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Authors: Lurlene McDaniel

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BOOK: A Horse for Mandy
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Six

M
ANDY watched the stars come out in twos, fours, and then in clusters. They twinkled brightly and coldly down at her. Over and over, she iced down Solana’s swollen forefeet. Her heart soared when the horse nibbled on a little bit of feed.

“Good girl!” she said encouragingly. The lights were out at the Callahan house, and Mandy lost all track of time. Then she heard a scraping noise from farther down the stables. She bravely stepped out of Solana’s stall to investigate and came face to face with Laura.

“What.. .?” she began.

“Oh, you startled me!” Laura exclaimed.

“Well, I’m spending the night here to keep an eye on Solana,” Mandy explained. “I thought you were coming down here to check on us.”

“I’ve been very busy. ..,” Laura started lamely.

“Busy?” Mandy asked coldly. “I would have come to see you if it had been Diablo.”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” began Laura haughtily, “it’s not the end of the world. Why, I heard your dad tell my dad tonight that he thought your horse would be fine by morning.”

“I’ll bet that really bugs you.” Mandy was angry.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’d just love it if Solana would be crippled! Even put to sleep!”

“That’s not true!” Laura shouted back.

“It is so! You’ve hated me having my own horse.”

“And I always thought you were my best friend,” Laura said, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Well, I’m NOT!” snapped Mandy. She was sorry immediately. But Laura turned and ran away before she could say anything else.

“Oh, Mandy ...,” she yelled at herself, “how mean and rotten you are!” She knew she was mad at herself for neglecting Solana and letting the horse get sick in the first place. And she also knew that she was really just hurt and angry at Laura for not being her friend when she needed her. How different this day and night would have been if Laura had been here nursing Solana with her!

She went back inside the stall with a sigh and repacked the ice around Solana’s feet. Mandy slept fitfully. The morning stars were beginning to fade when she awoke with a start.

She was cold. The morning was gray and damp. Immediately she checked Solana’s feet. The swelling was gone. The horse looked perkier, too. “Dad was right. You’re going to be fine, girl.”

Mandy’s legs felt stiff, so she decided to take a little walk. In no time she found herself down by the lake. The morning light made the water look soft and velvety.

“How’s your horse?” It was David’s voice. Mandy turned with a start. “I always seem to be scaring you,” he said.

“Solana’s better.” She smiled. “It was a long night though.”

Silence. Then, “You get any sleep?”

“Not really.”

“You okay?”

“Oh, sure . . .,” she began, but tears started to slide down her cheeks.

“Hey,” David said, putting his arm around her. “Everything’s all right. Solana will be fine.”

He felt so warm and comforting to her, and he smelled like fresh soap. “It’s more than that.” Her voice was muffled into his chest. “I had a big fight with Laura. I said some mean things.”

“Oh.” He continued to hold her and Mandy felt better. She was grateful he had come. The morning sun broke over the edge of the trees.

David started to speak and his voice soothed her. “You know, Laura really is an interesting girl. She told me all about how you two worked to get Diablo ready for all those horse shows. She showed me all the ribbons and trophies she’s won, too.” He paused. “You know, I’ve run track for three years now. It’s tough to win time after time. Laura’s done that. She’s gone into the ring against lots of competition. And more times than not, she’s come out a winner.”

Mandy pulled away from him. She swallowed hard and said, “So you think she’s pretty terrific?”

“In some ways, yes. But don’t you see? She’s had to
not
care about a lot of other things to stay on top, to be a winner. I’ll bet you’re her only real friend.”

“You mean
was
her only real friend.”

“Naw. You can patch things up, if you try.”

Mandy looked up into David’s eyes. Her heart began to pound and she felt weak around the knees. He brushed her bangs back and cupped her chin softly in his hand, leaning toward her face.

“Mandy! Mandy!” Her father’s voice cut through the morning air.

The spell was broken. She turned away, her heart pounding in her ears. “Here, Dad! I’m here!”

She ran toward him. “Here I am, Dad! Is it Solana? Is she okay?”

Dr. Wilson caught her by her arms. “Honey, have you seen Laura? Diablo’s not in his stall, and Laura’s bed wasn’t slept in last night!”

Seven

“S
EEN her? No! I mean, yes . . . ,” Mandy stammered. “Late last night.”

“What time? Where?” Mandy’s father asked.

“Down by the stables. She came to check on Solana and me. ..” Mandy couldn’t go on. She couldn’t tell him about their fight. Where could Laura have gone? What had Mandy done?

