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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

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BOOK: Team Play
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“Whatever,” Veronica said airily, undisturbed by her own rudeness.

Stevie stuck her head out of Topside’s stall and gestured to the little girl. “Come on, Melanie. I’ll introduce you to Quarter and show you how to tack him up.”

“Thanks, Stevie,” Red said gratefully.

Veronica said nothing.

It only took Stevie a few minutes to put a saddle and bridle on Quarter. The look of delighted anticipation on Melanie’s face was worth every bit of the work.

“Will I really be able to do that myself?” she asked.

Stevie smiled as she nodded. Melanie reminded her of herself when she first began riding at about the same age. Everything had seemed so wonderfully mysterious. She thought Veronica was really missing something by not doing her own work and not helping others. As far as Veronica was concerned, though, it was clear that “work” was something you got somebody else to do.

“Time for the meeting in Max’s office. Then you’ll be able to ride,” Stevie said. The two girls left Quarter’s stall, closed the door, latched it tightly, and headed for Max’s spacious office, where all the young riders were gathered.

A puzzled look crossed Max’s face when he saw Stevie come in with Melanie. Veronica was already seated comfortably in the one soft chair in his office. Then Stevie saw him nod to himself and she knew that he realized
exactly what had happened. No matter how many times Max asked Veronica to do something, she always seemed to find a way to get somebody else to do it.

Stevie and Melanie sat on the floor next to Carole and Lisa, where they had saved a space for her. Carole glanced at Melanie and gave Stevie a questioning look. “Veronica,” Stevie whispered. It was all the explanation that was needed. Carole nodded and whispered to Lisa.

Max cleared his throat. “This is just a quick announcement,” he began. “But I think it’s a rather exciting one. Pine Hollow has just become involved with an international exchange program, and as our first part of that program, we will be welcoming some guests here in three weeks. An Italian equestrian team will be staying with me for a few days. During that time, they will perform for all of our riders and will give instruction in certain techniques that they have been working on. I know we’ll enjoy having them here and I know we’ll learn a lot from them. I also know that you will all welcome them and give them help whenever needed. Let me say right now that this is not a small job. This team is going to need a lot of help during their stay.”

Stevie looked over at Veronica. “And you know, for some of us, ‘help’ is our middle name,” she blurted out. There was silence for a few seconds. Then almost everybody began laughing. Everybody knew exactly who
Stevie meant. Even Max seemed to be stifling a grin. Veronica just glared at Stevie.

“What I really want to do today is to find a volunteer,” Max continued. “I need one person who will be able to spend time with these four boys.”

Stevie could have sworn that Veronica sat up straighter when Max said the word “boys.”

“My volunteer will show them around the stable, show them around the town and generally act as a host for them when they are not with me. Any volunteers?”

Veronica’s hand shot up.

Stevie’s heart sank. She could just imagine the kind of tour Veronica would give to four Italian boys and the kind of help they’d get. But Veronica was eager as could be, waving her hand in Max’s face.

It was more than Stevie could take. “Oh Re–ed,” she mimicked. “Saddle up these boys’ horses, will you?
After
you’ve cleaned Garnet’s stall?”

The laughter was louder this time.

“So you’re volunteering, Stevie?” Max asked.

“I am?”

“That’s great. I know you’ll do a wonderful job. Thank you, Stevie,” Max said. “Okay, class as usual on Tuesday.”

That was a dismissal.

“Saddle Club meeting at TD’s in ten minutes,” Lisa said.

“Five,” Carole said pointedly.

“Let’s go,” Stevie agreed, patting her pocket to see if she had any money for a sundae. “Uh-oh, I’m out of money,” she complained.

“And that’s not all you’re out of!” Carole said.

Lisa put her arm across Stevie’s shoulder. “Yeah, pal. You’re out of your head, too.”

“I didn’t volunteer!” Stevie protested. “Max roped me into it.”

“That’s not what’s going to get you in the worst trouble,” Carole began, walking on Stevie’s other side. “Making fun of Veronica in front of practically the whole world can be a really bad mistake.”

“Oh, who cares about spoiled brat Veronica diAngelo?” Stevie asked with disgust.

Carole and Lisa looked at one another. Stevie had a lot to learn!

T
HE THREE GIRLS
walked together toward Willow Creek’s little shopping center, the home of their favorite hangout, Tastee Delight. It was an ice-cream shop better known to them as TD’s, and the site of a lot of their Saddle Club meetings. One of the advantages of having a club with almost no rules was that they could have meetings any place they wanted, whenever they wanted.

Lisa found a booth in the back where at least one of them could watch the door in case Veronica arrived, seeking revenge.

“Now, down to business,” Lisa began, taking the seat which faced the door.

Just then a waitress approached the trio. “Oh, no. It’s
you
,” she said, looking at Stevie. Stevie was famous for
ordering ridiculous combinations of ice cream. Her friends suspected she did it so nobody would want tastes of her order.

“Don’t worry,” Stevie assured the waitress. “I’m out of money. I’ll just have a glass of water.”

The waitress sighed with relief.

“Oh, I’ll pay for you,” Lisa said. “Have whatever you want.”

“Really?” Stevie asked. Lisa nodded. “Okay, then, in honor of my new Italian connection, I’ll have some spumoni—”

The waitress wrote that down and turned to Lisa. But Stevie wasn’t finished yet.

“—with some pineapple topping,” Stevie continued. The woman wrote it down quickly. “And have you got some walnuts—you know, the syrupy ones?” The woman nodded weakly. “And coconut sprinkles. With a cherry, of course.”

The woman dashed away.

“Did you guys want something?” Stevie asked, pretending she had no idea about why the woman ran away.

“She’ll bring us the usual normal sundaes,” Carole said. “At this table, those stand out, you know.”

