Authors: Bonnie Bryant
“Nope,” Emily said.
“At least, today, you’re surrounded by friends,” Kate said.
Monica smiled. “I know that.” She took a deep breath and stood back up. “I’ll go,” she said.
“Good!” Kate gave Monica a hug. “I’m so glad!”
Lisa took half a step forward to hug Monica, too, but a tug on her shirt sleeve pulled her back. “Saddle Club meeting,” Stevie hissed in her ear. “Carole, you too.”
“Now?” Lisa whispered back, as Stevie hurried them both into the little supply store.
“Now,” Stevie said. “But I don’t need you as much as I need your money. How much do you have?”
“About five dollars, but why—”
“Hand it over,” Stevie said. Lisa did. Carole took a few crumpled bills out of her pocket, too, and Stevie marched to the cash register.
Carole and Lisa exchanged puzzled looks. “I guess I just won’t ask,” Lisa said.
“Guess not,” Carole said.
In a moment Stevie was back with a small paper bag under her arm. “Now,” she said, tipping the contents of the bag into her hands, “you two hold still.”
Two minutes later The Saddle Club returned to the station wagon, where Mr. Devine was helping Kate, Christine, Monica, and Emily adjust their life vests. “Stevie!” Kate shrieked when she saw them. “Lisa! Carole! What happened to you?” All three girls were painted in outrageous stripes of neon orange, green, and blue. Stevie had a blue sun painted on each cheek. Carole had neon green whiskers. Lisa was polka-dotted. All three of them had tiger stripes running up their arms as well.
“Hold still,” Stevie commanded. She took one of the three tubes of colored zinc sunblock she’d bought and gave Kate a long orange squiggle down her nose. Lisa added green triangles, and Carole striped her arms blue.
“Now Monica,” Stevie continued. Soon Monica, Christine, and Emily were equally well decorated.
“It’s festive,” Christine said, looking at the stripes encircling her wrists. “Does it have a purpose?”
Stevie grinned. “If anyone’s going to stare at any one of us,” she said, “they’re going to stare at all of us.”
“Hold still, Stevie,” Monica said. “I think I want to add another stripe to your nose.”
in dismay. “When they say sunblock, they mean sun
“I know,” Lisa said ruefully. “I actually thought I had a pretty good tan before today. I’m surprised we got as much sun as we did.”
“The reflections off the water intensify the rays,” Monica explained.
“I’d say so,” Stevie said glumly. When they had washed the neon sunblock off, they found that the skin beneath it was now a shade lighter than the non-sunblocked skin. In other words, Kate still had a squiggle down her nose. Monica had stars on her cheeks, and Stevie had sun shapes. Carole had whiskers. Lisa had dots. All of them had striped arms.
“Oh well,” Stevie said cheerfully. “It’ll probably fade before we get back to Pine Hollow.”
They were all sitting in The Saddle Club’s bunkhouse. At least, Carole and Monica were sitting. Lisa, Emily, and Stevie were lying down. Rafting, they discovered, was even more exercise than riding. It was also nearly as much fun.
“Swoosh!” Stevie said in an undertone, and the others laughed. Whenever a wave had flooded the raft—which had been roughly every thirty seconds—they’d all yelled “Swoosh!”
“Wasn’t that great?” Monica asked.
“Yep,” Stevie replied. “How’re your bruises, Lisa?” Of all of them, Lisa had been the only one to fall out of the raft.
“Not bad,” Lisa said. “How’re yours?”
“They only hurt when I touch them.” Stevie hadn’t actually fallen in—but when Lisa had gone overboard, Stevie had dived in to save her.
“I don’t think I’d be bruised if you hadn’t jumped on me,” Lisa continued.
“I couldn’t let you drown,” Stevie protested.
“I wasn’t going to drown! The water was only three feet deep!”
Kate banged on the door. Carole jumped up to open it, and Kate and Christine came in with their arms full of food and sleeping bags.
“Are you sure there’s room for me in here?”
Monica asked, looking doubtfully at the crowded bunkhouse. “I could stay with my parents.”
“We’re sure,” Kate replied. “Give us a break, will you? We wanted you with us all week.”
