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The Great Pony Hassle
By Nancy Springer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Nancy Springer
All rights reserved.
In Which the Incredible Brat Gets Her Way
"You promised!" Paisley McPherson yelled at her father. "You told me if we had to live here, you'd get me a pony. You did!"
The Fontecchio twins, Staci and Toni, gawked at each other. Hardly in their door, this Paisley person was already being an incredible brat.
"Well, I don't remember any of that," Mr. McPherson said uncertainly.
"You told me," hollered Paisley, "if I couldn't have a room to myself, you'd at least get me a pony!"
The Fontecchio twins turned identical dark-skinned faces to stare, but the McPherson twins ignored them. Stirling McPherson, the other McPherson girl, ignored her father and sister too. She sat down on the arm of the sofa, since the rest of the Fontecchio living room was piled with McPherson boxes and luggage, and she folded her hands in her lap, looking like Princess Di. Stirling had a small pointed face and scads of blond hair and the biggest indigo-blue eyes in the continental United States.
The others remained standing. "First I have to get stuck in that lousy apartment," Paisley McPherson shouted to the world, "just because my mother wants to go and join the Army, and then I have to get moved to this even lousier house, and now my own father doesn't remember what he promised me!"
The Fontecchio twins gaped at mouthy Paisley and silent Stirling. So alike themselves, Staci and Toni were not used to seeing twins so different from each other. Paisley had a big round face and dirt-brown hair and eyes. She and Stirling didn't look like twins. They didn't even look like sisters.
But twins they were. Staci and Toni knew they were. In fact, they were sick of hearing about how they were going to be a family with two sets of twins, four girls, all ten years old. Ever since their mother and Bruce McPherson had gotten engaged, it seemed that nobody in their town or their school could talk about anything else. The newspaper had even done an article on them. Two new sisters their own age. Big whoop.
Two new sisters, one of whom was shouting like a monster out of a horror movie maybe called The Brat That Ate the World.
"I guess you're going to tell me there's no place to keep a pony," Paisley was yelling at her father, "or something like that, but I already looked. There's a big backyard. Plenty of room."
Great, Staci's eyes signaled Toni, Now she's going to take over our backyard as well as my bedroom. She did not have to say anything. Each of the Fontecchio twins generally knew what the other one was thinking without having to talk.
They knew they didn't think much of Mr. McPherson, who showed signs of giving in to Paisley.
They knew how much they loved ponies themselves, especially palomino ponies. ...
They knew they would never have asked their mother for anything so big and expensive. Their mom had always worked hard for not enough money.
They knew they already detested Paisley so much that they hoped she didn't get the pony, because it would be her pony and not theirs.
Mr. McPherson looked across the room at Toni and Staci's mother. Bruce McPherson and Cathy Fontecchio seemed to be talking to each other with their eyes much the same way the Fontecchio twins did. All the girls except Stirling watched, and saw Cathy shrug.
"Well," Mr. McPherson finally said to his loud daughter, "if you're going to have a pony, your sister should have one too."
Paisley knew her father had given in. "Yee-hah!" She looked around the room for a place to run and jump. There was nowhere, because the place was full of junk and boxes. So she jumped up and down where she stood.
But Stirling said to her own small, quiet hands, without looking up, "I don't want any stupid pony."
Jeez! Toni signaled Staci with a look. Stirling was not an incredible brat, at least not that they knew of. They wouldn't have minded if Stirling had gotten a pony to maybe share with them.
"Well, something," said Mr. McPherson awkwardly. "Maybe not a pony, but you should have something." Then he seemed to think of his fiancée's girls. He looked at the Fontecchio twins, who looked back at him without letting their brown faces show him anything. They saw him swallow, and try to think what to say, and finally say nothing to them at all. "What about Staci and Toni?" he asked Paisley. "You going to let them ride your pony?"
"Sure!" bragged Paisley, still jumping.
"Forget it," Staci muttered, so low only Toni could hear her.
Paisley stopped jumping up and down and thought of something else to yell. "Dad," she demanded. "When are we going to get the pony? Today? Can we go look for one today?"
"Heck, no. Where would we put it? We need to build a pasture and some sort of shed."
"Okay, let's go do that now!"
Her father looked hard at her. "Paisley," he said, "I have other things to do this weekend. Like get married. Like go on my honeymoon."
Paisley looked disappointed for a moment. Then she brightened. "Piece of cake!" she exclaimed, grabbing a box off the floor. "I'll take care of it. Right after I move into my new room."
When no one was watching, Staci rolled her eyes.
After Paisley veered off down the hallway, the adults went into the kitchen, talking softly and touching hands. Staci and Toni were left looking at Stirling.
"Hi," Toni said when the silence had stretched awhile.
Stirling looked up with huge eyes and smiled. Her eyes were a blue so dark it made her face and hair look pale as sunshine. She was very pretty.
