Authors: Bonnie Bryant
“I could get your wheelchair,” Stevie volunteered. “It would only take a second.”
Emily continued forward. “For a two-minute walk to the ranch house? Please, don’t be silly.” She fell again. “Okay,” she said as she stood back up, “so it’s becoming a two-hour walk to the ranch house. I
don’t want my wheelchair. I
want to let it get all dusty and cobwebby under my bunk. I’m not going to use it at all this week.”
Lisa could see how determined Emily was. “We want to do what’s best for you,” she said.
“What’s best for me is a big plate of chicken and noodles. That, and no wheelchair. See, Stevie?” she added, as she started up the ramp to the ranch house porch. “It didn’t take me two hours after all.”
“You’re the one who said it would,” Stevie retorted. “I never thought it would take you longer than an hour and a half.”
Emily laughed. “I’m glad to be around people who have faith in me.”
Carole opened the door to the house. “We’re just glad to be around you,” she said.
places were set for dinner. As the girls sat down, Kate and Mrs. Devine came out of the kitchen with big platters of chicken and noodles and steamed vegetables. Carole jumped up to help them bring out rolls and fruit salad.
“Where is everybody?” Stevie asked.
Kate and Mrs. Devine looked at each other. “Well, the honeymooners are taking some more moonlight rides,” Mrs. Devine said. Colonel Devine came in and sat down, and they all started eating.
“Monica won’t come to dinner,” Kate added
sadly. “Her mom came and got some food to take back to their bunkhouse.”
“She said Monica was tired from the trip,” Mrs. Devine explained, putting a sympathetic arm around Kate’s shoulder.
“She also said Monica was embarrassed,” Kate said, sounding disappointed and hurt. “She came up to Mom and whispered, ‘Monica doesn’t want the girls to see her with, you know, one leg.’ As if we cared about that!”
“Plus, we’ve already seen her with, ‘you know, one leg,’ ” Stevie said. “That doesn’t make sense. She’s not likely to grow a new leg while she’s here, so unless she plans on staying inside her bunkhouse the whole time, we’re going to see her with one leg.”
“I know,” Kate said gloomily. “I wish—I mean, we
friends. Why would she be embarrassed to be around me?”
“Don’t be hard on her,” Carole said gently. “Everything’s still so new for her that it’s got to be difficult. This is only her first night here, and she doesn’t know us at all. No wonder she’s feeling shy. Kate, I’m sure she still counts you as a friend—she’s just having a hard time right now.”
“Anyone would be,” Lisa said. She couldn’t
imagine the adjustment it would take. “I’m sure she’ll feel better by the end of the week.”
“Unfortunately,” Mrs. Devine said, as she passed the vegetables to Stevie, “I don’t think the Hopkinses are going to stay here that long.”
“Mom!” Kate said. “They made reservations for a week!”
“Monica’s miserable,” Mrs. Devine replied. “She’s so unhappy that they really regret coming. Mrs. Hopkins told me she and her husband never thought it was a good idea. Monica’s been crying all afternoon. She can’t ride, she says, and that’s all she ever did when they came here before.”
“I suppose seeing us all on horseback didn’t help,” Kate said gloomily. She set her fork down and pushed the plate away.
“How ever Monica’s feeling right now, it’s not your fault,” her father told her sternly. “You just go on being her friend as best you can, and let her work out her problems.” He spoke to his wife. “Monica should be able to ride, though, shouldn’t she? I can’t think of a reason why she shouldn’t. She can start on our new trails, if she feels unsteady—but she was such a good rider, I’m sure she’ll be able to compensate.”
Emily spoke up. “Her seat’ll feel the same, and she’ll be able to use the reins just as well. Did she ever ride English?”
Kate shook her head. “Just Western. She used to barrel race sometimes.”
“She’ll have to get used to carrying a crop, to substitute for leg signals, but that won’t be too hard,” Emily continued. “I think once she’s on a horse she’ll do okay. It’s getting her on one that might be the problem.”
Stevie took a roll and tore it into pieces. She spread butter on each piece. “Maybe we could make a plan,” she said excitedly. “We can trick her into riding. Maybe Kate can ride Moonglow over to the Hopkinses’ bunkhouse, and then she can fall off and pretend to be injured. The only way Monica will be able to get help fast enough is to hop on Moonglow and gallop—”
“Forget it,” Carole said. “That’ll never work. In the first place, the bunkhouse is only fifty yards from here. Kate could yell and someone would hear her. In the second place, Monica’s mom and dad are right there with her, so one of them would do all the rescuing, anyway.”
“Okay,” said Stevie, undaunted. She stuffed
two pieces of roll into her mouth and chewed hard, thinking. “Okay, how about this. We lure Monica out—”
“Forget that, too,” Emily said. “We can’t make her ride. We can’t
her do anything. She has to come to terms with being disabled on her own. We can encourage her, but we can’t force her. The last thing she needs, Stevie, is one of your schemes. Monica needs to decide to ride on her own.”
Stevie sighed. “I guess you’re right.”
“I know I am,” Emily said.
Colonel Devine changed the subject, telling Kate and his wife all about that afternoon’s ride. “I think they liked our trails,” he said proudly.
“Did you?” Kate grinned. “I hope so. I helped lay them out, you know, and John and I hauled brush away until we thought we’d die from over-work and exhaustion.”
“They’re fantastic,” Emily said. “Everybody at Free Rein would love to ride somewhere this beautiful.”
“Emily had a few good ideas,” Colonel Devine continued. “She thought we should put benches halfway through the longer trails, so the leaders would have a place to sit down and rest. And she
thought we ought to cut down that low branch you warned me about, Kate.”
“I told you so,” Kate replied.