“It’s a slumber party!” Christine yelled. She opened one of the grocery bags she’d carried in. “I’ve got the popcorn popper! Kate, where’s the popcorn?”
“Somewhere,” Kate answered, looking through the other bags.
“We can use Lisa’s hair dryer to melt the butter,” Stevie offered.
“Does she always have ideas like this?” Monica asked Emily.
“Always,” Emily said. “Stevie, I’m going to call you Sunshine.”
Stevie blushed slightly, and the pale sun shapes on her cheeks turned pink. “If I’m Sunshine, you’re Blockhead,” she retorted. “You’ve got squares on your forehead.”
“Squiggle,” Monica said to Kate.
“Freckles,” Kate said to Lisa.
Lisa looked at Carole’s whiskers. “Here, kitty, kitty!” she called. Carole threw a sock at Lisa.
“Oh no!” Lisa cried in horror. “It’s one of Stevie’s socks!” She threw a pillow at Stevie.
“Pillow fight!” Emily cried, whacking Christine.
When they finished their fight, and Kate was declared Queen Pillow Thrower and Squiggle Nose, they rearranged the room so that sleeping bags for Monica and Christine would fit on the floor. Christine popped corn while Stevie melted butter in the glass from the bathroom. Emily opened sodas and passed them around.
Lisa flexed her foot and pointed it. She had a bruise on her shin, but it didn’t hurt very much. She felt tired from the day’s exertions, but also, in some strange way, refreshed. “You know,” she commented, “once in a while I think it’s actually good to get a little break from riding. Rafting was a lot of fun.”
“I guess I am glad we decided to go,” Carole agreed, “even if it did mean we couldn’t ride for a day.”
“Okay,” Christine said. “Explain something to me, please. Every other time you guys have come here, you’ve spent at least a day doing something else. The time you helped with my mom’s Halloween party you hardly rode at all. Why were you so obsessed with riding this trip?”
Kate looked amused. Emily looked dumb-founded.
“Aren’t they always this obsessed?” she asked.
The Saddle Club looked a little uncomfortable.
“No,” Christine said. “They always ride a lot—we all do—but geez, this week was ridiculous! I would have come with you guys yesterday, but I was tired out from the day before.”
“I thought you never did anything but ride,” Emily said to Stevie.
Stevie started laughing. “We mostly ride,” she said. “I promise, Em. But this time—we thought you were only interested in riding.”
“You did?” Emily started laughing. “But I thought
were only interested in riding!”
“You mean I didn’t really have to be on that horse for eighteen hours in a row?” Lisa asked.
“Stewball and I could have made history,” Stevie said with a groan.
“We could have gone to the horse auction!” Carole added.
“Don’t blame me for this,” Emily said. “Whenever you guys talked about the Bar None, you talked about riding, riding, riding. You never talked about doing anything else.”
“Well, of course not,” Carole said. “Riding is the most important thing.”
“If you wanted to do something else, Em, why didn’t you say so?” Stevie asked. “We would have listened.”
“I could ask you the same question,” Emily retorted.
“You seemed so excited about spending the whole week on a horse,” Stevie explained. “You’ve never gotten to do that before—and we’ve been out here a bunch. Plus, we really do ride almost all the time.”
Emily nodded. “I didn’t want to mess up the stuff you guys usually do,” she said. “We have to do some things differently because of my C.P.—like choose the right picnic spots—so I didn’t want to ask you to do other things differently, too.”
“Oh well,” Lisa said. “Really, what would we have done differently? We couldn’t have gone to the dog show and the horse auction and the Wild West Show and white-water rafting—then we really wouldn’t have had enough time to ride.”
“Rafting was the best,” Carole said. “We’re lucky it came last.”
The others agreed. “Man,” Emily said, “by last night my seat was really starting to ache!”
Carole laughed. “Fleece saddle covers,” she said. “Tell Colonel Devine about them, Emily; he’s listening to whatever you suggest. Tell him he’ll need one for every saddle before our next visit.”
Stevie yawned and stretched. She took another handful of popcorn. “Rafting was a good cure for saddle soreness,” she said. “I’m ready to ride again.”
