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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

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BOOK: Team Play
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The fact was that Carole was worried about everything Stevie had taken on. It wasn’t that Stevie wasn’t capable of doing these things. She was. She could do every one of them and more. The problem was that they were all coming up soon. Even though some of them, such as the Italian boys project and the Hospital Festival, would be vaguely related to horses, they were all going to cut seriously into Stevie’s riding time.

Carole continued to voice her concern. “I mean, are
you even going to have time to come to Pony Club meetings?”

“Of course I am,” Stevie said positively. “I wouldn’t miss my riding for anything, any more than I would miss spending time with you two—uh, three,” she corrected herself, glancing at Carole’s father.

“Thanks,” he said, pleased to be included. “But tell me what you’re doing that’s got my daughter so upset.”

“She shouldn’t be upset,” Stevie began. “She should be excited for me. After all—”

The phone rang. Since all three girls were involved in the brownie-making, Colonel Hanson answered it. As soon as they heard him say “Oh, hi, Frank,” they were interested.

Frank was Frank Devine, a retired Marine Corps friend of Colonel Hanson. He was also the father of Katharine Devine, better known as Kate, one of the Saddle Club’s out-of-town members. Kate had been a championship rider in the horse show circuit, but had given it up when she found that the competition had interfered with her enjoyment of riding. She’d only started riding again when the Saddle Club had roped her into helping them with a gymkhana. Now her family ran a dude ranch in the Southwest, and she’d taken up another kind of riding. Stevie, Lisa, and Carole had visited her twice. They couldn’t wait for another chance to see her. All three of
them wondered the same thing as they listened to Carole’s father on the phone. Was this the chance?

“Spring break, huh? Christine, too?”

Carole’s eyes widened. This was sounding good. Christine Lonetree was also an out-of-town Saddle Club member. She was a Native American girl who lived a few miles from Kate. The girls had met her on their visits to the Bar-None Ranch.

“No, Carole’s in school then,” Colonel Hanson was saying. “Her spring break isn’t until—”

The girls looked at each other. Now, it wasn’t sounding so good.

“Oh, I suppose it would be fun for them—”

All pretense of brownie-making had stopped.

“But there’s no way—”

What was going on?

Colonel Hanson laughed into the phone. “No, I mean there’s no way I could say no. Carole would never speak to me again—to say nothing of Stevie and Lisa—”

That sounded much better!

“Okay, so that’s the fourth weekend of the month. Let’s see … wait a minute. I just need to find—” Colonel Hanson looked around. The girls sprang to his assistance. Carole handed him a calendar, Lisa gave him a pencil, and Stevie offered a scrap of paper. He accepted the things with a wink.

He looked at the calendar, scribbled something down
on the paper, and spoke. “All right, we’ll see all three of you then.”

“We will?” all three girls asked at once. The colonel nodded and listened.

“Okay, I’ll wait to hear from you then, and somebody will meet the girls. It’s too bad you have to go right back,” he said.

It can only mean one thing
, Carole hoped. She held her breath while her father finished his conversation.

“All right. Good-bye. Love to Phyllis,” he told Frank, then hung up.

“So?” Carole asked, about to explode with excitement.

“You think that had something to do with you?” he teased.

“Come on, Dad,” Carole pleaded. “We can’t stand the suspense.”

Colonel Hanson smiled and hugged his daughter. “Well, my dears,” he told all three girls, “it turns out that Frank’s piloting skills are needed.” Frank, a former Marine Corps pilot, sometimes flew a plane for a wealthy neighbor with business in Washington. “He’ll be making a couple of round trips at times that coincide with Kate and Christine’s spring break. Now, it’s not your spring break, but I thought you all could enjoy a visit anyway. So, they’re coming the fourth weekend of the month and staying for a week.”

Carole whooped. “It’s going to be fabulous! Imagine, both Kate and Christine here for a visit at the same time. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Lisa hugged her friend with excitement. “And they’ll be here in less than three weeks!” she shouted gleefully. “Won’t it be wonderful, Stevie?”

