Authors: Bonnie Bryant
After a while Lisa caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. She glanced over at the edge of the ring. “Looks like we have company,” she called to Carole and Stevie.
Carole turned to see Judy Barker leaning on the gate of the ring. Max and his fiancée, Deborah Hale, were with her. Max and Deborah, a newspaper reporter from Washington, had become engaged recently. The two had met
when Deborah had interviewed Max to gather background information for a story about horses.
“Let’s go say hello,” Carole said eagerly, dismounting and heading toward the gate. Carole had spent some time after school and during vacations assisting Judy on her rounds. It seemed that she learned something new every time she talked to the vet.
“I think Prancer has had just about enough for today anyway,” Lisa said. She gave the mare a pat on the neck, dismounted, and followed Carole. Stevie was right behind her.
“Hi, girls,” said Judy. “You’re looking good out there.”
“Prancer is the one who’s looking good,” Carole said. “She’s really a fast learner.”
“She’s smart,” Judy said with a nod. “And you girls are good trainers.”
Carole and Lisa blushed with pleasure. But Stevie had things other than compliments on her mind. “Are you here to check on Spice?” she asked Judy excitedly. “Is she going to foal soon?” Spice was a pregnant mare who was staying at Pine Hollow until she foaled. After that she would immediately be bred to Max’s stallion, Geronimo.
Judy nodded again. “I already saw her. And as I told Max, I think his estimate is off the mark—I’d say she won’t drop the foal for another three weeks at least.” Stevie, Carole, and Lisa knew that Max had thought Spice would foal within the next week.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Stevie said. “You’ll love seeing the foal,” she added to Deborah, who hadn’t spent much time around horses before meeting Max. “They’re so cute when they’re little.”
“But, Max, that means you’ll have to keep Spice here a lot longer than you’d planned,” Carole said.
Max shrugged. “As I told Judy, it’s no big deal. I already agreed to look after the mare. I’ll just keep her here until she foals, even if it takes a little longer than I had expected.” He smiled at Deborah.
“I can’t wait to see the baby,” Deborah said cheerfully. She hoisted herself up and perched on the fence. “I’ve never seen a newborn horse before.”
Carole smiled at her. “You’ll love it,” she said. “Newborn foals are so adorable. I’ve seen lots of them, especially since I started working with Judy, but each time it’s wonderful all over again. It really kind of reminds you somehow what life is all about, you know?”
Deborah nodded, swinging one booted foot against the fence rail. Carole stifled a giggle as she thought how much Deborah’s style of dress had already changed since she’d become engaged to Max and started spending a lot of time at Pine Hollow. Today she was wearing blue jeans almost as faded as Stevie’s, a plaid flannel shirt, and riding boots. Her shoulder-length red hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
Carole glanced at Max and noticed for the first time that his appearance had changed a little since meeting Deborah,
too. He had always dressed neatly and practically, and he still did, but today he was wearing a new shirt that looked more stylish than the ones he usually wore.
Carole looked down at her own dusty riding clothes. I hope getting married doesn’t mean you have to change the way you look, she thought. Carole liked to dress up once in a while, especially when she was going to be seeing Cam Nelson, a boy she was friends with. Still, she didn’t think she would ever change the way she dressed just to please another person—even Cam.
Her attention snapped back to the conversation with Max’s next words. “We’ve been out looking at china patterns,” he said, beaming at Deborah.
“That’s right,” the reporter added. “We’ve got it narrowed down to three or four choices.”
When the adults weren’t looking, Stevie caught Carole’s eye and made a gagging face. Carole giggled. The Saddle Club was delighted about Max’s upcoming marriage, and they liked Deborah a lot, but sometimes the two of them could get a little carried away. Besides, it was funny to see some of the changes in Max. He normally wasn’t the type of person to spend any time at all thinking about something as boring as china patterns.
“I was at the mall with my mother last week,” Lisa chimed in, “and we were in the china department of one store because she was buying a wedding gift for someone.
They had this great china with fox-hunting scenes on it. You guys could get that.”