“This is strange. She knows better than to go riding at night alone. It’s very dangerous. Come on up to the house and talk to her parents. They’re worried sick.”

Mandy faced the Callahans and told again of Laura’s late visit to the stables. “I don’t like this,” Mr. Callahan said, shaking his head. “Martha, you call the Sheriff’s Department. Bud, you come with me. We’ll go round up some help and get a search party going.”

“What if she’s hurt?” asked Laura’s mother.

“Don’t think that way. We’ll find her,” Mr. Callahan assured his wife.

Mandy followed the two men out of the house toward the car. “Maybe I can help, too.”

“Honey,” her father said, “Solana’s fine. But don’t push her. Give her light exercise today. And stay put!” Then they were gone.

Mandy paced up and down the stable yard. Solana ate some hay and snorted eagerly to be let out. But Mandy’s mind was in a whirl.

What had Laura been doing out so late last night? Had she really come down to the stables to check on Solana? Was she planning a night ride all along? Or had Mandy pushed her into it with her cutting words?

David was right. Laura
was
different. Ever since Mandy could remember, Laura had wanted to ride in the show ring. And Mandy had always been there helping her to go after her dream. But this summer, things had really been different. Mandy had spent all her time with her own horse, having fun instead of working and training with her friend.

And then there was David. It was obvious that they both had dreams about David. And it was obvious that David had chosen Laura.
Well, no time to think about that
, thought Mandy.
He understands Laura. And I come barging into their privacy just the other day. No wonder Laura was so upset.

“Well,” said Mandy to Solana, “I can’t stand around here all day wishing the past away. Nobody knows the trails better than me and Laura.” She thought about all the horseback exploring she and Laura had done over the years. No rescue party could find half of the places she and Laura knew about.

“Solana, we’re going on a little trip.” She slipped on Solana’s rope rein and swung up onto the buckskin’s smooth back. Then she headed out of the gate into the adjoining grassy field. She would have to make peace with her father later.

The sun beat down relentlessly. But the little Paso Fino gaited along without tiring. It was hard to believe that only yesterday she had been down with Founder. Mandy said a silent prayer that the ride wouldn’t hurt Solana.

It seemed like hours passed. Up one trail. Down another. Mandy could hear the sounds of the search party. “Laura! Laura!” the men called. But the only answers were their own echoes fading in the summer air.

Mandy’s stomach reminded her that she’d missed breakfast—and very likely lunch, too. But she couldn’t go back. Suddenly, she heard the sound of talking and horses snorting. She rounded a bend in the trail and came on some of the search party having lunch. She looked directly into her father’s surprised face.

“What in the blazes?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Mandy said, sliding off Solana’s back. “But I just couldn’t wait back at the house, doing nothing. Besides,” she hurried on, “I know all of Laura’s favorite places in these woods. I really think I can help.”

He stared at her for a minute, then nodded. “You win. Come have some lunch and then we’ll all take off again. How’s Solana doing?”

“Fine, I think.”

Dr. Wilson checked Solana over and nodded in satisfaction. Mandy sat down on the ground gratefully and quickly ate two sandwiches. She had started on an apple when her father finally spoke to her again.

“Got any ideas about where to look?”

“We used to like to go down by the creek a lot.”

“We’ve looked there already—covered every inch above and below. Right now there are four separate parties out, mostly friends and neighbors. If we don’t have any luck by morning, the sheriff will send in a group with dogs.”

“Morning?” asked Mandy weakly. “Do you really think something’s happened to her?”

“I don’t know. But the longer it takes, the worse it looks.”

Suddenly, a lone rider came trotting into their view. It was someone from another search party. He reined up short in front of Dr. Wilson. “We found her horse. He was grazing in a field about a mile from here. He has a slight limp. He must have thrown her. No telling how long he’d been wandering out there.”

Mandy’s stomach lurched.

“Saddle up!” Dr. Wilson ordered his group. “She’s hurt all right.”

Eight

R
AIN! Its smell was in the afternoon air. Gray clouds scuttled across the sky and thunderheads boiled in from the north.

“This is lousy!” Dr. Wilson muttered. But Mandy knew it already. Rain would halt the search, end it before nightfall. Well, the others could turn back, but she wasn’t going to! The constant thought of her friend lying hurt some-place made Mandy feel physically ill. She urged Solana on, and the Paso responded with unfaltering speed.

