Suddenly the fire truck up ahead blares its siren, startling meâand my horse. Trickster spooks and skitters sideways, catching me off balance. I clutch the saddle as my legs fly out of the stirrups. It feels like I'm going to fall, but I regain my balance just in time and quickly bring Trickster under control.
Behind us, Claiborne snorts. Turning to check on Zoe, I see Claiborne rear, his forelegs pawing the air. Zoe's face is white. I've never seen her look scared on a horse before.
“Hang on, Zoe!” I shout.
Zoe grabs a handful of mane and leans forward into Claiborne's neck, her legs tight against the horse's flanks. Just as suddenly, Claiborne drops back down, his hooves clattering on the asphalt, and Zoe loses her grip and tumbles to the street.
“Zoe!” I cry, reining Trickster to a stop, terrified that she'll be trampled by Claiborne's hooves. She needs help, but I'm not sure what to do; I've got my own horse to control. Just as I'm about to dismount, Mr. Quinn rushes up and grabs Claiborne's reins.
“Are you all right?” I call down to Zoe.
She stands up slowly, brushing off her arms. “I think so!” she says breathlessly. She looks at her elbow. It's badly scraped.
“Mr. Quinn,” I call out. “Zoe's bleeding!”
Mr. Quinn glances at her arm and pulls out a bandanna for her to wrap around the scrape. “You need to go to the first-aid station, Zoe,” he tells her. “I'll take care of Claiborne.” He points out a booth with a red cross on it. “Can you make it there on your own?”
Zoe nods, but I can tell she's disappointed about not finishing the parade.
“I'm sorry, Zoe,” I tell her.
She shrugs. “No biggie. Don't worry about me. You go ahead. Have fun!”
I wave good-bye to Zoe and continue on with the other riders. We're past the shops now, and both sides of the street are lined with tables. The firefighters have a safety exhibit, and the 4-H club is signing up new members. When we pass the Dr. Mac's Place booth, Sunita and Dr. Mac are so busy handing out pamphlets about vaccinations and spaying and neutering that they don't even see us ride by. Dr. Mac must be really pleased. She likes it when people want to learn about being responsible pet owners.
I can smell hot dogs and sausages grilling. That means we're near the end. My stomach rumbles.
Man, am I hungry!
Maybe I can sneak in a little snack without Mom seeing. Her health-food kick is starving me to death!
We round a corner, and up ahead I spot a little girl in a purple sundress waving wildly in my direction. Don't tell me Mom actually let Ashley wear that dress! As I draw closer, I see she's got jeans and a sweater on under the dress. Looks like she and Mom worked out a deal. I have to hand it to Momâhow many mothers would let their daughter go out in public dressed like that?
“You're one block from the end,” Mom calls as I ride up. “Come join us for lunch after you're done.”
“Mom packed a picnic!” Ashley shouts. “With pickles!” The people around her chuckle. That's my sister for youânever a dull moment.
“OK, Ash, I'll be there as soon as I can,” I call down.
At the end of the parade, we circle back to the trailers and load the horses. Then I meet Mom and Ashley at the park for lunch.
“One of the booths had the cutest goat,” Ashley says, sucking on a pickle. “It had long curly hair. Can we go pet it?”
Long curly hair on a goat? This I have to see. “All right if we go, Mom?”
Mom nods. “Just walk Ashley home when you're done.”
“Can I feed my sandwich crusts to the goat?” Ashley asks as we pack up the food.
“Well, we can ask the owner if it's OK.” I take Ashley's hand so I don't lose her in the crowd, and we start back up Main Street. Now that the parade is over, the booths are mobbed.
Suddenly Ashley looks worried. “But what if the goat bites me?”
“Don't worry. Goats don't have any teeth on their upper jaw, so they can't hurt you,” I tell her. “Besides, I'm sure it's a nice goat, or they wouldn't have brought it here.”
“Look, David, there it is!” Ashley points, and through the crowd I spot a small white goat in a wire pen. It has long curly hair, just as Ashley said. In fact, it looks almost like a sheep, except for the narrow horns curving back from its head. Suddenly it bleats. I wonder if it's scared of all the people.
The table in front of the goat pen displays handmade posters about spinning and knitting with mohair wool. A woman in a long skirt demonstrates a spinning wheel, while a girl who looks about ten years old hands out wool samples.
I approach the girl. “Hiâis it all right if we pet your goat?”
The girl nods. “Sure. She's real soft because she's an Angora. She's a little noisy, but don't worry, she's very friendly. Her name is Sabrina. If you call her, she'll come right up to you.”
“Will she eat my crusts?” Ashley holds up her chewed sandwich remains.
The girl smiles. “She probably would, but she needs a special diet, so they wouldn't be good for her.”
“A diet? Is she too fat?” Ashley asks.
The girl shakes her head and laughs. “No, but to make all that nice long hair, she has to eat special high-protein pellets. If she fills up on your sandwich, she might not eat her dinner.”
Ashley nods knowingly. “That's just what my mom tells
As Ashley and I walk over to the pen, the goat bleats again. She's got her head poking through the fence, watching us.
“Here, Sabrina,” Ashley calls, but the goat doesn't move. No wonder: as we come up to her, I can see that the wire fence is caught behind her horns, and she can't pull her head back through.
“Let's get you unstuck,” I say to the goat. Holding a horn, I gently twist her head, then slowly back it through the square of fence. Suddenly Sabrina squirms and bleats again. “Hold still, I'm trying to help!” I mutter. “There!”
The second her horns are free of the fence, Sabrina jerks her head back and bolts across the pen.
Ashley trots around the pen after Sabrina, who stops and lets Ashley pet her. “Ooh, look at all her fancy curls everywhere. And her white eyelashes!” my sister marvels. “Hey, David, lookâthe poor goat is crying. Do you think she's sad that she doesn't get to eat my crusts?”
