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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

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BOOK: Riding Lesson
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Carole shrugged. “Maybe,” she said. She didn’t want to
commit herself until she knew what Marie wanted to do. She was planning to be the perfect host so that Marie wouldn’t have time to get homesick or miss her mother. Marie liked riding, but Carole knew that she also liked other things, like listening to music and watching movies. Carole didn’t want to force her to spend more time at Pine Hollow than she wanted to—even if that meant Carole would have to give up some of her usual riding time. Marie certainly deserved a little happiness in her life right about now, and Carole was going to make sure she got it.

I’ll be just like a sister to her, Carole promised herself with a smile.

Carole arrived home from school just in time to meet Marie and Mrs. Dana.

“Hello, Olivia,” Carole’s father exclaimed, hurrying out to the car as Mrs. Dana got out. “You two are right on time.” He gave her a hug.

“Hello, Mitch,” Mrs. Dana replied. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned after spending so much time with a Marine, it’s the importance of punctuality.”

“Aha!” Colonel Hanson said. “I’m glad to see that my good qualities are rubbing off on you.”

Marie climbed out of the passenger seat. “Don’t get too excited,” she told Colonel Hanson. “Mom’s just being careful because the last time she went on one of these trips, she almost missed her plane.”

“Hush, child,” Mrs. Dana said with a slightly embarrassed smile. She turned to Colonel Hanson. “Whatever happened to the good old days when children were seen and not heard?”

Colonel Hanson laughed heartily. “I don’t think we ever had any of those particular good old days around here,” he said, ruffling Carole’s curly black hair.

“Neither did we, come to think of it,” Mrs. Dana said with a sidelong glance at Marie, who grinned back innocently. “Come on, kiddo, help me with the bags.” She opened the car’s trunk and started to lift out a large suitcase.

“Please, ladies. Allow me,” Colonel Hanson said gallantly. He grabbed Marie’s two suitcases and led the way into the house. “Right this way. Could you get the door, Carole?”

Once inside, all four of them headed up to the guest bedroom, which was right across the hall from Carole’s room. “You’ll be staying in here, Marie,” Carole said, opening the door and ushering Marie in ahead of her.

“Nice,” Marie said, looking around.

Carole surveyed the room as well, satisfied with her efforts to make it cozy. The flowered spread was tucked in over fluffy pillows, and Carole had brought in a bright hooked rug from her own room to cover the wood floor beside the bed. A vase of sunflowers from Colonel Hanson’s small garden added a splash of color to the dresser.
And to add the finishing touch, Carole’s black cat, Snowball, was curled up on the bed.

“The room looks lovely, doesn’t it, honey?” Mrs. Dana said, putting an arm around Marie’s shoulders.

“It certainly does,” Colonel Hanson said. “And I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have a thing to do with it. Carole fixed it up for you all by herself.”

“She did a great job,” Marie said.

Carole smiled at the compliment.

“But I’m a little surprised,” Marie added. She stepped farther into the room and looked around, a puzzled look on her face.

“What do you mean, hon?” asked Mrs. Dana.

Marie shrugged. “Well, knowing that Carole did the decorating, I would expect to see some more horsey stuff. You know—some hay, maybe a saddle or two. Or at least a few dozen horse posters.”

The adults laughed, but Carole blushed, thinking of the walls in her own room, every inch of which were covered with pictures and posters of horses. And once again she found herself wishing that Marie didn’t have to be so sarcastic all the time.

“Are you hungry, Marie?” Carole asked, trying to change the subject. “We could go downstairs and fix ourselves a snack.”

“Sounds good to me,” Marie said.

“I’m one step ahead of you,” Colonel Hanson said, setting
Marie’s suitcases down beside the dresser and then heading back out to the hallway. “Follow me.”

He led the girls and Mrs. Dana downstairs to the kitchen. With a flourish he brought out a platter of chocolate-chip cookies from the oven.

“I’ve been keeping them warm for you,” he said. “I baked them this afternoon from my own secret recipe.” He winked at Carole.

