has a little snack and sits with us for a while, she might calm down and fall asleep,” she said.

Stevie nodded. “Good plan,” she agreed. “Meanwhile, we can still get our own party started, right? Let’s play a game of Monopoly or something. That should be easy to do while she’s downstairs with us.”

“Okay,” Lisa said as she headed toward the kitchen for the bottle. “But make sure somebody holds on to her. We don’t want her swallowing any of those little game pieces.”

Stevie quickly located Max and Deborah’s Monopoly game in a closet. She tossed a few of Maxi’s toys into her playpen to create a clear space on the floor, then proceeded to set up the game board.

Carole looked over at the clock on the mantel. “So much for Maxi’s seven-thirty bedtime,” she said ruefully. “I hope she gets sleepy soon. It’s already going on eight-thirty.”

Stevie stopped straightening the play money and sat up quickly. “What did you say?” she asked. She didn’t wait for Carole to answer. She jumped to her feet. “Eight-thirty! Oh, no. Phil missed our eight o’clock call!”

Lisa entered with the warm bottle just in time to hear her. “Are you sure about that?” she said. “Maybe you ought to check the answering machine. It was a little
noisy around here, you know. We might have missed the phone ringing.”

Stevie gasped. “You’re right! Especially since I turned down the ringer on the upstairs phone, remember?” She rushed into the kitchen and checked the answering machine beside the phone. Sure enough, the red message light was blinking.

Stevie played it back. Phil’s familiar voice came out of the speaker, sounding tinny and far away.

“Uh, hi, Stevie,” he said. “Sorry I missed you. And I’m sorry I missed your call at seven; I was late getting back from dinner, as you probably guessed. It’s eight o’clock now. I’m going out for ice cream with my family. I’ll make the next call, okay? My family’s going out to see a fireworks display a little after nine, so it may be a few minutes early. I hope you’re there. I’d really like to talk to you. Bye.”

As the machine clicked off, Stevie let out a disappointed sigh. “I can’t believe we missed each other again,” she muttered. Still, there wasn’t much she could do about it. They would just have to make up for it at nine o’clock. To be on the safe side, she picked up the phone’s cordless receiver and checked the volume to make sure it was turned up nice and loud. She would take it into the living room with her. That way there was no way she could miss Phil’s nine o’clock call.

She went back into the living room—and gasped at what she saw. Carole and Lisa were bent over their own
arms, sprinkling little drops of milk from the bottle onto their inner wrists and looking perplexed. Meanwhile, Maxi was crawling across the Monopoly board, scattering paper money and plastic game pieces every which way. As Stevie watched, the baby picked up one of the game pieces and raised it toward her mouth.

“No!” Stevie shouted. She tossed the phone on an overstuffed chair near the stairs, jumped over a low side table, and scooped up the baby, prying the piece out of her tiny fist just in time.

Carole and Lisa looked up and quickly realized what was happening.

Lisa gasped. “Oh no!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry, Stevie. I guess we got distracted. She didn’t swallow anything, did she?”

“I don’t think so,” Stevie said. She had bent down to examine the remains of the game setup. “All the pieces seem to be here. Some of this money has a little baby drool on it, though.”

Carole smiled with relief. “Thank goodness,” she said.

And her friends knew that she wasn’t talking about the drool.

Stevie looked down at the piece she was holding. She suddenly broke into a grin.

“What’s so funny?” Lisa asked.

Stevie held out the piece. “Look which game piece Maxi decided to eat.”

Carole and Lisa bent over her hand to see. Soon they
were grinning, too. “Of course,” Carole said. “The horse and rider.”

Maxi was cooing and reaching eagerly toward the milk bottle in Lisa’s hand. Stevie handed Lisa the baby and started to clean up the Monopoly board.

“I guess the board games will have to wait until she falls asleep,” she said.

Lisa nodded and settled down on the couch. Once the bottle was in her mouth, Maxi was silent except for an occasional slurp. “That’s okay,” Lisa said. “We can just talk for a while. Maybe get started on those resolutions.”

“Okay,” Carole said. “I have one. In the new year, I want to work really hard with Starlight on his half-halt. By this time next year, I want him to be able to do it perfectly every time I ask.” The half-halt was a dressage move in which a horse hesitated, shifting its weight to its hindquarters and awaiting further instruction from its rider. Starlight was pretty good at it already, but Carole wanted him to be even better.

Stevie laughed. “It figures your first resolution has to do with horses,” she teased. “Although actually, I was just thinking that one of my resolutions would be to practice braiding Belle’s tail so that I can do it faster before shows.”

“That’s funny,” Lisa said, looking up quickly. “That was one of mine, too.”

“Really?” Stevie said. “You mean you’re going to practice
braiding Belle’s tail, too? Great! Then I won’t have to do it.”

All three girls laughed at that. None of them was the least bit surprised that all of them had thought of horse-related resolutions.

“Speaking of braiding,” Carole said, “which reminds me of tails, which reminds me of our tail hitching experiment the other day”—she paused for a breath before she went on—“have either of you thought up any more good ideas for the gymkhana? It will be here before we know it.”

“Good point,” Lisa said. The gymkhana was scheduled for the weekend before the girls’ school vacations ended. “We’ve got to come up with some fun games.”

“I wonder if Britt will want to ride in the gymkhana?” Carole said.

Stevie shrugged. “Of course she will,” she said. “She may be shy, but that doesn’t mean she’s crazy. Who would want to miss it?”

“It would be great if we found her the perfect horse before then, wouldn’t it?” Lisa mused. “I really hope we can help Ms. Lynn surprise her.”

