Authors: Bonnie Bryant
“Right,” Stevie said, even more reluctantly than Lisa. She had to go along with The Saddle Club, of course, but, oh, rafting sounded exciting!
Emily chewed her food and swallowed. She set her fork gently on the edge of her plate. She seemed to be thinking hard. Finally she said, “I’m sorry. I know you guys would rather ride, but I
wouldn’t. I think white-water rafting sounds like a blast.”
To everyone’s surprise, Monica leaned across the table eagerly. “It is a blast,” she said. “I’ve done it before, and it’s the
blast in the world. Let’s go!”
, with a giant exhalation of breath, “I’d
to go white-water rafting!”
“Me too!” Carole said.
“Me three—er, six!” Lisa said, counting quickly. She started to laugh. Emily and Monica were grinning at each other across the table. Stevie and Kate were cheering.
“I’ll call Harry back,” Mr. Devine said. “I see I’ve made a mistake.” He was smiling.
“A big mistake, Dad,” Kate said. “Tomorrow we’ll trade our saddles for paddles!”
“I’ll show you all what to do,” Monica offered. “It’s not difficult.”
“Monica.” Mrs. Hopkins voice was low but urgent. “Monica, honey, you can’t go.”
“Of course I can,” Monica said.
“If Mr. Foreman had room for five people, I’m sure he can find room for six,” Kate said.
“Darling, it would just be too dangerous,” Mr. Hopkins said, agreeing with his wife.
Monica tossed her hair over her shoulder. Her eyes were blazing. “Dangerous for whom?” she said. Lisa blinked. It seemed to her that Monica was coming alive before her very eyes.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins seemed flustered. Lisa could tell they were only trying to protect their daughter.
“I’ll be sitting in a boat!” Monica practically shouted. “I’ll be wearing a life vest! How many legs do I need?”
Stevie started to say something, but Lisa jabbed her into silence. This was between Monica and her parents.
“It’ll be a big change for you,” Monica’s mother said. “It’s not that we don’t want you to do things—we just don’t want you to get hurt. Your balance will be different now.” She paused. “It’s not going to be the same.”
going to be the same,” Monica said,
in a quieter tone. “I won’t get hurt, at least I’ll try not to. But I really want to do this. I’ve got to start doing things. I am different now. I’m going to be different forever.” She bit her lip. “Please, Mom.”
Mrs. Hopkins brushed a tear from her eye. “Okay,” she said at last. “We’ve always trusted your judgment. We’ve always been able to. If you want to do this, go ahead.” Mr. Hopkins nodded.
“Thank you,” Monica whispered.
Mr. Devine came back into the room, beaming. “All set,” he said. “There’s even room for Christine, if she wants to come.”
“All right!” Monica said. Lisa didn’t realize until that moment that Monica must know Christine from earlier trips to the ranch.
“I’ll call her,” Kate said.
“Why don’t we ride over and ask her instead?” Stevie asked. Lisa caught her breath. For a moment she thought Stevie had forgotten about Monica, but then, looking at her friend, Lisa realized that Stevie knew exactly what she was asking.
“You too, Monica,” Stevie said. “It’s an easy ride. Come with us.”
Monica flushed again. “I know, I’ve ridden to
Christine’s house,” she said. She began to stammer. “I—I’d like to—but no—I don’t—”
Emily half stood, then fell to the ground. Her crutches became tangled in the legs of her chair, and the chair fell on top of her with a humongous clatter. “Blast,” she said from beneath the rubble. “All I was trying to do was stand up. Maybe I’m not Superwoman after all. Lisa, could you move the stupid chair?”
Lisa picked the chair up and gave Emily a hand. “Thanks,” Emily said. She set her arms firmly in the cuffs of her crutches. “That’s better.”
“Monica,” Stevie said, pressing for an answer.
Lisa looked up and saw to her surprise that Monica and her parents were staring at Emily. Emily stared back.
“What’s wrong with you?” Monica asked her.
“I fell over,” Emily said indignantly. “I lost my balance and crashed. Please tell me it’s never happened to you.”
Monica’s face softened in apology. “No,” she said. “I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant. Why do you have crutches? Why are you wearing those leg braces?”
“I have cerebral palsy,” Emily said. From her tone Lisa knew that Emily was still miffed.
Monica looked amazed and her parents had their mouths open like fish. “But you can’t have cerebral palsy,” Mrs. Hopkins said. “You’re the little girl we saw galloping all over the prairie.”
Emily’s anger turned to astonishment, and then to something like happiness. She laughed out loud. “You really didn’t notice!” she said. “You never
I look different!”
,” Monica said. “I mean, I guess you do now, a little bit, if I look close.”
“Give me a break,” Emily said. “As if you can’t see these crutches a mile away.”
“But I didn’t see them when you were sitting down. I guess when you were outside my cabin, I just wasn’t paying attention. And you ride as well as your friends.”
“See,” Stevie cut in. “Emily’s had C.P. her whole life, and she rides great. You already know how to ride, Monica. You can still do it.”
Monica paused. She seemed to be thinking hard. Her parents, Lisa saw, looked as though learning about Emily’s disability had shocked them into silence. Now maybe they wouldn’t be so overprotective of Monica.
Monica pushed her hair back behind her ears. She gathered her crutches and slowly stood. “I don’t know if I can still ride,” she said, looking at Emily but speaking to them all, “but I think it’s time to find out.”
HEY LEFT THEIR
dinners on their plates. At Monica’s request, Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins stayed behind, too. Only the six girls headed out to the barn.