“Yum!” Carole exclaimed. “You haven’t made your secret-recipe cookies for ages, Dad!” She stopped to think. “In fact, I can’t remember the last time you made them.”

“Well, this is a special occasion,” Colonel Hanson said. He pulled out a chair for Mrs. Dana, then quickly poured four glasses of cold milk. Soon all four of them were seated around the kitchen table, munching happily on the warm, delicious cookies.

“Now this is what I call an after-school snack,” Marie said appreciatively, licking some melted chocolate off her fingers.

“Actually, I think this qualifies as an after-Marine-Corps snack,” Carole joked.

Everyone laughed. “I guess that means it’s also a pre-flight snack,” Colonel Hanson said to Mrs. Dana. Then he smiled at Marie. “And a welcome-to-our-home snack, too.”

Carole took another cookie and dunked it in her milk. She was proud of her father for making Marie feel so welcome.
Colonel Hanson had always gotten along well with all of Carole’s friends. It was just one of the many things she appreciated about having him as a father.

A few minutes later Mrs. Dana glanced at her watch. “Oh, my!” she said, jumping to her feet. “I’d better get a move on if I don’t want to miss my plane.”

Colonel Hanson got up, too. “We’ll all walk you to the car.”

Outside, Mrs. Dana turned to Marie. “Good-bye, darling,” she said, grabbing Marie and giving her a tight hug. “Be good while I’m gone.”

“I will,” Marie said, her voice a little muffled by her mother’s jacket. She pulled back. “Have fun in Europe.”

Mrs. Dana hugged her again. “I’ll try. And I hope you have a nice time here with Mitch and Carole. Have fun on your birthday, but save some celebrating to do when I get back.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Finally Mrs. Dana let go of Marie long enough to give Colonel Hanson a big hug and a quick kiss. “Thanks so much for taking care of my baby for me, Mitch,” she said.

“It will be a pleasure,” he assured her. “Don’t worry about a thing. Carole and I have it all under control.”

Mrs. Dana gave Carole a hug, too. “Many thanks to you too, Carole,” she said. “It’s nice to know Marie will be staying with a friend.”

“You’re welcome,” Carole replied. “Have a nice trip.”

Finally Mrs. Dana gave Marie one last big hug and then got into the car. Carole, her father, and Marie waved and shouted good-byes as the car pulled out of the driveway and moved off down the road.

When it was out of sight, Carole turned to Marie. “Come on,” she said. “I’ll help you unpack.”

“Good idea,” Colonel Hanson said. “Meanwhile, I’ll start dinner. Marie, I hope you like chicken and rice.”

“Sure,” Marie replied. “I’ll eat almost anything that doesn’t eat me first.”

As Carole and Marie went upstairs and started to arrange Marie’s things in the guest dresser, aided by the now wide-awake Snowball, Carole couldn’t help thinking once again how much Marie had changed since she’d known her. The sullen, morose girl she’d first encountered at the hospital was gone. Marie was still direct and honest in her manner, as she had been then. But now she laughed more than she frowned, and she was friendlier and more talkative. Carole knew that all those changes meant that Marie had started to recover from her father’s death and move on with her own life. It was the same process Carole herself had experienced after her mother had died. The fact that they’d both survived such a traumatic loss made Carole feel closer to Marie than anything else—it almost made them seem like

Carole glanced over at Marie, wondering if she should share her thoughts. But Marie was looking annoyed. “I
can’t believe this,” she said irritably, peering into one almost-empty suitcase and then the other.

“What’s wrong?” Carole asked.

“I forgot my portable CD player,” Marie said, checking the larger suitcase once more. Then she sat back with an irritated sigh. “How am I going to make it through two weeks without any music? I can’t fall asleep without it!”

Carole smiled. “No problem,” she reassured her. “You can use my clock radio while you’re here. I have another alarm clock I can use.”

“Really?” Marie exclaimed gratefully. “Thanks a lot, Carole. Hey, it doesn’t just play the farm report or anything, does it?”

