The Horse Rescuers #3
Turn on a Dime
Piper and Addie are going to start their sophomore year in senior high school, when their friend, Miss Julie, rents rooms to Cassie and her stepson, Jeff. Cassie's mare is going to foal soon and Piper has the responsibility of checking on her daily. Piper and Addie disagree about boys, a situation which worsens because of Piper's initial dislike of Jeff. As she gets to know and accept Jeff, when he is accused of theft, Piper and her best friend defend him to all adults. What will happen when Cassie steals, then leaves the country as her mare goes into labor with no one but the girls and Jeff to help?
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|Middle Grade / Teens|
~ I Meet Cassie~
I walked down the dirt road to the barn, chewing the inside of my mouth till it was raw. Why hadn’t Addie called me? It had been days since we argued about starting senior high school. She wanted to jump in and be Miss Social, while I wanted to keep doing my thing with horses and just survive sophomore year. Our first day of school was less than a week away. Thick dust made little puffs as my sandals scuffed the dirt. My limp brown hair was already hanging in strings. It was only ten in the morning and would get much hotter, as it usually does in Kentucky summers. I arrived at Miss Julie’s farm and was surprised to see a red truck I didn’t recognize parked by her house. Addie and I kept our horses at Miss Julie Applegate’s farm, and have since earlier in the summer, when we rescued them.
I walked over to the little paddock that the horses were in that day. The two horses stood under the shade of an old spreading oak tree, stamping feet and switching tails against the flies. Watching your own horses dozing in the warm clover-scented air had to be the best sight in the world. I made sure the gate was latched behind me as I made my way through the grass, clover, and dandelions to the horses. Dotty looked up first, gurgling in her nose the way horses do. Her nostrils went in and out, sniffing to see if I had anything juicy and delicious in my hands. When she smelled the apples, she walked toward me with her ears pricked forward. The sun shone on her brown and white spots and on the white tips on her ears that make them look like feathers. She was a POA—a Pony of the Americas, which are pony-sized appaloosas that must have at least one spot on them somewhere. Dotty had lots of spots.
As Dotty munched her apple, Nickel came over to get his. He breathed softly on my palm as he took the apple. Long whiskers from his small, velvet nose tickled my hand and made me giggle. Nickel was half arabian horse and half nobody-knows-what, but he looked like an arabian, with a beautiful dished head, large eyes and narrow muzzle. He was a tall grey and Addie needed a stool to get up on him. I whispered my daily “thank you” for finally having a horse for me and one for Addie. We had both been horse lovers forever and had both dreamed of having one.
I rubbed his neck and told him how good he was, gave both horses an extra pat and headed for the house. I was curious and kind of nosy about whose car was parked there. Climbing up the steps to the back porch, I peeked in the door of Miss Julie’s big old farmhouse. Since it was unlocked, I knew she was around somewhere. She had had a break-in two weeks before and we were all spooky about strangers. Miss Julie had started locking her door, which she never had done before.
“Miss Julie? You home?”
“Piper! Come on in! I have someone for you to meet.”
I let myself into the open, sunny kitchen where Miss Julie sat at her big oak table beside a middle-aged woman I didn’t know. Sighing with relief as I felt the cool air-conditioned air, I smiled at Miss Julie. She didn’t like to turn on the air unless it was desperately hot, and it was. Miss Julie wore black shorts and a silver-grey T-shirt that matched her hair. The other woman was dressed in a long denim-blue broomstick skirt and a red tank top that clashed with her red hair. She put a toothy smile on her face as she looked over at me.
“Piper, this is Cassie Johnson. She’s going to rent some rooms from me and also some space in the barn. Isn’t it great? I’ll have someone living out here with me now. And, guess what, she has a mare she needs to board.”
“Hi, Piper,” said Cassie. “I understand you are the horse woman around here.”
“Hi. Nice to meet you,” I said, with a polite smile. “I guess I am a horse woman. My friend Addie and I keep our horses here.”
“Piper and Addie are horse rescuers, but that’s a story for another day.” Miss Julie’s blue eyes twinkled under her silver bangs as she poured me a glass of iced tea.
“Thanks. What kind of horse do you have?” I asked Cassie, taking a sip.
“She’s a quarter horse mare and due to foal soon.”
“Quarter horses are cool. They’re so fast. They take off like crazy.”
“I know,” said Cassie, “and they can turn on a dime. I hate to move her so close to her due date, but I need to move in before school starts next week. I have a kid that will be starting in high school here as a senior. What year are you?”
“I’ll be a sophomore and so will Addie. What’s her name? I’ll show her around town?”
“His name is Jeff.”
“Oh.” What could I say? The fact that her kid was a boy changed everything. I didn’t want to be stuck showing some guy around, especially an older one, a senior. I had no idea what he would want to see or do and he for sure wouldn’t want to get stuck with a dorky sophomore girl. Maybe Addie would take over that chore, as boy-crazy as she was getting. I set my tea glass on the table and watched it sweat. “He probably won’t want a sophomore girl to…”
“Oh, that’s really nice of you,” said Cassie. “I’d love to have someone be Jeff’s friend right away and take him under their wing. He won’t mind that you’re younger. So Mrs. Applegate…”
“No, no, don’t call me Mrs. Applegate. I was a teacher so long that ‘Miss Julie’ stuck and most of the people in town were in my class at one time or another. So call me Miss Julie or just Julie. That’s what I’m used to.”