“Me too,” Carole said. “I really think we should check out Hedgerow’s horses first. When I was there with Judy a few weeks ago, I was very impressed with a couple of them. Maybe we can figure out a way to get Britt over there after New Year’s without telling her why.”

“Sort of a Welcome Wagon tour of the neighborhood?” Stevie offered.

Carole nodded and smiled. “Something like that.”

Meanwhile Lisa was peering down at Maxi, who had stopped moving around in her arms. The baby’s eyes were at half-mast. Lisa carefully plucked the almost empty bottle from her mouth. Maxi let it go without protest.

Noticing what Lisa was doing, Carole and Stevie kept quiet. Was the baby falling asleep at last?

Lisa stood up slowly and walked toward the stairs on tiptoes, gracefully avoiding the toys in her path. She had almost reached the stairs. Maxi hadn’t moved. Her eyes were now all the way closed. Lisa held her breath.

Ring!

The shrill noise startled Lisa even more than it startled Maxi. And that was a lot. “The phone!” she cried as the loud ring came again. Maxi’s eyes flew open, and she started to wail. “Get the phone!”

Carole looked toward the kitchen in confusion. But Stevie had suddenly remembered dropping the portable receiver on the chair. She also remembered that Phil had said he might call a few minutes early. It was twenty minutes to nine—maybe that was him now. She jumped to answer the phone.

“Hello?” she said breathlessly, speaking loudly enough to be heard over the crying baby.

Instead of Phil’s voice, she heard Deborah’s on the
other end of the line. “Stevie? It’s me again,” Deborah said.

“Oh,” Stevie said, disappointed. “Um, I mean, hi. Where are you?”

“We’re still at the restaurant,” Deborah said. “We just ordered dessert and coffee. Is that Maxi crying in the background?”

“No, it’s Lisa,” Stevie joked weakly. “She lost at Monopoly.” She decided there was no point in trying to hide the fact that Maxi was still awake. The baby was making that as clear as possible. Stevie stuck her finger in the ear that wasn’t pressed against the phone. “Actually, Maxi doesn’t seem very sleepy right now.”

“She’s all right, isn’t she?” Deborah asked, sounding concerned. “We could head home right now if you think she might be sick—”

“No, no,” Stevie said quickly. “She’s fine. The phone just startled her, that’s all.” In fact, Maxi was quieting down already. Lisa had given her the stuffed horse to play with, and the baby let out a few more sobs and then stopped crying.

It took Stevie a few minutes to reassure Deborah that things were really all right. But finally Deborah seemed convinced. “Okay, then,” she said. “Sorry about waking her up. Believe me, I know how she can be when she doesn’t feel like sleeping. Anyway, the stage show here starts at around nine-thirty, so I probably won’t have a
chance to call again even if I’m tempted. We’ll see you when we get home later.”

“Okay,” Stevie said. “Have a good time.”

“Thanks,” Deborah said. “You too. Oh, and tell Carole her father says hi. He’s a couple of tables over from us.”

Stevie hung up and passed the message on to Carole. “Deborah said she won’t call anymore,” she added.

Lisa had slung a towel over her shoulder and was burping Maxi, whose eyes were wide open once again. “Good,” she said. “At this rate, we’ll fall asleep before Maxi does.”

Stevie glanced down at the phone, which she was still holding. “As long as she’s awake anyway, maybe we should get started on those prank phone calls,” she suggested. Phil probably wouldn’t call for at least ten more minutes. Besides, the phone had call waiting. If it went off, Stevie could just hang up on Chad.

Carole sighed resignedly. “If you’re going to do it, you might as well go ahead.”

Stevie grinned. She was already dialing her home number.

After three rings, someone picked it up on the other end. “H’llo?” said an unfamiliar voice.

Stevie disguised her voice, making it as low and grown-up-like as possible. “Good evening,” she said. “I’m trying to reach Mr. Chad Lake, please.”

“Just a second.” The phone clattered onto a hard surface.

A moment later, Chad’s voice came over the line. “This is Chad Lake,” he said uncertainly.

“Hello, Mr. Lake,” Stevie said, still keeping her voice disguised. “This is Pat Patterson from radio station WQMZ in Washington. And this is a random call from our prize patrol.”

Carole, who was listening, started to giggle. She clapped a hand over her mouth before Chad could hear her. Lisa just rolled her eyes and lowered Maxi to the floor next to her stuffed horse.

“Really?” Chad said, sounding suspicious but interested. “Is this really a radio DJ? Or is this a trick?… Stevie? Is that you?”

“This is no trick, young man,” Stevie assured him in her disguised voice. “All you have to do to win a brand-new car is perform our challenge dare.”

“What do I have to do?” Chad asked. By now he definitely sounded a lot more interested than suspicious. Stevie happened to know that he had already started bugging their parents about buying him his own car, even though he wouldn’t even get his learner’s permit for another two years.

“It’s really very simple,” Stevie told him. “Are you familiar with the song ‘I’m a Little Teapot’?”

“Sure,” Chad said.

By this time, Lisa was having a hard time controlling
her giggles, too. Stevie was careful to keep her fake voice steady. “All you have to do is sing that song to me as loudly as you can, right now. But you mustn’t tell anyone in the house with you why you’re doing it.”

Chad hesitated. Stevie held her breath, waiting for an answer. Would his desire for that new car win out over his desire not to embarrass himself in front of all his friends? She certainly hoped so.

“You want that shiny new car, don’t you, Mr. Lake?” she prompted.

“Well …,” Chad began after a second, “I only know one verse, but …”

At that moment, Maxi seemed to realize for the first time that her favorite toy was within her reach. She let out a loud crow of triumph and grabbed the stuffed horse from the floor. As she clutched it to her chest, she let out a few satisfied gurgles and one definite baby laugh.

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