“Animals don't cry, Ashley.”
“Then how come there are tears coming out of her eye?”
What on earth is Ashley babbling about this time? I go over to the goat. Sure enough, tears are running out of Sabrina's left eye and down her furry cheek. The eyelids look squinty, too.
“See?” Ashley's lower lip trembles. She's about to cry herself. “We have to comfort her!” She reaches her arms through the fence, trying to give Sabrina a hug.
“We have to find out what's wrong with her eye,” I reply, peering more closely. Suddenly Sabrina shakes her head, and I catch a flash of red on her neck.
What was that?
I pull apart the long woolly ringlets. On the skin of her neck, I find a red cut about two inches long, with blood oozing out. It was practically hidden in all her hair.
I go back and examine the place in the pen where Sabrina was stuck. Where the fence is nailed to the post, there's a sharp piece of wire sticking out with a tangle of long white hairs stuck on it. Sabrina must have scratched herself when she yanked her head back through the fence.
I tell Ashley to stay put, and then I run back to the girl at the table to borrow some paper towels and a cell phone. I hope Dr. Mac has her pager switched on.
A few minutes later, while we're waiting for Dr. Mac to arrive, the girl and her mother look at Sabrina's injuries. The neck cut looks terrible now, with blood dripping all down the goat's white hair. I press a wad of paper towels firmly onto the cut, like a pressure bandage, to stop the bleeding. But it's the scratched eye that worries me the most.
Ashley is trying to be brave, but as we wait for Dr. Mac, she begins to sob. The girl, whose name is Julie, cries a little, too, and her mom looks anxious. Only Sabrina seems calm and unconcerned.
When Dr. Mac arrives, she puts a drop of anesthetic into Sabrina's eye to numb it, and then a drop of yellow-green stain. Then she examines the eye with her ophthalmoscope, which looks just like the kind people doctors use to check their patients' eyes. Peering through the scope, she rolls back the goat's eyelid and shines a little beam of light all around. Goats have funny eyes, yellow with a flat pupil shaped like a bar.
“There's a scratch on the cornea,” Dr. Mac announces. “The stain makes it show up. That's why this eye is tearing so badly.”
“Will she be all right?” Julie whispers.
“I think so. I'll give you some antibiotic ointment to use so the eye doesn't become infected, and I'll recheck her in a few days. The eye should heal up nicely on its own.”
Next Dr. Mac rinses the neck wound with saline from a squeeze bottle. She examines the wound closely, frowning. “This cut's rather deep. It'll have to be stitched up.”
Dr. Mac gives Sabrina a shot to sedate her. Next, as I hand Dr. Mac the tools one by one, she shaves the wound, cleans it with antibacterial soap, paints it with iodine, then sutures it up using a long needle and surgical thread.
I didn't think Ashley would be able to handle seeing Dr. Mac push the needle into Sabrina's skin, but Ashley is fascinated. “Hey, it's just like sewing,” she exclaims. “We did that in preschool!”
Dr. Mac smiles. “That's right, it's exactly the same thing. And the skin will grow right back together where the stitches are.” She gives Sabrina an injection of antibiotics and a tetanus shot, too, just to be on the safe side. Finally Dr. Mac stands up. “OK, keep her quiet for a few hours, and she should be good as new in no time.”
Julie and her mother thank Dr. Mac. Then, to my surprise, they turn to me and start telling me how grateful they are. Julie's mother gives me a hug. I blush.
“Um, actually, the real hero is my little sister here,” I stammer. “She's the one who noticed that Sabrina was crying.”
Everyone turns to praise Ashley. “Someday, you'll make a top-notch vet volunteer,” Dr. Mac tells her. “Just like your big brother.”
Ashley beams. Watching her tear-streaked face go from worry to joy, I know just how she feels. There's nothing like helping an animal to make you feel really good about yourself.
After we get home, Mom gives me a ride back out to the stables. Mr. Quinn has asked me to help him saddle a bunch of horses for a big trail ride.
As I walk over to the barn, Mr. Quinn calls out my name. I turn around, and he hands me a pitchfork. “You're going to need this first,” he says with a grin.
I know, I know. I've gotta do my share of cleaning up after the horses. Not my favorite chore, but you can't exactly leave the stuff lying around in the horses' bedding! Mr. Quinn always says anybody can take riding lessons, but the true horsemen are the ones who care for the horses as well, all the way down to the last dirty detail.
So I shoulder my pitchfork with pride and head for the stalls.
That's when I see him.
He looks straight at me. “Hello, son.”
Without thinking, I drop the pitchfork and rush to give him a huge hug. It feels great, it feels weird, it feelsâI don't know what it feels like. Here I've just talked myself out of expecting to see him, and he appears in front of me. I'm not prepared for this.
The hug ends and we stand there, neither of us knowing what to say. I look at him, trying to see if he's changed at all.
He studies me the same way. “Overdue for a haircut,” he says with a crooked smile.
I push my blond bangs out of my face and shrug. “Mom doesn't mind.”
Dad opens his mouth to answer, then doesn't. He clears his throat.
Which makes me totally tongue-tied. It's strange to feel awkward around your own dad.
I'm relieved when Mr. Quinn strides over and breaks the silence. “Hey, Charlie, did you get to see the parade?”
“Caught a little of it,” Dad says, but he doesn't say which part he saw.
Did he see me riding Trickster?
“You should have seen David,” Mr. Quinn says, as if he's read my thoughts. He ruffles my hair, the way grown-ups do but shouldn't after you're about five. “Kid's pretty good with horses.”
“He oughta be,” Dad saysâmeaning, I guess, that I ought to be like him. I don't know whether to take it as a compliment or a criticism.