"You need help with your stuff?" Toni asked. She wanted to see what was in Stirling's suitcase. Maybe a lot of plaid skirts. Bruce McPherson was so Scottish he had named his girls after towns in Scotland.
Stirling said, "Not really. Thanks anyway."
Staci did not feel like talking with Stirling. "C'mon, Toni." She pulled her sister away from Stirling, down the hallway. The Fontecchio twins went into what had been Toni's bedroom; now Staci had been moved in there too. Like the rest of the house, the room was crowded and messy. Without saying much the twins kicked clear a space on the oval rug next to their beds so they could play. They made sure the door was shut, then pulled open a bottom dresser drawer and brought out little-girl toys they would lay hands on only in private.
Plastic ponies. Little fat-legged piggy-faced plastic ponies. Blue and pink and purple ponies with dumb stuff printed on their behinds.
"I don't believe it," Staci said, glum.
"Same way with me," said Toni.
"I don't believe that brat's getting a pony."
"Same way with me."
"In our backyard."
"As if things aren't rotten enough. Them coming in and taking over."
"I won't touch it when she gets it."
"I won't even go near it," said Toni.
"I won't even look at it," Staci vowed.
A pause. Then Toni said, "I wonder if it'll be a palomino."
"Oh, shut up."
"Shut up yourself."
They played all afternoon with the silly fake ponies, sweet-smelling ponies, candy-colored ponies, even dressing them up in their silly little clothes. But they thought about real ponies. And they hid the toy ones whenever they had to leave the room or open the door.CHAPTER 2
In Which the Palomino Pony Is Found
There was no big wedding. Mr. McPherson and Mrs. Fontecchio didn't want all the fuss. They got married in the county courthouse. Their only guests were both sets of twins and Cathy's mother, Mrs. Dill. After a restaurant supper the newlyweds went away on their honeymoon, leaving Grandmother Dill in charge of the girls.
Early the next morning Paisley was busy making some noise. "I've got to go into town."
Three girls looked at her, bleary-eyed, from over bowls of oatmeal. Grandmother Dill had insisted on getting everyone up and making them oatmeal for breakfast, even though the June day was going to be hot enough to fry a Frisbee. None of the girls were really eating the stuff.
"I've got to go into town!" Paisley insisted to Grandmother Dill. "Can I be excused? I'll ride in on my bike." The van was sitting in the garage, but Grandmother Dill did not drive.
Staci had said only half a dozen words to Paisley since she had met her, and they were, "You just blobbed oatmeal on yourself." But this idea of biking into town made her butt in before her grandmother could answer. "There's nothing open yet!"
"Feed mill's open. I got to see what I need for the pony."
"What do you know about ponies?"
Paisley looked Staci in the eye for the first time. "More than you do, I bet."
"That is enough," said Grandmother Dill, getting up to rinse cereal bowls, holding herself very straight. She had been a teacher in a private school, and she sounded stern, as always, when she spoke. "Paisley, you cannot bicycle into town by yourself."
Nobody ever said "Aw!" to Grandmother Dill. Staci waited with glee for lightning to strike, but for some reason it did not. Grandmother Dill merely said, "However, Anastasia will go with you."
Staci winced. Her grandmother always used her full name, and she hated it. She hated it almost as much as she hated having to go into town with Paisley.
"I'll go too," said Toni quickly, knowing at once how Staci felt.
"No, Antoinette," said Grandmother Dill. "You will stay here and keep Stirling company."
And that was that. No one ever argued with Mrs. Dill, not even her daughter, Cathy Dill Fontecchio — no, McPherson. Especially not Cathy. Staci and Toni knew from way back that their mother was no match for Grandmother. Whenever Grandmother visited, they had to protect their mother by never starting trouble.
So five minutes later Staci was on her bike, trailing after Paisley.
The house where the girls lived stood at the edge of town. One way lay a long bike ride to the stores at the center of town and an even longer ride to the feed mill on the far side of town. The other way lay country. Paisley jumped on her ten-speed bike and headed for the country.
Fine, Staci thought, pedaling after her. I'm not going to say a word. If Paisley wanted to grab the lead without knowing where she was going, then let her. Staci hoped she got permanently lost.
It was hard to keep up with the tall, stocky girl on her big bike, but Staci did it grimly. Not enjoying herself a bit. She felt kind of lost without Toni — the Fontecchio twins were seldom apart from each other. Already the sun was hot, and Staci knew that by the time she and Paisley rode home, the day would be scorching. Altogether, Staci felt grumpy enough to punch Paisley's lights out if it weren't that the other girl was so much bigger than she was.
At a fork in the road Paisley called over her shoulder, "Which way, Anastasia?"
About time she asked. "Whatever way you want, PARsley," Staci shot back.
"My name's Paisley."
"Nuh-uh. Parsley. That's what you looked like in that frilly dress yesterday, a big green bunch of parsley."
Paisley chose the left fork, rode on a few minutes longer, then turned her bike sharply onto a dirt road.