“Okay, Miss Julie, when can I bring my mare out?”
“Anytime. There are two stalls right now, but you’ll want a foaling stall. I’ll get my son, Sam, to start on it tonight. He likes to do odd jobs around here.”
“Does he live here?” Cassie wanted to know.
“Part of the time. His law practice in Louisville keeps him pretty busy, but he’s been spending more time here. He’s got an office in town and he likes to keep an eye on me since I moved back out to the farm. We had a little trouble a few weeks ago and I don’t like to be alone.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Some creeps broke in and stole stuff,” I said. “They almost burnt the house down and they had me, Addie, Miss Julie, Sam and my mom tied up in the basement!”
Cassie gasped, “Oh, my gosh! That’s horrible! What a terrible thing for you both to have to go through! Did you get hurt?”
“No, none of us got hurt. Luckily, the police came in time,” added Miss Julie. “Those people will be in jail a good long time. But I’m still going to get a dog. Piper’s dad thinks he knows of one that will need a home. You’re not allergic to dogs, are you, Cassie?”
“No,” said Cassie. “I’m not and I love dogs. Cats, too.” As she said that, Miss Julie’s kitten, Willie Nelson, came purring into the room and jumped on Miss Julie’s lap.
“This is Willie Nelson,” said Miss Julie, grinning. “He has long gray hair and he’s very mellow, so he deserves that name. Also, he sings to me sometimes.”
“Cute,” said Cassie, “but are you sure it’s safe out here? I mean, if you had thieves break in…”
“It’s fine,” I said. “That was the only theft problem we’ve had around here for ages. The sheriff is a friend of my dad’s and he says we’re safe now.”
“Well, thank goodness. I guess we don’t need to be afraid.” Cassie, looked around the room. “You have some nice things here, Julie.”
“Thank you and no, you don’t have to be afraid. Well, it looks like you will be a good fit here,” said Miss Julie. “Piper, would you show Cassie around the barn? I hate to cut this short, but I’m starting a yoga class today and I have to go change clothes.”
“Really? Yoga?” I said, although I was never much surprised by Miss Julie. We’d been friends for years, ever since I was little and had pony rides at this very same farm. My parents were still married then, and they would drink iced tea with Miss Julie while I rode.
“Yes, I’m hoping yoga will help me be more flexible.” Miss Julie moved her neck and shoulders to stretch them. “So Cassie, I’ll see you in a few days?”
“I’ll be here day after tomorrow, if you think the stall will be ready,” said Cassie. “I’d like to get moved as soon as I can. We live in Louisville now, but I need to get settled. Piper, can you show me the barn?”
“Let’s go.” I put my empty iced tea glass in the sink and headed for the door.
As we walked to the barn, Cassie put an elastic band in her thick red hair, making a fat ponytail. Bracelets clinked on her arm as she pulled it tight. We walked into the large, hay-smelling barn and I showed her where we hang bridles and halters, where saddle racks were that my dad made for us, and the plastic shelves that kept currycombs, hoof picks and medicine.
“It looks like the perfect place for Daisy,” said Cassie. “I’m excited about this move. I hope he gets that stall done soon.”
“Sam is really good at doing stuff like that,” I said. “He’ll get it done fast if Miss Julie asks him to.”
“So why are you keeping your horses here?”
“It’s pretty complicated, but mostly Miss Julie helped us rescue Dotty and lets us keep both of them here for free.”
“She must have plenty of money,” said Cassie. “Nice big house, acres of land, good clothes and jewelry.”
“I guess so. There are Nickel and Dotty, checking you out.” I pointed at the stalls, which were open to the small paddock. The two horses came into their stalls, nickering at me and expecting some treats. I opened a plastic box that held peppermint horse goodies and gave a couple to each horse. They crunched the treats, sniffed the ground to see if they had dropped any crumbs then stood watching us.
“Nice horses,” said Cassie. “Which is which?”
“Okay, the tall grey one is Nickel. He’s blind in his left eye, but the steadiest, nicest horse in the world. The POA is Dotty. Addie and I rescued both of them.”
“And I think Miss Julie said your dad is the local vet? I need to get his phone number so he can check my mare out.”
“Yep, but Miss Julie has it written by her kitchen phone.”
“Oh, that’s good. So you’re around here a lot? In case my mare goes into labor. I don’t want her to be by herself, and Miss Julie is pretty old to help a horse foal.”
“Oh, my gosh!” I said, “I can’t help her foal. I don’t know how. I would call my dad right away and get him out here if it looked like she was starting labor.”
“That would be great. Well, thanks a lot, Piper. I need to get going so I can pack and let Jeff know I found a place for us to live. He’s not excited about changing schools, but it will help that he’ll have someone he knows when school starts. See you in a couple days, maybe. Bye!”
“Bye, Cassie.” How was I going to get out of playing tour guide for a senior boy? I couldn’t imagine.