Victory and the All-Stars Academy, page 7
“But you only went out for a burger with him two hours ago. That’s a bit sudden, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t even eat my burger!” Stella beamed. “I was so busy talking to him, I lost my appetite.”
She walked into Issie’s room and looked around on the dresser. “Have you got any chocolate or anything? I’m starving now…”
“What did you talk about?” Issie asked, flinging herself across the bed and rummaging in her bedside drawer to produce one of her emergency fruit and nut chocolate bars.
“Yummm, thanks…” Stella bit into it. “Mmm…Horses mostly. Shane goes to pony club here in Lilydale. It’s a really good club apparently—Bret goes there too. Those horses they were riding today are their own ones, but the rest of the Australian team are on borrowed horses, just like us…”
At that moment Kate burst into the room with a big grin on her face. “So how was the date with Captain Hunky?”
Stella looked totally lovesick. “It was brilliant. I’m having breakfast with him tomorrow.”
“We’re all having breakfast with him,” Kate pointed out. “They’re coming back for another lesson with Minka. That’s why they left their horses here overnight.”
“I know,” Stella said. “But Shane and I have made a date to sit together at breakfast.”
“No!” Issie pleaded. “You and Kate have to sit with me, otherwise I’ll be left with Dee Dee.”
“Hey,” said Stella, noticing that the bed opposite Issie was vacant. “Where is Dee Dee anyway?”
“She’s in the bathroom, brushing her teeth,” Issie said. “Hopefully, using her own toothbrush this time.”
“So are things getting any better with you two?” asked Stella.
Issie shook her head. “It’s getting worse. She’s driving me nuts. She’s a total slob and she has the worst taste in music. I mean she doesn’t even listen to real Abba—she listens to Pierce Brosnan singing Abba!”
Stella gave Issie a puzzled look. “What’s the difference? Anyway, I like Abba.”
Issie groaned. “Yes, but not non-stop. She plays ‘Dancing Queen’ all the time. And did you not hear the bit about her being totally piggy?”
“Well, OK, she’s a bit messy, but she’s sweet and…”
“And what?” Issie’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sticking up for her?”
“No,” Stella said hastily, “it’s just that…Issie, you’re an only child, aren’t you? Maybe you’re just not used to sharing a room.”
“It’s not that!” Issie was horrified. “It’s not me! It’s Dee Dee! She’s unbearable! That stupid laugh she has and the way she says ‘neato’ and…”
At that exact moment the door to the bedroom swung open and Dee Dee walked in. She was wearing her jellybean pyjamas and she had her toothbrush in one hand and her iPod in the other. But she wasn’t wearing her earphones and had clearly heard everything that Issie had just said because her face was stony. She ignored Issie, murmured a shy hello to Stella and Kate, then got into bed and vigorously pretended to read her book.
“I’d better go,” Stella said.
“Me too.” Kate was already up and one step ahead of her. “It’s nearly ten-thirty. I’ll see you guys in the morning…” They slunk out of the room, shutting the door behind them, leaving Issie and Dee Dee alone together.
“Listen, Dee Dee,” Issie said. “About what I just said, I didn’t mean—”
“Lights out!” Dee Dee cut her off mid-sentence. Issie caught a quick glimpse of Dee Dee’s face and her hurt, pained expression, and then Dee Dee flicked the switch on her bedside lamp and turned over so that she had her back to Issie.
Dee Dee didn’t move. Issie lay there a while, trying to think of something to say. Finally, with a sigh of resignation, Issie switched her light off too and went to sleep, hoping that she wouldn’t be haunted by any more dreams about Mystic.
Thankfully, Issie didn’t dream about her horse. Even better, when she woke up, Dee Dee had already gone down to breakfast. Issie got dressed and headed straight down to the stables where she found Stella and Kate feeding Wombat. The pup was bouncing up and grabbing bits of sausage from Stella’s fingers and barking like mad.
“Shhhh, Wombat!” Stella told him. “Someone will hear you.”
The puppy’s eyes were bright with a mischievous glint. Issie couldn’t help smiling at him. He looks like a superhero, she thought, wearing his grey mask of fur around his eyes and a grey cape that spread over his back, while the rusty copper-coloured fur ran like a border around his mouth, under his belly and down his legs. His little ears were cocked forward eagerly, in the hope that something was about to happen.
When the dog caught another whiff of Stella’s bag of breakfast goodies, he leapt up, trying to reach the food.
“No, Wombat!” Stella was firm with him. “Down!” Wombat totally ignored her and kept leaping up.
“Sit!” Stella said. “Sit, Wombat.” Wombat stood looking at Issie with his tail wagging.
“He doesn’t know what sit means!” Issie pointed out. “We’ve got to teach him.”
The girls spent the next half hour in the stall teaching Wombat basic commands, rewarding the puppy each time he got it right with a bite of sausage or a sliver of toast. By the time they were finished, Wombat knew the commands for sit, down and stay.
“He must be so bored being cooped up,” said Stella. “I wish we could take him out for a walk.”
“We can’t,” Kate said. “What if Digger Murphy saw him?”