“Emily’s been thinking hard all day,” Stevie said with a grin. “The rest of us, we’re not thinking about anything except where to ride next, and what we can eat when we’re finished riding.”
“Tomorrow we’re going to combine them,” Lisa said, “We’ll take a picnic breakfast, if that’s okay.”
“Sure,” Mrs. Devine agreed. “I’m already doing that for the honeymooners.”
Emily dropped her fork with a clatter. “Sorry,” she said with a blush. “I told The Saddle Club in the barn, I’m a little tired tonight.”
“Hope I didn’t make you think too hard today,” Colonel Devine said, looking at her closely. “Or ride too hard, for that matter.”
Emily smiled. “No—I would have been happy to ride longer. And I’m not thinking all that hard, either. Plus, this afternoon was a double pleasure for me. I got to ride, and I got to imagine all the people who would be able to ride here in the future. It was wonderful.”
“I would have liked to have gone with you,” Kate said. “The dog show was fun, though. Dude
got third place in his division, and Christine says hello to all of you. She’ll come over sometime tomorrow.”
“I can’t believe we forgot to ask you about the dog show!” Carole said. “I guess we were too busy riding.”
“One-track minds,” Kate teased.
“You know us too well,” Carole retorted.
“Carole especially,” Stevie said. “The rest of us do sometimes think about, oh, books or movies or boys once in a while. I believe Lisa sometimes thinks about clothes. But with Carole it’s horses, horses, riding, and then horses.”
Frank Devine spooned his third helping of chicken and noodles onto his plate. “Well, I’m going to go look at horses tomorrow,” he said. “I’m spending the day at a livestock auction. With luck I’ll get a few more horses for the ranch herd, and maybe even some cattle so we’ll have something for the horses to round up. It’s not riding, but you girls are welcome to come with me if you’d like.”
“Sounds interesting,” Stevie said. “The only problem is what you just said: It’s not riding.”
“Not riding!” Emily exclaimed. “We can’t spend a whole day not riding!”
“Of course not,” Carole chimed in. Privately she thought that a horse auction might be interesting—but if both Emily and Stevie wanted to stay at the ranch and ride, she would stay with them. The Saddle Club had to stick together.
“We’re like the three musketeers,” Lisa said. “Only in this case it’s four musketeers. Anyway, all for one and one for all. I vote for riding. Kate?”
Kate was laughing. “Far be it from me to disagree with you all,” she said. “I’ve been to horse auctions before, and I’m sure I’ll go to plenty more. If you want to ride, I’ll ride with you. So that makes it five musketeers.”
After dinner, The Saddle Club and Emily walked back to the bunkhouse. Emily went straight into the bathroom to take a hot bath. Lisa lay down on her bunk. “Phew! I’m tired, too!”
Stevie pulled off her cowboy boots and massaged her toes. “I wouldn’t know why,” she said.
“Maybe it had something to do with the three brownies I ate for dessert,” Lisa suggested. “Sometimes I think my stomach gets so full it makes my eyes shut.” She closed her eyes.
“I think Stevie’s boots are making my eyes water,” Carole said. “Stevie, they stink! Can’t you stick them outside?”
“Geez,” Stevie grumbled, as she got up and put her boots on the porch. “This is the Wild West. We’re supposed to be roughing it.”
“Not that rough,” Lisa said. “The boots are outside, but the smell is still here. Could it be your socks?”
“Picky, picky,” Stevie said. “As a matter of fact, I seem to have forgotten extra socks. These are my only pair.”
Lisa rolled over and pulled her duffel bag out from under the bunk. She extracted a pair of socks and threw them at Stevie. “Here.”
“Here.” Carole did the same thing. “When Emily comes out, ask her for a pair, too. Or Kate. Don’t wear the same socks over again, please.”
“I had no idea you ladies were so dainty,” Stevie said. She went back outside and hung the offending socks on the porch rail.
“That ought to keep us safe from raccoons, coyotes, and bears,” Lisa said to Carole. “No wild animal could get past those socks.” Carole roared.
“What’s so funny?” Emily called through the bathroom door.
“We’ll tell you when you get out,” Lisa called back. “Only don’t drain your bathwater. Stevie needs to rinse her feet.”
“Lisa,” Carole said suddenly, sitting down on the edge of her friend’s bunk, “do you think anything could stop you from riding?”
Lisa opened her eyes. “You mean like an accident or something? Like Monica’s?”
“Well, yes,” Carole paused. “I remember when Cobalt died, for a little while I didn’t think I wanted to ride again.” Lisa nodded. She rememberd that time, too. Cobalt had been a horse Carole loved.
“I really did want to ride even then,” Carole continued. “I just felt so upset about Cobalt that everything about horses reminded me of him and how much I missed him, and how stupid it was that he had to die. But I think if something happened to me, no matter what it was, I would want to ride. I don’t think anything could stop me. If I could be on a horse, I would be.”
“I don’t think anything could stop you, either,” Lisa agreed. “Horses mean so much to you.
I think I would want to ride, too. But maybe Monica feels differently. She sounds like a really active person—motorbiking and all. Maybe she’s afraid riding will remind her of all the things she used to be able to do.”
“Yeah. Imagine being able to remember how it felt to walk, or run, or kick a ball and not being able to do it anymore,” Stevie said.
Kate came in the door with a Scrabble set and a box of brownies under her arm. “Who are you talking about? Monica?”
Lisa nodded. “We were trying to think about how she might feel.”
“Which do you think would be worse?” Stevie asked. “To be disabled from the minute you were born, or to become disabled suddenly when you were our age?”
Emily opened the bathroom door.
“I don’t know,” Kate said. “I think it’s worse for Monica this way, but I don’t know.”
Emily shook her head. “I would give anything if I could run,” she said. “Just once. Once, to see how it would feel.”