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You will never, in a million years, guess what this is!" shouted Bean, bursting through the tack room door and waving an envelope in our direction.
Dee-Dee, who was searching through her tack box in disgust to see how many yellow ribbons her mother had thrown in there, didn't want to know. "Close the door, it's freezing out there!" she shrieked.
"A letter," declared Katy, shoving a chip in her mouth and crunching, barely glancing up from her book about cross-country jumping. She sat on a pile of pony rugs, her feet propped up on an empty bucket, tendrils of red hair escaping her hat.
"Well, yes, technically," confirmed Bean, irritated, slamming the door behind her. "But what's in the letter?" she teased, holding the envelope by the corner and wafting it in Katy's direction.
"Words?" I suggested, dipping my hand into the chip bag and pulling out the biggest one, which immediately snapped in two. Of course, the big piece floated to the ground and I watched dismayed as Squish, the yard's greyhound, pounced and gulped it down in one.
"Oh no," said Dee, holding up her fingers so she wouldn't lose count, "dogs aren't supposed to have salt. Squish will die a horrible death."
"What, from half a chip? Unlikely," I said. "Besides, it was nacho cheese, not ready salted."
"It's still loaded with salt," said Dee accusingly. "Oh no, here's a white one! When did I get that?" she wailed, aiming the unwanted ribbon at the empty feed sack we use as a trash can, and missing.
"Jeez, most people would be thrilled to come fourth in the classes you go to. Gimme another chip," I said, stretching over.
Katy shook her head and snatched the bag away. "Don't think so, you've just wasted that one!"
"Hey, what about my letter!" exclaimed Bean.
"How are we supposed to know what's in it?" whined Dee. "It's your letter."
"Oh, you all think you're so smart—only you're not," smirked Bean. "I am," she added, flicking back her blond hair and sticking her nose in the air.
That did get our attention. Bean isn't famous for being smart. She's in a world of her own most of the time with a unique way of being with us in body, but not in spirit, if you know what I mean.
"How come?" I asked, intrigued.
Bean pointed to her chest and lifted her chin. "You're looking at Charlotte Beanie, winner of a riding vacation—in that competition I entered in Pony mag. Don't tell me you've forgotten!"
I hadn't. It was forever ago, last autumn, and the reason I hadn't forgotten was because Bean had pestered us with most of the questions. The way I remembered it, I had answered most of them.
"No way!" said Dee, her mouth dropping open.
"But no one ever wins those things!" cried Katy, letting the chip bag fall. Squish took advantage of the situation and wolfed down the rest of the contents, salt and all. Dee was too flabbergasted to notice.
"That's exactly what you said then—but I did, so there!" Bean replied with justifiable smugness.
"Let's see!" I said, grabbing the envelope and pulling out the letter. "Bean's right," I said, scanning the words. "Congratulations! Blah, blah, a vacation at High Grove Farm, blah, blah five days blah, blah, for you and a friend, blah, blah the vacation must be taken during the Spring Break," I read out, "and is nontransferable—what does that mean?"
"It means you can't give it to anyone else," said Katy, looking over my shoulder.
"Like I was going to!" Bean snorted.
"You seem very calm," I remarked. "If I won a riding vacation, I'd be bouncing off the walls."
"I was earlier, when the letter arrived, but I've gotten used to the idea now," Bean said, folding the letter carefully and returning it to the envelope. "What you see here is me, playing it cool."
"Who are you taking with you—one of your sisters?" Dee asked.
Bean made a sound like a deflating balloon. "Yeah, right!" she exclaimed. "Actually, seeing as how you helped me with so many of the questions, Pia, I wondered whether you'd like to come. After all, I wouldn't have won without your help. I hope you don't mind," she looked at Katy and Dee, "but I can only take one person with me and it seems right as Pia helped me so much."
I felt my lower jaw dropping in surprise. I so totally hadn't seen that coming!
Dee huffed loudly. "I'd love to be able to ride an ordinary pony for a week, away from my mom, doing fun stuff instead of endless show schooling on Dolly," she said.
"Don't start all that ordinary pony talk again!" snapped Katy. "It's so...so insulting to all our ponies!"
"Oh, you know what I mean," wailed Dee.
I held my breath. Was Bean's win going to cause friction between us? But then Dee shrugged her shoulders. "Oh well, as Pia helped you," she sighed, "then I suppose it's only fair."
"Yeah, anyway, I don't want to ride any other pony but Bluey," added Katy. She sounded a bit sniffy about it, but I knew Katy was telling the truth. She adored her chunky blue roan gelding, especially as he'd restored her confidence by proving to be amazing at cross-country jumping. Bluey loved jumping more than anything—except Katy. Dee, on the other hand, had a whole new show season to look forward to on her gorgeous dappled gray mare, Dolly Daydream. After qualifying for the Horse of the Year Show last year, Dee—or rather Dee's mom, Sophie—was determined to do so again. And do better than the incredible ninth place they'd achieved at Nationals. Just getting to HOYS was, as Sophie never tired of saying (usually overheard on her cell phone to one of her showing friends), a significant achievement in itself. If they didn't qualify again this year, Sophie had already decided it would be nothing less than an almighty injustice. The only problem was that Dee was never allowed to do anything else with Dolly. Her mom just wouldn't let her risk it in case Dolly injured herself or got a splint, and so Dee missed out on all the fun things we all did with our so-called ordinary ponies. I know I wouldn't have swapped my ordinary pony, Drummer, for all of Dee's ribbons—whatever color they happened to be!