“Well, he can’t stay in the horse stall forever. He’s…”
“Hi, guys. What’s going on?”
It was Dee Dee. She was standing right beside the girls and trying to peer into the stall. “What have you got in there?” she asked.
“Nothing!” Issie shot back.
“Come on! Can I see?” Dee Dee craned her neck.
“Dee Dee, I said it was nothing,” said Issie.
“Then what are you all looking at?” Dee Dee craned her neck again, trying to get a glimpse into the loose box, but Issie blocked her view.
“Whatever,” Dee Dee sighed. “I’m not interested in your dumb secret anyway.”
Issie stood with her arms folded and watched as Dee Dee walked off.
“Don’t you think we should have told her about Wombat?” Kate asked. “It’s a bit mean, isn’t it? Not letting her see the puppy.”
“No way!” Issie said. “The fewer people who know about him the better. Besides, Dee Dee the disaster zone has a way of messing everything up—we don’t want her involved.”
After breakfast the teams turned up at the tack room for the gear fit-outs. Avery and Ryan stood together behind a table at the front of the room with tidy stacks of gear laid out in front of them ready to hand out.
“You’ll be wearing your club colours for the dressage phase,” Avery explained. “For the showjumping phase you’ll need your showing jackets, plus a velvet hard hat. Spurs are optional. The untested element of the competition is the pit stop. You have to strip off your showjumping kit and change as fast as you can into your cross-country kit—which we have for you right here.”
“Can we wear our own back protectors?” Shane Campbell asked.
“If you have them then by all means use your own, but the back protector is not optional,” Avery said firmly. “You’ll wear your lightweight-fibre jersey in your team colours over the top. You must also be wearing a cross-country helmet and your gloves. Only once you are fully dressed can you leave the pit stop and head out on to the course.”
Ryan stood next to Avery and grabbed his clipboard off the table. “Get into two lines—one for my team and one for Avery’s—and we’ll give each of you your cross-country kit,” Ryan told them. “Take it back to your rooms with you today after your lessons and try it on to make sure the fit is correct. Practise your quick changes tonight in your bedroom. I suggest you use a stopwatch and time yourselves. You need to be able to
“I’d like the two team captains to come to the front to be given their kit,” Avery said. “Can we have Shane Campbell from the Australian team…”
Suddenly there was absolute silence from the New Zealand squad. Avery hadn’t yet announced who would be captaining their team. The girls waited nervously, keen to hear which name their chef d’équipe would call.
“…and Kate Knight, captain of the New Zealand team, would you please come up here?”
Kate was beaming with pride as she went up to receive her cross-country uniform from Avery. As the New Zealand riders gave Kate a round of applause, Issie noticed that Morgan wasn’t clapping. She was glaring at Kate, her eyes filled with fury. It was a look that Issie had seen before, and it worried her. She remembered defending Morgan’s right to be in the team when Stella had talked about her going off the rails and sabotaging other riders.
Morgan’s not like that any more—she’s changed, Issie had said. But had she really?
Morgan’s face was dark and sullen as the riders shuffled forward to pick up their cross-country kits. Issie tried to smile at her, but Morgan didn’t smile back.
“What’s wrong?” Issie asked.
“You don’t want to know,” said Morgan. “You’ll think it’s stupid.”
“No, honest,” Issie said, “you can tell me.”
Morgan was silent for a moment as they took their kits. Then she turned to Issie. “Did you know that my mum was in the Young Rider Squad when she was my age?”
“No,” Issie said, “I didn’t.”
“She was the team captain—of course,” said Morgan.
So that was what was bothering her. “You’ve got to stop comparing yourself to her!” Issie said. “She’s one of the best showjumpers in the world.”
“So what does that make me?” Morgan said. “Issie, what if I’m rubbish? What if I’m never going to be as good as her?” Morgan’s bottom lip had gone all wobbly and her eyes were reddening. She looked like she was about to burst into tears.
Issie suddenly felt awfully sorry for her. The pressure of having a celebrity mum, of having so much to live up to, was a curse in a way for poor Morgan. It had been two years ago that Issie had caught Morgan in the clubhouse trying to sabotage the gear. Since then Morgan had changed and tried to cope as best she could with the pressure of life in Araminta’s shadow. Her mum tried hard too, but she still had this ultra-competitive streak that was hard to disguise. The whole situation made Issie appreciate how lucky she was that her own mum didn’t even like horses. She didn’t have the advantages that Morgan had, but at least there was no expectation, no family name to live up to.
Morgan dried her eyes before anyone else could notice the tears. “I’m OK,” she told Issie. “Let’s go tack up.” And with that, Morgan put on her game face again, as if nothing was wrong, and headed off to tack up Arista.
As she watched her walk off, Issie worried that the pressure really was getting to Morgan once more. Surely she’d never let things go too far again?
In the arena Minka Klein surveyed the row of sixteen students that stood in front of her.
“Time for some dancing lessons,” she told them with a smile. “Today we will practice our kur—our dressage in time to music.” As she said this, the sound of orchestra music floated over the sound system in the arena.