Stevie nodded, but something about Lisa’s words bothered her. Suddenly she didn’t feel very good. She put down her wooden spoon and picked up the calendar.

Colonel Hanson had circled the date of Kate and Christine’s arrival. They were coming on the fourth weekend of the month. Stevie counted off the days carefully. She looked again and counted again. Lisa was right: It was less than three weeks away.

“Isn’t it exciting, Stevie?” Lisa asked again. “Stevie?”

Stevie just stared at the calendar.

“Too much excitement for you, Stevie?” Carole teased.

“Yes,” Stevie said glumly.

Her friends fell silent. As long as they’d known Stevie, there had never been such a thing as too much excitement for her.

“What’s she staring at?” Lisa asked at last.

“The calendar,” Colonel Hanson said.

“Is there a problem with it?” Carole asked.

Stevie nodded numbly.

“What is it?” Carole wanted to know.

“The fourth weekend of the month,” Stevie said mechanically. “It’s less than three weeks away.”

Carole nodded. “Right, so—”

“The Italian boys arrive in three weeks,” Stevie said.

“Oh,” Lisa said. “Well, it’s really not a problem. After all, they’ll probably be thrilled to meet the famous Katharine Devine. Or are you worried that they’ll think she’s better than they are?”

Stevie didn’t answer the question. She kept counting the days on the calendar. It all came up the same. She tried to explain, but she was so upset she knew she wasn’t doing a good job of it.

“The end of the month is also in three weeks,” Stevie managed to say.

“Right,” Lisa agreed. “Thirty days hath September and all that. The fourth weekend
is
the end of the—oh, no.”

Stevie knew that Lisa had just understood the seriousness of the situation.

“What’s going on here?” Carole demanded.

“The end of the month is when the Hospital Festival is taking place,” Lisa explained.

Carole’s eyes widened. “Oh, no.”

“And that’s not all,” Stevie said. She’d finally gotten her voice back.

Carole, Lisa, and Colonel Hanson waited.

“The end of the month includes the last Saturday of the month,” Stevie said.

Lisa and Carole looked at each other. Colonel Hanson just looked puzzled.

“That’s when the Spring Fair is supposed to take place,” Lisa explained.

“And that’s not all,” Stevie said dolefully. Her fingers traced the path of the short weeks between the date she was thinking of and the end of the month. It always came up the same.

“The end of the month includes the weekend of the 28th.”

“So what momentous event happens on the 28th?” Colonel Hanson asked.

“Debates for President of the Middle School,” Stevie informed him.

“Goodness!” he exclaimed. “My dear, if you can handle all of these things at once, you don’t need to worry about becoming President of the Middle School. You’ll be qualified to be president of the United States!”


If
I can get it all done,” Stevie said ominously, and her friends agreed.

L
ISA AND
C
AROLE
walked slowly together toward Pine Hollow after school on Tuesday. Normally the excitement of an upcoming riding class made the two of them chatter nonstop on their way. But today neither of them was in a very talkative mood. Ever since Saturday, Lisa had been consumed with worry for Stevie. She suspected Carole felt the same way.

“She’s just got to give up some of it,” Lisa said out loud.

“That’s just what I was thinking,” Carole agreed.

Carole had understood right away what Lisa meant. The same thing was on both of their minds: Stevie was in trouble.

“I don’t know how—” Lisa began.

“She can’t,” Carole said simply.

“You’re right.”

They walked on in silence.

Ever since Saturday, Lisa had been upset. After Stevie had discovered that everything in the world was going to happen on the last weekend of the month, she’d refused to talk about it. She just kept saying that she’d turned over a new leaf and she’d handle it. To Lisa, it seemed as if Stevie wasn’t turning over a new leaf at all—or at least not a good new leaf. Stevie’s old leaf had constantly been in hot water. Her new one was heading for boiling point!

