It wasn't going to be our first schooling show.
Or our second.
But it promised to be the most exciting one.
First, because Sarah--my very best friend--and I were determined to jump higher than we ever had before. Well, Sarah was, really. I still wasn't too sure. You see, last time I fell off. It wasn't a bad fall, but it scared the heck out of me.
Second, we were going to a new ranch, one that had sent out a very weird schooling show notice. So, we weren't sure what to expect.
The fog didn't help our nerves any. It rose and settled as if a giant bellows were pumping it across the freeway.
My Dad couldn't see well as we drove north from Lapton. He grumbled at the weather, then looked in the rear view mirror and grumbled at us.
Sarah and I didn't return his glance, afraid he would turn around and go back home because we'd made him go out in such weather. We pretended to do our math homework--there was way too much of it, as usual--but we were too nervous to do anything more than pretend.
The truth was, no one seemed to have heard of Merryvale Stables, not even our riding instructor, Karen.
But, someone had mailed notices from Merryvale.
Very strange notices.
Instead of the usual, cheap colored sheets that stables send out, these had been made of an intensely white paper with a fancy, bright-blue script that glowed and smelled of horses and hay--the most wonderful smell in the world. The word spelled out the oddest message:
MOST SPECIAL SCHOOLING SHOW
DON'T BRING YOUR NAG. HORSES WILL BE PROVIDED. THE SHOW WILL BE HELD IN SPITE OF THE FOG. TAKE FREEWAY NORTH PAST FOREST LAKE. EXIT AT MERRYVALE AT THE HIGHEST RATE OF SPEED YOU CAN MANAGE.
"Is this for real?" my father had asked with a laugh when he first read it. "They didn't even get the date right. There is no October 32nd. They must mean the 31st, which is Halloween, of course."
Sarah and I had shrugged, not knowing what to say. We'd been so excited we hadn't even noticed the mistake. It's always easy to tell when Sarah gets wound up.
Her blue eyes open wide, and her blonde hair flies north and south as she jumps up and down, making strange noises. I'm the quieter one, with brown hair and brown eyes that I get from my mother, but Sarah says she can always tell when I'm excited too.
I do the exact opposite of what she does--I stand stock still as if I'm afraid if I move it will make whatever wonderful thing I want to happen to disappear.
I look like a statue, she says, a statue with eyes that vibrate up and down like a window shade that's been snapped up. That's how I was standing when my Dad had read the message.
"It's probably just a typo," I'd suggested.
"Of course it's a typo, Lorelei. What does your instructor say about this? Has she heard of this place?"
"It's very new," I said carefully, afraid he would say "No". He doesn't say "No" often, but he doesn't change his mind once he does say it. He's stubborn that way. "Nobody seems to know much about it."
"Hmmmp," he said, obviously not satisfied with my answer. "Where's it located?"
"North of Forest Lake, that's what it says," Sarah chimed in.
Dad gave her an exasperated look, then glanced sharply at me and said, "'The show will be held in spite of the fog.' How do they know there'll be fog?"
I shrugged and answered, "Maybe it happens a lot up there."
He snorted at that idea, then continued, "What about this highest speed business? It sounds dangerous to me."
"Not in your Fairmont," I pointed out quickly. "You always say that the Ford couldn't pass a turtle."
"True, Lorelei, but that's not what really worries me. They say they'll provide the horses. I don't like the thought of you two competing on mounts you've never seen before. Sarah, is this okay with your parents?"
She answered, "You know my mother can't stand the thought of me riding any horse. She thinks it's too dangerous."
"You didn't answer my question," Dad said.
"My father said it's okay as long as you're with us."
My Dad studied the flier for at least two centuries of silence, then finally--finally--said, "Well, if these Merryvale people set out to pique my curiosity, they've certainly done it. We'll go and take a look at the horses they've got. If they're beyond your level of experience, you won't ride-it's as simple as that. Or, we'll have your instructor bring along your usual mounts-even if they are nags-and you can ride them."