“Hey, that sounds great,” Carole said.
But Max, Deborah, and Judy were laughing.
“I don’t think so, Carole,” Max said. “We’re looking for something that will coordinate well with the dining room. Deborah’s got some terrific decorating ideas.” He smiled proudly at his fiancée. Her face glowed. Stevie pretended to gag again, and this time Carole was pretty sure Judy saw her. Luckily, though, Max and Deborah had eyes only for each other and didn’t notice a thing.
“Speaking of dishes, I’m starved,” Deborah said. “I think I’ll go over to the house and get a snack.” She began to push herself forward off the fence.
“Here, let me help you,” Max said. He reached up and took her by the waist, gently lowering her the few feet to the ground.
Deborah smiled at him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thanks,” she said. “Want to join me?”
“Sorry,” Max said with real regret in his voice. “I can’t right now. I want to have Judy look in at Bluegrass while she’s here. I just want to make sure he’s completely over his cold. It will only take a few minutes. I’ll join you after that, okay?”
“If you’re only going to be a few minutes, I can wait,” Deborah said. “Maybe the girls will let me help them take off—oh, I mean
“You’re learning the lingo,” Max said. “All right, then. If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
As Max and Judy headed into the stable, Stevie turned to Deborah, her hands on her hips. “What’s the big idea?” she demanded.
Deborah looked startled. She hadn’t known Stevie very long and still wasn’t quite used to her bluntness. But she recovered quickly like the unflappable reporter she was. “What’s what big idea?”
Stevie threw up her hands in exasperation. “You and Max! I mean, you’re two of the most independent, plain-spoken people I know. And here you are, treating each other like—like—like that
you were talking about!”
“What do you mean?” Deborah asked, with just a hint of a smile. She reached forward gingerly to pat Starlight on the nose. He snuffled at her curiously, then lowered his head for more petting.
“I mean like letting Max help you down from that fence, as if you’d break your legs if you tried to jump down yourself,” Stevie said.
Deborah laughed. “Oh, that,” she said. “You probably don’t want to hear this, but I sometimes let him open doors for me, too.”
“But what’s the point of all that?” Carole asked. She wouldn’t have dared bring up this subject herself, but she was glad that Stevie had. “You’re not helpless. You can
open doors and get down from fences yourself. Why pretend that you can’t?”
“I’m not pretending I can’t,” Deborah explained. “And Max knows very well that I can do those things myself. He just wants to pamper me a little bit.”
Stevie and Carole still looked skeptical. But Lisa was nodding. “I think that’s nice,” she said. “My dad still does things like that for my mom. It’s really sweet.”
sweet,” Deborah agreed. “It makes Max feel good to do those things, and it makes me feel good to let him.”
“But isn’t that a little, well …” Carole glanced down at Starlight’s reins as she searched her mind for a tactful word.
“Prehistoric?” Stevie finished helpfully.
Deborah laughed again. “I like to think not. After all, I do little things to pamper Max right back.”
Something else was still bothering Carole. “Well, all right, but what about the food thing?” she said. “You’re hungry, but you’re not going right inside to eat because Max isn’t ready yet. What do you call that?”
“I call it compromise,” Deborah replied. “Sure I’m hungry, but eating with Max will be much more pleasant for me than eating alone. And I know that he feels the same way. So I’ll wait a few minutes and make us both happy.”
“Hmm,” Stevie said, still looking unconvinced. Carole agreed with the sentiment. It sounded to her as though Deborah was putting Max’s needs ahead of her own.
“Well, think about this,” Deborah said. “Do you think Max actually
spending his Sunday morning shopping for china patterns?”
The three girls exchanged glances. “No,” they answered in one voice.
“But he certainly seemed pretty happy about it today,” Carole added.
“I guess it’s because you guys were doing it together,” Lisa said.
“Barf,” said Stevie.
The others laughed. “Come on, Stevie,” said Lisa. “It’s not like you never act differently around Phil.” Phil Marsten was a boy Stevie had met at riding camp. They had been dating ever since, even though he lived in a different town and they could see each other only once or twice a month.