"Well?" Bean said to me, her eyebrows disappearing into her blond bangs. "Why aren't you bouncing off the walls? I assume you'd like to come with me?"
"Would I?" I almost screamed, trying not to sound too excited as Katy and Dee were being left out. "Yes, yes, I would. Do you mean it?"
"Yeah, of course. I'll let the people at the mag know. We'll have an awesome time!"
"Oh, you are lucky!" said Dee, half whining—but only half. "You'll have so much fun and I bet you get gorgeous ponies and have midnight feasts and everything. Everyone I've ever known who's gone on a riding vacation has said it's just the best thing ever. My friend Cindy went on one and said they had virtually no one in charge and just ran wild for a week. She didn't even take a bath!"
"And that's your idea of a great time?" asked Katy, who still sounded a bit put out and was looking at Dee with a pained expression. "Going native?"
"Oh, lighten up," snapped Dee. "Cindy said they rode the ponies to the beach and they had a gymkhana at the end of the week, and she totally fell in love with her pony and cried buckets when she had to leave at the end, and everything. She couldn't wait to go back the following year with all her new friends."
"Can we take Drummer and Tiffany?" I asked, thinking how cool it would be for Drum to have a vacation, too. I didn't particularly want to fall in love with any other pony but my wonderful bay gelding.
Bean shook her head and made a sad face. "Nah—I've already asked. No go. We'll be riding the center's ponies."
"Will someone look after Drummer for me?" I asked, aware that it was asking a lot—I was going with Bean, and Dee and Katy weren't, and now I expected them to look after Drum. Plus I felt slightly guilty at how readily I was willing to dump him for a riding vacation. But honestly, how often does an opportunity like this crop up? I know, I know, like NEVER!
"Oh, and Tiffany," added Bean. "I totally forgot about that. Will someone be nice enough to look after my baby, too?"
Katy put her lips together like she was sucking a lemon and slowly shook her head at us like teachers at school do when they spot you're wearing nail polish or your shoes have a heel just a tad higher than regulations allow. "Don't you worry," she said huffily, "we'll do it. You just go off and have a great time, never mind about us, or the ponies or anything. Just so long as you two enjoy yourselves!"
Bean and I just looked at her, aghast.
Katy rolled her eyes when she saw our faces. "I'm kidding!" she laughed. "Go and have a great time. I've got two hunter trials booked for Bluey and me at Easter so I can't go anywhere. Besides, I'll enjoy looking after Drummer, he's cute!"
"You wouldn't say that if you could hear what he says!" I replied, relieved Katy was being so cool about looking after Drum.
How do I know what Drummer says? It's all because of Epona, a tiny stone statue of a Celtic goddess of horses which—don't ask me how—allows me to hear what horses and ponies are saying. I found Epona—or maybe Epona found me—when I first moved to Laurel Farm, the stable where I keep Drum. Only one other person knows that my ability to hear horse-speak is due to the 2,000 year-old artifact—everyone else believes I possess special powers and they call me the Pony Whisperer, which means I'm always translating their ponies' thoughts and conversations for them. At first, I thought it would be a lot of fun and my way to fame, fortune, and celebrity status, but after a few dicey situations I no longer volunteer my so-called pony-whispering powers to strangers if I can possibly help it. It just causes trouble.
"I'd better get my mom to talk to your parents," I said to Bean. "You know what parents are like, always wanting to know the ins and outs of everything."
"Oooeeeooo!" Dee butted in. "Get your people to talk to my people! You sound like some big Hollywood mogul!"
"Hollywood what?" asked Bean.
"What's your land line number?" I asked, pulling out my cell to add it to my address book.
"Er, I think I can remember it," said Bean, screwing up her face in concentration. "I guess you're right, they'll want to have a chat about it. Get your mom to call them tonight. Oh no, wait a minute."
"What?" My thumb hovered over the number pad.
"I think they've got something tonight."
"Yeah, definitely a thing."
We expected more. As usual, we didn't get it.
"What?" Bean said as we all stared at her.
"What sort of thing?" Katy asked exasperated.
"Oh, um...that's it! Haley has a concert. But hold on, I think they're not going until about seven, so get her to call before that. Mom knows I'm going to ask you and they're fine with it. They'll love me being away for a week during Spring Break so they can all get on with their artsy stuff together without me cluttering up the place."
Bean's family is mega artistic. Her father is a musician, her mother a sculptor, one of her sisters plays the violin, and the other loves to paint. I don't just mean dabbling in these things, I mean they are all totally serious about them. Gifted. Bean's talents and interests lie in the direction of riding. None of her family is the slightest bit interested in horses and Bean's palomino pony Tiffany provides a great excuse for Bean to escape from activities she just doesn't get. She says the rest of her family is glad to see the back of her when she goes (escapes, she calls it) to the stable.
I pedaled my bike home to brief Mom and get her to call and arrange things. I so wanted to go on the riding vacation with Bean! I mean, one minute I was looking forward to spring giving winter the push, and wishing that Drummer's summer coat would hurry up and grow through his clip, and hoping he would stop bucking because he was feeling the cold, and the next minute I had a riding vacation to look forward to in a matter of weeks. It was so excellent. I'd always wanted to go on a riding vacation. I could hardly believe it!