This was ridiculous. "Hey!" Staci yelled at her. "For your information, you're going the wrong way!"
"You told me, whichever way I want!" Paisley sang back with a smirk in her voice.
Staci knew then that Paisley was punishing her for calling her Parsley. She was going to make Staci eat dust. Staci pumped her pedals at top speed, trying to sprint past Paisley, but it was no use. Her bike was an old fat-tired one-speed; she couldn't even catch up with Paisley. On her ten-speed Paisley pedaled as if she could ride all day, and Staci stayed behind her, coughing in the clouds of dirt Paisley churned up. Grimly she panted along, refusing to be left behind, focusing on Paisley's back with a stare like two black knives.
Paisley swerved onto a narrow, stony lane that snaked steeply downhill.
If she hadn't been panting so hard, Staci would have smiled. It was a farmer's lane, a private road. She and Toni had never gone down there, because it was sure to come to a dead end. Probably it stopped at the front porch of a hillbilly farmer who would chase them off his land. She said nothing. If they got in trouble, it would be Paisley's fault.
"Oh!" from Paisley, ahead. She saw something. Maybe a watchdog. Maybe the farmer. Paisley was so dumb she didn't know a farm lane from a dirt road, and now she was going to get in trouble.
"Oh!" cried Paisley again, and she swung her bike into the weeds that edged the lane and let it fall. She almost fell herself. But she got her feet untangled in time, and stood there like an airhead, bare-legged in the bugs and maybe poison ivy, gaping at something beyond the tall grass.
"Oh," she wailed, "he's the one!"
Then Staci saw him, and stopped where she was, and felt her heart squeeze, because he was. The one. The pony of all her dreams.
Just inside the barbed-wire pasture fence he stood, chest-deep in grass and daisies, looking sleepily back at the girls with the biggest eyes in the known universe. He was a palomino, a round, short-legged little palomino with a mass of forelock, like bangs that needed to be combed and trimmed, over those huge eyes. He had enough creamy-blond mane and tail for six ordinary ponies. His golden ears, turned at a contented sideward angle, pricked tiny through his thick mane. His golden cheeks and pink nose moved as he selected a tuft of daisies and chewed it. His tail, long and plump, swished almost as white as the flowers. Somewhere hidden in the tall grass, Staci knew, were dainty legs and tiny hooves, maybe with white stockings.
"Oh," Paisley gasped, "Oh! Daddy's got to get him for me!"
And knowing Mr. McPherson, he would. The McPherson twins had lived with their father for only a few months, Staci knew. Since their mother had gone into the Army. Before that, he had only had them on weekends. He hardly acted like a parent to them, more like a pal. He did anything they wanted.
"Oh, just look at him! Isn't he adorable!"
Paisley reached toward the pony as if she were going to climb through the barbed-wire fence and get on him then and there. The pony gazed back at Paisley as sweet as a little milk-and-honey angel. He needed grooming. His coat was not as sleek as it should have looked in the warm June sunshine, and his mane was uncombed and ropy.
Staci spoke, startled by the harshness of her own voice. "His mane looks just like your sister's hair," she heard herself say. "That same icky pale color, and clumped together, and everything. Like a bunch of wet noodles."
Paisley turned and beamed at her. Excitement and happiness seemed to have transported her someplace where she could not hear what Staci was really saying. "That's wonderful!" she exclaimed. "What a great name! I'll call him Noodles."
Staci couldn't have hated her more if Paisley had spit in her eye.CHAPTER 3
In Which Hostilities Heat Up
"If you don't help me," Paisley told Staci, "I'll just have to make two trips, and the pickle lady will make you come with me again."
"Don't you talk about my grandmother that way!"
Sometime during the long, hot, dusty bike trek back to town and across it to the feed mill, Staci had told Paisley that she hated her. From then on it was open war. Paisley didn't seem to mind. In fact, Paisley was having a great day. At the feed mill, she had discussed pony care with the man behind the counter, making a friend of him within a few minutes. Adults seemed to like Paisley, Lord knew why.
"Sure, that's right, missy," the man told Paisley. "Electric fencing's the way to go. Cheap, easy, quick. But you listen to me: It can be dangerous too. I don't want you trying to plug it in."
"But it'll be okay for me to put up the posts and wires?"
"Sure, nothing to it, so long as you don't hook up to no current. Tell you what. I don't feel right giving you the hookup box." The man penciled a number on a scrap of paper and handed it to Paisley. "You get done, you give me a call, I'll come out and bring the box and plug it in for you."
"That'll be great! Hey, thanks!"
Then, to Staci's astonishment, Paisley had pulled a big stash of money out of her pocket and bought a bundle of metal fence stakes, a role of wire, a plastic gate handle, some ceramic insulators, and the boxlike gizmo that would operate the whole setup and was to be delivered later.
Excerpted from The Great Pony Hassle by Nancy Springer. Copyright © 1993 Nancy Springer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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