“That’s different,” Stevie replied with a sniff. “I’m only nice to him when I feel like it.”
“Right,” Lisa joked. “And you just happen to feel like it almost every single time you see him.”
“That’s right,” Stevie said with a shrug. “What about it?”
“Sounds like true love to me,” Deborah said with a wink at Lisa.
While Lisa and Deborah continued to tease Stevie, Carole’s mind began to wander again as she thought about what Deborah had said. She thought about the way her
father acted with Mrs. Dana. She remembered that he did often open doors or pull out chairs for her—just as he had done for Carole’s mother when she was alive. But had he changed in other ways since they’d been dating? Carole didn’t think he had, but she hated the thought that he might if things got more serious between them. For instance, Carole knew that Mrs. Dana was very interested in antique furniture. If she married Colonel Hanson and moved in, would she insist on redecorating the house? Carole tried to picture her cozy room filled with dusty old mahogany furniture. She wrinkled her nose at the thought.
Before she could ponder these questions any further, Starlight turned his attention from Deborah back to Carole. He nudged her gently on the shoulder and stamped one foot. “Oh, sorry, boy,” Carole said, giving her horse a quick hug. “You guys had such a good training session, and here we are standing around talking instead of giving you a good grooming and letting you rest in your stalls.”
“Oh, you’re right, Carole,” Stevie said, interrupting yet another of Lisa’s jokes about Phil. “Come on, Deborah. You can help me with Topside.”
As Carole led Starlight into the stable, she decided that she wasn’t giving her father enough credit. He was who he was, and that wasn’t going to change—even if he did wind up marrying Mrs. Dana.
TEVIE GROANED AS
she stacked one book on top of another. It was Monday afternoon, and classes at Fenton Hall had just ended for the day. And it was a good thing, too, Stevie thought. If she had been assigned any more homework, she would have had to hire a moving van to get her books home. If the teachers were already assigning this much work in September, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be around for May and June.
With some difficulty she gathered up the tall pile of books and notebooks and staggered away from her locker toward the front doors. She was supposed to meet Priscilla outside. One thing she’d have to be sure to warn her about Fenton Hall was the workload—if she hadn’t already figured it out herself.
“Oh, Stevie! There you are!” Priscilla called brightly, hurrying over as Stevie emerged, blinking, into the bright afternoon sunlight. “Here, let me carry some of those for you.”
Priscilla reached out, took a few books off Stevie’s pile, and stuck them under her arm. She herself was carrying only a small leather satchel slung over one shoulder. It looked more like a fashion accessory to Stevie than a book bag, and she grumpily told Priscilla so.
Priscilla laughed cheerfully and agreed, tossing her long, curly brown hair over one shoulder. “Actually, you’re right. I bought it to match these shoes. Aren’t they cool?” She held out one foot so Stevie could inspect her stylish dark-brown leather shoes. “I guess I’m lucky,” Priscilla continued. “My teachers don’t seem to assign much homework, and I’ve got a study hall last period so I can finish most of it then. I only had to bring one book home today.” She patted her bag. “And luckily it’s a small one.”
Stevie frowned. “Maybe I should transfer into more of your classes,” she said. The two girls had only three classes together.
“Oh, I only wish you could!” Priscilla exclaimed. “I mean, the other kids are nice and everything, but, well, it would be nice to have a real friend around, you know?”
“Sure,” Stevie said, her mood improving a little. It was nice that Priscilla thought of her as a friend after such a short time. Even though she couldn’t have asked for better
friends than Carole and Lisa, Stevie sometimes found herself thinking they’d be even more perfect if they went to her school. Stevie was popular with her classmates at Fenton Hall, but she wasn’t particularly close to any of them. Maybe Priscilla would be different. Stevie shifted her lightened stack of books to her other arm. “Anyway, I’m supposed to meet my friends Carole and Lisa at TD’s now. Do you want to come along and meet them?”