“Which horse can I ride?” Monica asked, as they went through the doors.
“Which horse do you want to ride?” Kate asked her.
Monica shrugged. “Oh … any horse will be fine.” She looked around in surprise. “I don’t remember you guys keeping so many horses inside.”
“These are the ones we’ve been riding,” Stevie explained. “We left them inside to eat their grain; we’ll turn them out with the herd later. Have you met Stewball?” She patted the piebald’s face. “Stewball, meet your aunt Monica.”
Monica laughed. “I’ve met him. That horse is too weird for me.”
“John!” Kate shouted.
“Up here!” John shouted from the hayloft.
“Can you get a horse out for Monica?”
“Sure!” John came down the ladder. He grabbed a halter and went out to the paddock where the other riding horses were. In a moment he was back, leading a pretty buckskin mare.
“Buttercup!” Monica said. She hurried forward and leaned against the mare. “Oh, Buttercup! Can I really ride her, Kate?”
“She’s been waiting for you,” Kate said. “You always ride Buttercup.”
“That’s right, I do,” Monica said. “Beautiful Buttercup. Okay, where’s my saddle?”
“You’ll need this.” Emily handed Monica a riding crop. “It’s mine, but I’ve got an extra one. Use it in place of your leg.”
“She’ll understand you,” John added. “Kate and I have been working with her.”
Monica’s eyes sparkled with tears, but the rest of her expression was grimly determined. Waving off John’s help, she saddled up Buttercup while the others readied their own horses. Then John held Buttercup while Monica made her way up the mounting ramp. She removed her crutches and set them down, then hopped a few steps to Buttercup’s side. Leaning her weight against the saddle, she slid her left foot into the stirrup, then
swung her right knee over the saddle. “Okay,” she said to John, as she gathered up the reins. She clucked to Buttercup, who took a few steps forward.
“Okay?” Kate asked.
“Okay?” Monica’s laugh rang out across the ranch. “Better than okay! This feels like heaven!”
,” Stevie said, delicately extracting herself from the very back of the ranch station wagon, “that the rafts have more room than this car.” She gave Lisa a hand. The raft launch site was larger and busier than she’d imagined. There were at least a dozen large inflatable rafts, and tons of people were putting on helmets and life preservers. There was even a small supply store.
“I don’t know if I agree,” Christine replied. “If we’re packed in tightly, it won’t be as easy for us to fall out. Thanks for the ride, Colonel Devine.”
Colonel Devine nodded. “You’re welcome. I’ll
go find Harry and tell him that you’re here.” He walked toward the store.
“Thanks,” Stevie and Carole called after him.
“Thanks,” Emily echoed, swinging out of the back door. To Christine she added, “I don’t think we need to worry about falling out. White-water rapids are graded from class one to class six, and these don’t get higher than class three.”
Christine laughed. “You sound like an expert.”
“I’ve been talking to one the whole way here. Right, Monica?” Emily leaned over to look back into the car. “Monica? Are you okay?”
The tall girl was sitting still in the center of the seat. Her face was pale and uneasy. “What’s wrong?” Emily asked. The whole way there—ever since her ride the night before, in fact—Monica had been happy and energetic. Now suddenly she looked frozen again.
“What’s wrong?” Carole asked, coming to stand next to Emily. The others gathered around.
“I just didn’t expect there to be so many people—so many strangers.” Monica took a deep breath. “Oh well,” she said. She picked up her crutches and eased herself out of the car, glancing around nervously as she did so. A few people
in some of the other groups looked over toward them. Some of them looked twice when they noticed Monica was missing a leg.
Monica saw them looking. She shook her head. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispered. “Maybe I should go back home with Mr. Devine.”
“Monica!” Stevie cajoled. “We need you! You’re the only one who’s done this before.”
“We’ll have a great time once we get started,” Kate added. “Just like you did riding yesterday. Getting started is the worst part.”
“I don’t know,” Monica said again. She sat down on the edge of the car seat.
The Saddle Club exchanged grim glances. They couldn’t
Monica come. “Please come,” Lisa said softly.
Emily leaned against the side of the car. “Monica,” she said, looking her straight in the eye, “people are going to be staring at you for the rest of your life. It will be easier once you get your prosthetic leg, because you won’t look so different then, but some people will still stare, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” She took a deep breath. “People stare at me all the time,” she continued. “Some of the people you
think are staring at you right now are probably staring at me.”
“They’re probably staring at both of us,” Monica said.
Emily shrugged. “Probably.”
Lisa realized once again the pain this sort of thing caused Emily. When Emily had first come riding at Pine Hollow, a certain insensitive rider named Veronica diAngelo had made some very rude remarks. Emily had been so upset she cried. By now Lisa had spent so much time around Emily that she never paid attention to strangers staring, no more than she paid attention to Emily’s spastic muscles. Emily, Lisa thought, never stopped noticing.
“Okay,” Monica said, her eyes fixed on Emily, “what do I do? How do you deal with other people’s reactions? How do you keep it from bothering you?”
“I don’t,” Emily said.
Monica blinked. Clearly, Lisa thought, that wasn’t the answer she was expecting.
“It always bothers me when people stare,” Emily said. “I hate it. It’s even worse when people act like I’m stupid because I can’t walk well. But I learned a long time ago that I can’t help what
other people do. I can only help what I do. And I want to ride, and I want to go white-water rafting.”
Monica nodded. Some of the strain left her face. “That makes sense,” she said. “It’s just not easy.”