“Now, down to business,” Lisa said pointedly. “What made you get into a fight with Veronica?”

“Everything always makes me get into a fight with Veronica,” Stevie said. “She’s the most awful girl I know.
She thinks that just because she’s got pots of money, she should have everything else, too. But life isn’t like that and sometimes I just feel I have to point it out to her. Know what I mean?”

“Well, sure,” Lisa said. “We all feel that way. The only difference is that we try not to act on those feelings. Do you have any idea how vindictive Veronica is?”

“Vindictive?” Stevie echoed. She was a little irritated that Lisa used a word she didn’t know, but Lisa was a straight-A student and straight-A students sometimes did things like that.

“Vindictive means she’s going to get revenge,” Carole explained. Carole shrugged at Stevie’s look of surprise. “Revenge is a big Marine Corps subject,” she explained, smiling wryly. Her father was a colonel in the Marine Corps and Carole had been raised on Marine bases around the country. Lisa and Stevie both smiled at the remark.

“Come on. What can Veronica do to me?” Stevie asked.

“I don’t know,” Lisa said. “But whatever it is, she’ll try it. Count on it!”

“Well, I call for a change of subject,” Stevie said. She was getting tired of listening to her friends’ warnings.

“All right, I’ve got a new one,” Carole said. “What’s Phil Marston going to think about you escorting four handsome Italian boys around town while they’re here?”

Phil was Stevie’s boyfriend. They had met the summer before at riding camp. He lived in a nearby town, and although they only saw one another about once a month, they talked every week.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with Phil,” Stevie said. “And besides, it means you guys will have four handsome, probably rich, and dashing Italian boys to share. You know as well as I do that Max didn’t just volunteer me, he volunteered you, too.”

The waitress arrived, holding her tray high. “One hot fudge on vanilla.” She put it in front of Lisa. “One caramel on vanilla.” Carole got that. “And one, uh—oh, I can’t even say it.” She slammed the dish down in front of Stevie and dashed away.

“I can’t think what comes over that woman!” Stevie said. “Isn’t she just the silliest?” She picked up her spoon and then asked politely, “Anybody want a taste?”

“No, thanks,” Lisa and Carole said at the same time.

Lisa continued, “You mean you think hosting this Italian equestrian team is some sort of Saddle Club project? That Carole and I are going to have to pitch in and spend a lot of time with these handsome, dashing, rich, talented Italian boys?”

“That’s exactly what I had in mind.” Stevie grinned proudly.

“I wonder how good they are at riding,” Carole said. Although all three of them were certifiably horse crazy,
Carole was the horse craziest of the bunch. She had long ago decided that horses would be her life. She hadn’t decided whether she was going to train, ride, raise, or heal them, but it would be one or all of them, of that she was certain. “I mean, I wonder if they’re as good as Kate Devine,” she mused.

Kate Devine was an out-of-town member of The Saddle Club. Her parents owned a dude ranch in the southwest which The Saddle Club had already visited twice, and hoped to visit again in the future. Before moving to the ranch and taking up Western riding, Kate had been a championship English rider. She’d helped The Saddle Club girls with both kinds of riding. In turn, they had helped her remember how much fun riding could be when she’d given it up because she’d stopped enjoying competing.

“Wouldn’t it be neat if these guys were going near Kate’s ranch and she could see them, too?” Lisa asked.

Stevie grinned. “Somehow I don’t see these boys traveling into cowboy country with their dressage show, do you?”

“No, I guess not,” Lisa agreed. “It was just an—uh-oh.”

Lisa’s “uh-oh” could only mean one thing.

“Ah, the winner of the Helping Hand Award has arrived?” Stevie said sarcastically. Lisa nodded. Veronica sauntered in, looked disparagingly at The Saddle Club,
and chose a table as far away from them as she could get. “Wow, I just got a neat idea,” Stevie said excitedly, leaning forward and whispering to her friends. Lisa and Carole had learned from past experience that Stevie’s neat ideas were usually wonderful, and often got them all into a lot of trouble. They suspected this time would be no exception.

Stevie signaled the waitress and explained what she wanted. The poor woman gawked in horror and shook her head, but agreed to do as Stevie asked.

“I think we’d better get out of here,” Stevie said. Lisa and Carole agreed that that was the wisest move.

As they were leaving, the beleaguered waitress was delivering an order to Veronica.

“That one,” she said, pointing to Stevie, “she says she owes you an apology or something. Wanted you to have this sundae. She paid for it. It’s just like the one she had, too.”

“Oh, really?” Veronica asked. Stevie could see a smug look of victory cross her face. Veronica thought she’d won. “What is it?”

The waitress’s face paled. “It’s spumoni,” she began. “With pineapple, walnuts, coconut—” She couldn’t finish, however. Veronica was already shrieking.

A
LL
S
UNDAY AFTERNOON
, when she should have been starting her homework, Stevie worked on a list of things to show the Italian boys, places of interest in town, places of interest at the stable. She planned a full-scale tour of Washington, D.C., because, after all, it was only about forty-five minutes away. Stevie did notice that her list encompassed activities that would take a determined person a few months rather than a few days to accomplish. But, she told herself, at least the boys would have some choices.

She also borrowed an Italian phrase book from the library and spent all of Sunday evening, when she should have been finishing her homework, making a list of words and phrases she thought she might need to know. That
included everything from “horseback riding” (
a cavallo
) to “Can you repair a flat tire?” (
Può riparare una gomma a terra?
), although she wasn’t quite sure how she would work the last phrase into a conversation. The end result of all her work was that she was up way too late on Sunday, finishing the homework she should have done much earlier, and overslept on Monday morning.

BOOK: Team Play
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