“Ha-ha,” Carole replied, rolling her eyes. “No, it’s a regular AM-FM radio. Come on, let’s go get it.” She hurried across the hall to her own room with Marie right behind her.

As soon as Marie stepped through the doorway, her eyes widened. “Hey, I guess I was right about your decorating taste,” she commented, taking in the horse pictures and posters all around her. She wandered over to the window. “Oh, wow! You even have a poster taped to the window shade! That’s wild!”

Carole decided to take that as a compliment, even if she wasn’t quite convinced that Marie had meant it that way. “Here’s the radio,” she said, unplugging it and tucking it under her arm. “Come on, let’s go set it up in your room.”
She smiled with pleasure at her own words, forgetting about Marie’s comment. It was nice to think of the guest room as Marie’s bedroom.

A few minutes later the radio was in place on the bedside table in Marie’s room. Marie switched it on and flipped around between channels until she found a song she liked. “Hey, this is one of my favorites,” she exclaimed happily. She started humming along as she and Carole returned to unpacking. Carole hummed along, too, even though she’d heard the song only a few times. She decided that if she could just get used to Marie’s jokes, the visit was sure to be practically perfect.

in her chair. “I’m so full I may never eat again,” she declared. “That was a wonderful dinner, Colonel.”

“I’m glad you liked it,” he replied, beaming at her. “The chicken is my own special recipe.”

“You sure do have a lot of special recipes,” Marie teased him.

“Aha, a joker,” Colonel Hanson said. “I can see we’re going to have a good time while you’re here, Marie.” He smiled. “I’m glad you’re staying here while your mother is gone. It will be a lot of fun to have two girls in the house.”

Carole smiled and agreed. She was having fun so far. Before dinner she and Marie had listened to music for a while. Then Stevie had called to say hello to Marie. That
had given Carole a chance to talk to her father about what to get Marie for her birthday. They’d come up with a few good ideas before Stevie and Marie had finished their conversation. Then, a few minutes later, Lisa had called. While Marie talked to her, Carole and her father made plans to go shopping together later in the week. Carole promised to ask Stevie and Lisa to take Marie off their hands and keep her distracted so she wouldn’t suspect what they were doing.

After they had helped Colonel Hanson clear the table, Carole and Marie headed upstairs to start their homework. “You can have the desk to yourself tonight,” Carole told Marie, shuffling through her backpack. “I have to write a two-page essay for English class, so I’ll be downstairs using Dad’s computer.” She pulled out her English notebook and her dog-eared copy of
Of Mice and Men
and headed down to the living room.

Carole was still on the first paragraph of her essay when Marie came into the room.

“Uh, hi, Carole,” Marie said. “When you said you had a paper to write, that reminded me that I’m supposed to write one, too. It’s for extra credit in my social-studies class. Do you think I could use the computer when you’re finished?”

Carole bit her lip. She knew she should offer to let Marie do her work first, since she was a guest. On the other hand, Marie’s paper was only for extra credit, while
Carole’s was an assignment. She hesitated for a moment, not sure what to say.

Colonel Hanson had entered the room just in time to hear Marie’s question. “Carole, why don’t you let Marie do her assignment first? She’s our guest, you know.” His tone was faintly reproving. Carole immediately felt guilty.

“I was just going to say the same thing,” she said quickly. She saved her document and then got up from the chair. “Go ahead, Marie. I can finish later.”

“Are you sure?” Marie said, sitting down. “Thanks a lot, Carole.”

Colonel Hanson smiled at the two girls. “Actually, Carole, I was just coming out here to rustle up a volunteer to help me with the dishes,” he said. “How about it?”

“Sure, Dad,” Carole said. She followed him out to the kitchen. “I’ll wash and you can dry.”

They got to work. As Carole plunged her hands into the warm, soapy water, she realized that for once she was glad to be doing the dishes. She liked having Marie around, but after spending the whole afternoon as a threesome, it was nice to have a few minutes alone with her father.

“You know, Carole,” Colonel Hanson said, interrupting her thoughts, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you alone ever since Marie got here.”

BOOK: Riding Lesson
6.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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