“I’m more than ready,” Monica said. She climbed into her sleeping bag. “Do you have the alarm set right, Kate? We don’t want to be late.”
“That’s right!” Carole said. “I almost forgot!”
“Don’t worry,” Kate assured them. “I know what time the sun rises.” She put the alarm clock on her cot next to her pillow. They hastily got into bed. Stevie turned out the light.
In the darkness Emily yawned. “I can’t wait for morning!” she said. The others agreed.
N THE EARLY
morning darkness, seven girls on horseback climbed toward the sun. The horses’ breathing made rhythmic rushing noises. The wind was still. The only other sounds were the occasional clink of a horseshoe against a stone.
Carole felt Berry’s warm, broad back smooth beneath her. She sat tall and proud. She loved riding bareback. She loved riding. She was entirely happy.
Above her, a scattering of stars still shone in the indigo sky. In front of her, behind the hill they were now climbing, she knew the sky was
beginning to lighten. But they had time yet before dawn.
“Oh,” Monica said softly. Carole turned her head. Even in the dim light, she could see that Monica wasn’t in any sort of trouble. Riding bareback was harder than riding with a saddle, but Monica had done it before. The horses were walking slowly. The girls had been riding nearly an hour.
“How do you feel, Emily?” Lisa asked, moving Chocolate a little closer to Spot’s side.
Emily grinned. “I feel great. This is fantastic.” Emily had never ridden bareback before. She had also, she told them that morning, never ridden in the dark before, but Kate assured her that the horses would be surefooted. Emily hadn’t seemed worried.
“You look great,” Lisa told her. “I remember my first bareback sunrise ride. I really hadn’t been riding very long, and going bareback made me nervous at first. But I caught on.”
“It’s slippery,” Emily said. “I’ve had to grab mane about six times. And I never realized horses were so warm. I think it’s loosening my leg muscles.”
“Another form of therapy,” Lisa joked.
Emily chuckled. “Wait until I try it with P.C.”
“We’re almost there,” Kate said. “We’re in plenty of time.” A few final steps brought them to the crest of the hill. They halted their horses on the summit; in front of them, the valley swept down into a wide expanse before rising again into distant mountains. The bottom of the sky had turned rosy pink, but the mountains and valley were still shrouded in darkness.
The horses waited peacefully. The girls waited expectantly. “Here it comes,” Kate said. The first bright ray of sunshine shot over the top of the distant range.
“Wow!” Emily said. “I always thought sunrise was a more gradual thing.”
“Maybe in Virginia,” Kate said. “Not here.” Soon the eastern sky was flooded with rose and yellow light. The face of their hill began to glow with light, and, gradually, as the sun rose, light drifted down the valley.
“Every time I see this, it’s more beautiful than the last,” Carole said.
“I told you it was worth getting up at four
. for,” Stevie said to Emily.
“You were right,” Emily replied. “But I always thought it sounded worthwhile.” Birds woke up,
and soon the air was full of sounds. The wind began to blow.
Finally Kate turned Moonglow. “Time for breakfast,” she said. They started back.
When they were nearly home, Emily challenged them. “A race,” she said. “Let’s have a race. Monica?”
Monica looked disconcerted. Carole was sure that Monica’s balance wasn’t up to bareback galloping, not yet, and she was equally sure that Emily’s wasn’t, either. She opened her mouth to say so when Emily grinned and said, “A walking race. First horse home wins, but anyone who trots is out.”
Monica grinned. “That sounds like a good bareback race.” She tapped her crop gently behind her leg to perk up Buttercup’s walk. Buttercup responded with a slight increase in speed.
Lisa tried to motivate Chocolate, but the mare seemed to have fallen asleep. Lisa clucked and squeezed with her legs. Chocolate didn’t seem to notice. “This is a bad time for a nap,” Lisa told her. “Stevie,” she continued, “what are you doing?” Stevie had gathered the reins short. She wrapped her legs around Stewball’s barrel.
“Dressage,” Stevie said grandly. “Behold an
extended walk.” She signaled to Stewball. He promptly jogged.
“Thank you,” Lisa told her. “Now I can’t be last even if Chocolate lies down for a nap.”