“Wait up!” her father called. “If we have to go back, don’t get any ideas about going on without us,” he told his daughter.

“I won’t,” Mandy said. She was aware that she had disobeyed him once already today. Yet, she purposely let more and more distance separate her from the rest of the party. Finally, around one bend she veered off west and headed toward the creek.

Somehow she had a feeling about the creek. In summers past, they’d had lots of picnics along its banks. Mandy really felt that Laura might have headed there the night before. The water would have erased Diablo’s tracks. If she’d been thrown, she’d be lying down there, somewhere in the undergrowth and rocks.

Thunder rumbled and Solana strained to turn back for her stable.

“No, you don’t, girl,” Mandy said. “We’re in this together—all the way.”

The rain started with a dull drizzle, and in no time turned into a wicked downpour. The banks along the creek became very slippery. Mandy got off Solana and led her along the trail for safety’s sake. They stopped for a while under a canopy of green leaves. Solana nibbled, and Mandy waited for the rain to slack off.

By the time the rain stopped, it was dusk and darkness was coming fast. Still, Mandy led Solana around the creek bed. The rain had caused it to swell, and the water rushed loudly over stones and tree roots.

Solana heard the noise first. The little horse pricked up her short sensitive ears and gave a nervous snort.

“What is it, girl?” Mandy asked. She strained to hear what Solana was hearing.

There! It sounded like a moan, Mandy thought. No... just the creek. No ...it
was
a moan! Mandy began groping along on her hands and knees in the wet, thick undergrowth. The banks of the creek rose steeply. She could see the edge of the trail above whenever she looked up.

Mandy’s hand touched something soft. And at the same time, she saw a bright patch of cloth.
It’s Laura!
she thought. Mandy pulled quickly at the undergrowth, throwing away chunks of bushes and tall, wet grass.

It was Laura all right. She was lying facedown and was covered with dirt and debris. Gently Mandy turned her over. Laura moaned again, but appeared to be unconscious. Her face was pale. She felt cold.

“Please, Laura, please, wake up! It’s me. It’s Mandy.” She started to move Laura and then noticed the way her leg was bent backward. “It’s broken. I just know it. Oh, no. What am I going to do?”

Mandy was worried. Should she leave Laura and go look for the search party? Mandy wondered. No, it was dark now. The searchers would have all gone back to the Callahans’ to wait for morning. Maybe they would bring lights and keep on looking. Now
two
girls were missing.

Mandy imagined her father’s face. She thought about how worried he must be. She began to cry. She was scared. Solana whinnied from far behind her. Solana! Of course! She’d send the horse back without her. That way they’d know she’d found Laura.

But how? Mandy hunted for some paper. There was nothing to write on. How could she let them know? They’d keep on looking if they could narrow down the places to look. How can I tell them? she wondered.

Mandy’s eyes fell on the bright blue scarf around Laura’s neck. Of course! The scarves. Everyone knew about the birthday present. Mandy pulled off her own scarf and then gently removed Laura’s. She carefully tied up some small creek rocks in the red one and then went over to Solana.

“Here,” she told her horse, tying both scarves to the horse’s reins. “Now, go on back and get your supper.” She led Solana back up the steep bank and turned her toward the Callahans’ stable. “Please don’t fool around, girl. I need you to go back to the stable.” Mandy slapped Solana hard on the rump and sent her off at a fast pace. “Home!” she yelled.

Mandy watched her horse disappear out of sight. She hoped Solana’s hunger and natural instinct would take her back to her warm, dry stable. She sighed and felt more alone than she ever had in her whole life. Then she thought of her friend lying hurt and unconscious below. She scurried back down to her side.

Mandy knew enough about medicine to know that Laura was in bad shape. The way she had fallen, the twist of her leg, the color of her face left no doubt that she needed medical attention soon.

“Hurry, Solana,” Mandy muttered under her breath. Then she hunted around for some way to make Laura more comfortable. She realized that the search party had probably passed Laura more than once that day. Because of the dense foliage, they had not seen her. With Laura drifting in and out of consciousness, she had probably never heard them calling her name either.

Mandy found some moss, shook it out and tried to cover Laura with it. She knew that it was important that Laura stay as warm as possible. Mandy’s own clothes were damp and she began to feel chilly in the rain-cooled night air. But she sat huddled near Laura’s head and settled down to wait out the long night ahead.

“Hurry, Solana,” she whispered again.

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