Even if it was possible that Stevie might somehow pull everything off and manage to host the Italians, entertain the young hospital patients, run for Middle School President, preside over the Spring Fair,
and
visit with Kate and Christine all at exactly the same time, one thing was certain: her grades would suffer.

And the problem with that—aside from Stevie’s own parents—was Max. He took riding seriously, but he took school work even more seriously. All his riders were required to maintain a decent average if they wanted to continue to ride at Pine Hollow. The schools in Willow Creek knew it, too. When averages dropped, Max heard about it, and riders were suspended until the averages came back up. It was an ironclad rule.

There was no doubt that Stevie was smart, but she sometimes let her grades slip. Lisa and Carole had often helped her get her grades back on track in the past. But
with all the activities Stevie had planned for the next month, Lisa figured there was no way that Stevie could keep her grades up. Carole was worried about Stevie cutting back on her riding to do all the things she had to do. Lisa was worried about Stevie having to cut out her riding altogether. Who knew how long it would take for her grades to recover?

Lisa sighed. “Oh, no.”

Carole didn’t even ask what was bothering her. She knew.

“H
I
, S
TEVIE
,” V
ERONICA
diAngelo greeted her warmly, peering over the top of Topside’s stall, where Stevie was preparing the horse for class.

Stevie looked at her suspiciously. Something was up. Veronica diAngelo was never, ever, warm, especially to her.

Stevie grunted in response.

“All your plans coming along smoothly?” Veronica asked.

Stevie grunted again.

“I know you’re going to be a wonderful Fair chairman,” Veronica continued. “That’s why I nominated you. We really needed somebody we could count on.” With those words, Veronica ducked back into her own stall.

Stevie didn’t grunt that time. She was too surprised.
Veronica
had nominated her? The thought had never crossed her mind. She didn’t think that Veronica would
have been willing to say that she could do anything, much less run a whole fair by herself. What had made Veronica do it?

Stevie slid Topside’s bridle on and slipped the bit into his mouth.

“What does she want?” Stevie quietly asked the horse.

Topside didn’t answer.

“I mean, Veronica never does anything without a reason,” Stevie elaborated. She buckled the bridle and laid the reins flat on Topside’s neck. “As far as I know, the only thing I’ve got that Veronica wants is four Italian boys and there’s no way—”

Then Stevie started to get a very bad feeling. It began in her toes as a mild tingling and quickly spread upwards to her stomach, which churned with a sickening lurch.

“Oh, no,” she told Topside, who seemed unaffected by her tone of voice.

She hoisted his saddle and the saddle pad, placed it so it overlapped his withers, and slid it back until it was properly positioned.

“I smell a rat and her name is Veronica,” Stevie muttered.

She reached under the horse, grasped the girth that dangled on the ground from the other side of the saddle, and brought it up to Topside’s left side for buckling. She yanked it tight and pushed the metal prongs through the
buckle holes. Then she tugged, tightening the girth and making the saddle snug and safe.

Topside regarded her carefully. He wasn’t used to having her pull the girth so tight so quickly.

“Sorry, fella,” she said, patting his neck in apology. “See, I just got to thinking about something—”

“You need some help?” Carole asked, peering at her friend. Stevie was obviously almost finished tacking up Topside, but class was about to start.

“You bet I do,” Stevie said, giving the girth a final tug. “And I’ll tell you about it later!”

Carole was puzzled, but there was no time to ask Stevie what she meant. The P.A. announced that class was about to begin.

Stevie slid Topside’s door open. “Ready?”

Before Carole could answer, Stevie had headed for the indoor ring. There was a determination in her friend’s step that Carole recognized as a sign that something serious was going on. Because of Max’s strict rules about talking in class, there was no way she’d learn what it was until class was over. Carole entered the ring herself just in time to hear Max say, “Riders up!”

BOOK: Team Play
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