Shamrock Stable #3
Nothing But Horses
If the going gets tough, wannabe cowboys exit stage left, according to Sierra McElroy.
Because her family owns the local riding stable, her old life was nothing but horses. Now, Sierra has a new car (new to her), a new puppy, a new school, a new coach, and a new basketball team.
However, she's brought her same old patterns into this new life. She still doesn't have any patience for stupid people who are a waste of time, space and oxygen.
In order to take over Shamrock Stable someday, does Sierra need to learn to tolerate these people who make her crazy?
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Shamrock Stable, Washington
Sunday, December 15th, 4:00 pm
Christmas was ten days away and my plan to save some of our horses from being sold to wanta-be cowgirls and cowboys was in full swing. With my Deck the Stalls contest going strong, the stable looked more festive with each passing hour. Our riding students had signed up for extra lessons so they could choose their favorite horses and proceeded to turn the place into a holiday wonderland. Santa would love it here. I had strung gold and silver tinsel garlands along the beams in the barn. Soon each stall would have its own theme. The dollar store was undoubtedly turning a profit this year thanks to all the people I’d sent there to buy decorations. I’d seen stall doors covered with wrapping paper or plastic tablecloths or even door mats. I’d noticed a few place mats too. Lots of red and green plastic ribbon, bows, Santa pics—there wasn’t any limit to the imagination.
We’d judge the contest when my grandparents arrived so they could help decide which stall door looked the best. Our traditional Shamrock Stable Christmas Party on horseback happened next Sunday. We’d announce the winners then and they would receive halters, or lead-lines, or brushes, or riding lessons. Top prizes were scholarships to horse day camp next summer.
I was in the middle of helping Dani, one of our nicest boarders decorate her stall door for the stable contest. Blonde, petite, she was a fashion statement in riding pants, muck boots and a light purple, fleece jacket. Her Quarterhorse mare had abandoned us for the outside paddock, adjacent to the stall when Dani ran out of long, skinny carrots. That left the two of us to fit the old-time cardboard fireplace to the outside of the door. I’d barely reloaded my staple gun when Jack and Bill showed up with Harry, the blond surfer dude that Dani had just started dating. “Hey guys,” I said.
“We need your help,” Jack, a dark-haired football jock, told me. “And Dani, this is hush-hush. No telling my sister, the Christmas snoop or Vicky who will pass the word. We’re counting on Sierra to do the ‘what happens at Shamrock, stays at Shamrock’ routine so we can make our holiday arrangements.”
I nodded. “You got it. Robin and Vick are my friends, but business is business. What can I sell you?”
Dani giggled, sounding like a typical blonde bubble-head. “I’m so telling Robin what you called her. And then I’m getting you in trouble with Vicky. She’s not just your girlfriend, Jack, she’s Robin’s B.F.F.”
“They know.” Bill ran a hand through his chestnut hair and looked at me hopefully. “Sierra, do you have an extra barn around here that we can borrow or rent just till Christmas Eve?”
“Why?” I asked. “What’s it for? What are you guys up to?”
“We need to hide a ‘68 Mustang,” Harry told me. “Someone tried to sell my sister this loser hardtop. She didn’t go for it because it’s a major mess. It would take us way too much time to bring it back so we could sell it at the car lot, but by the time Robin fixes it up, the car could be amazing.”
“My folks won’t let me keep it at our house because my older brother already has three dead cars in the yard,” Bill said. “And I can’t put it anywhere at Jack’s or Robin will see it, but I have to move it today or lose the deal.”
“Bring it here,” I said. “We’ll put it in the garage. Robin never goes there. None of the students do when they come for lessons. Mom and I usually park the Ranger up by the house.”
“Are you sure?” Jack gave me a steady dark-eyed look. “We could use the carport.”
“No, we can’t. Grandpa always parks his motorhome there. He and Grandma will be here this Wednesday night. Grandma’s taking me to see Stewart Falls Academy, and a couple other private schools on Thursday.”
“No way.” Dani finished taping up red holiday stockings to the mantel of the fireplace, then began stapling up gold tinsel garland to the doorframe. “We want you at Lincoln High, not somewhere else. You’d love our school and I’m not just saying that because you know all of us.”
“You’re right. I would love it,” I said, “but I’m so sick of being messed with at Mount Pilchuck that I could scream. I wanted to go out for basketball, but practice times just suck, and if I miss one, I get benched. I went through enough of that crap during the soccer season. It’s not worth the hassle to deal with it one more time. I’m not staying there regardless of which private school I have to attend.”
“I get that, but we still want you with us,” Dani said.
“I’ll ask Grandma if she knows anyone at Lincoln,” I said. “It could happen. She taught high school for years and she still connects with a ton of other teachers and principals.”
Chores done and customers gone a couple hours later, I headed into the house. Dani had spent most of the afternoon sharing the benefits of Lincoln High, as if I didn’t already know. Most of my friends had transferred there once Washington State released the basic skills in Reading, Math and Science test scores. Mount Pilchuck’s continued to plummet while Lincoln’s, Stewart Falls Academy and Centennial Mid-High elevated to the top in the local area.
I found Mom on the landline in the kitchen. I always felt like a giant in comparison to her. We both had red hair and green eyes, but she barely topped five feet in her Ropers, while I was five feet eight in my socks. She said I got my height from my father, a guy I barely remembered. He’d gotten lost on the journey to find himself back when I was three. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in the last thirteen years. As for child support, Mom hadn’t received any of that either.
Mom hastily said, “Here she is now, Robin. I’ll let you girls talk.”
“Okay, what are you two up to now?” I asked my friend as soon as I took the receiver. “This is getting spooky.”
“No, it’s not,” Robin said, “It’s Christmas, not Halloween. Of course there are secrets. Everything isn’t about you. It’s about me because I’m blonde and gorgeous.”
“Want to bet? What’s up?”
“Not much. I just called to chat and see if you’d tell me why my brother had to come to Shamrock today with his friends.”
I opted for the party line Jack gave me when the guys dropped off the beat-up Mustang. “He wanted to buy a gift certificate for Vicky so she can do a discounted version of the pre-owner package. And guys travel in gangs when they shop, just like we did on Black Friday.”
“My big brother is so cute when he does the boyfriend thing. Want to guess what else she’s getting?”
“How can I?” I pulled over a chair and sat down next to the kitchen extension. “You tell me. What’s her other present?”
“The blue merle collie pup from that litter I rescued. They’re nearly old enough for homes and Dad says I can only keep two puppies and the mom,” Robin said. “I tried telling him with the cows, chickens, horses and everything else around here, he shouldn’t notice my fleet of dogs, but he didn’t go for it. Anyway, Vicky’s mother actually paid me twenty bucks for the merle so I’d save him for Vick until Christmas.”
“Yes, way. Vicky’s little brother wanted a laundry list of everything the puppy will need. He and the other kids are rounding up the gifts to put under the tree. It’ll be her best holiday ever.”
“Christmas is all about love,” I said. “It’s amazing where you find it.”
“You’re telling me.”
We talked a while longer but Robin didn’t give me any hints of why she really called or what she’d been talking about on the phone with my mother. When I went into the living room, I found Mom and my seven-year-old half-sister, Autumn, cuddled up on the couch watching the cartoon version of the Grinch stealing Christmas. They looked so loving that I joined them, dropping into one of the recliners.
Just as the song started, our riding instructor Meredith came in the door, followed by Dave Yardley, the local animal control cop in regular clothes. A silver-haired, fifty-something, horsy know-it-all, Meredith glowered at the three of us. Then, she pulled a long garland of tiny fake red apples out of her coat pocket. “Look what I found on Dream’s stall door. I told you this stupid contest wouldn’t work. We’ll be lucky if we don’t have a bunch of dead horses by Christmas.”
“Not Dream.” One tear slid down Autumn’s cheek, followed by a second, then a third, before she turned her face into Mom’s sweatshirt. “Not my pony. She’s smart. She knows the difference between decoration and real.”