“Today I choose the music that we will ride to,” Minka told them. “And so I choose classical. For your individual tests when you compete in the Express Eventing Challenge, each of you will choose your own music. No doubt you will all choose some ghastly pop songs.”
The riders giggled at this, but Minka didn’t laugh. She shut her eyes and raised up her hands, as if enraptured by the music coming through the loudspeaker. “Listen to this part. All of you! Shut your eyes. It’s magical, isn’t it? Now tell me…what pace would work best with this music?”
Issie shut her eyes and listened to the lilting tune. “A trot!” she called out.
“Very good!” Minka told her. “Yes. Can all of you please take your horses around the arena and trot them in time to the music. Feel the rhythm flow through you. It must be as if your horse is dancing, do you understand?”
Over the next two hours, as the horses trained in the arena, Issie tried to feel the music, as Minka said. It wasn’t easy. Issie had enough trouble when she was just dancing by herself on her own two feet!
Victory was such a brilliant schoolmaster though, and Minka was so positive and incisive, that Issie found herself buoyed up by the music, doing dressage movements way beyond anything she had ever imagined she was capable of.
Minka got a round of applause from her pupils at the end of the lesson. This was her last session with the riders. Tomorrow would be their first showjumping clinic with Araminta.
The Australian riders stayed for dinner that night. Avery and Ryan manned the barbecue, while Tara and Minka cooked big casserole dishes of macaroni cheese and fish pie with salad. Issie sat down the far end of the table with Kate and Charlotte. Stella was sitting with Shane, being very lovey-dovey. Issie and Kate both almost gagged on their fish pie when they saw Stella actually feed Shane a piece of macaroni off her fork!
Morgan sat at the other end of the table with her mum. She looked tense and didn’t seem to be talking much, since Araminta, who had arrived at Havenfields just before dinnertime, was deep in conversation with Tara. Issie wondered whether Morgan had actually told her mother that Kate had been made the team captain.
After dinner Avery produced a DVD of the latest Badminton Horse Trials and there was a movie session in the living room. The Australian riders all stayed late to watch the DVD too and there were cups of tea and chocolate biscuits. It was almost 10 p.m. when the riders finally headed for bed.
Issie had seen Dee Dee leave halfway through the DVD and was hoping that she might be asleep already. But Dee Dee wasn’t even in bed yet.
Dee Dee had been a slob since she arrived, but the present state of their room was worse than ridiculous. There were piles of magazines spread all over the floor, old bowls of half-eaten muesli sat on the windowsill and bottles of various beauty creams and make-up were strewn over the dressing table. The mounds of dirty clothes now spread right across the room and a pair of filthy old riding boots had been plonked next to Issie’s bed.
“These boots aren’t mine!” Issie picked up the grubby boots and glared at Dee Dee.
“No,” Dee Dee said. “They’re mine.”
“Then why are they on my side of the room?”
Dee Dee shrugged at this and didn’t answer. She sat down cross-legged on her bed with her mirror and began her nightly ritual of smearing on skin creams and plucking her eyebrows. Then she got out the toenail clippers.
“Can you stop doing that?” Issie snapped. “It’s gross!”
“It’s called a beauty regime!” Dee Dee shot back. “And I don’t see how it’s bothering you anyway.”
Issie picked up a teen magazine, a half-used tube of hair gel and a pair of knickers and tossed them across the room at Dee Dee’s bed.
“Just keep your mess on your side, OK?”
“Fine!” Dee Dee snapped back. “If you keep your things on your side.” She picked up a hairbrush that Issie recognised as hers and threw it back at Issie’s bed.
“Hey! I didn’t leave that on your side of the room. You took it!” Issie said, snatching the hairbrush up off the bed. “Stop using all my stuff.” She eyed Dee Dee suspiciously. “Are you wearing my cardigan?”
Dee Dee looked guilty as she stripped it off and threw it back at Issie. “I just borrowed it because I was cold. You left it lying around…” she began. Issie held the cardigan up in front of her. There was a huge blob of something on it. Was it strawberry jam? Dee Dee had got jam down the front of her cardy!
“That stain will come straight out,” Dee Dee insisted.
But Issie wasn’t listening any more. She
“What are you doing?” Dee Dee asked.
“Marking out my half of the bedroom,” said Issie. She ran the tape smoothly all the way to the bedroom door and then ripped off the end, pressing the strip down firmly on the carpet tiles, before standing up again to face Dee Dee.
“The room on that side of the tape is your half,” she said. “This is my half. You keep all your stuff on your side from now on. You don’t ever come over my side and I won’t come over yours.”
“You’re kidding me?” Dee Dee said.
“Do I look like I’m joking?” Issie shot back.
Dee Dee walked right up to the line, but she didn’t cross it. “Fine! Have it your way,” she said.
She flounced over to the dressing table and picked up the toothbrush and toothpaste. “I’m going to the bathroom and then I’m going to bed! Lights out at ten-thirty!”
“Suits me!” Issie yelled after her as Dee Dee marched out of the room.
Dee Dee was already halfway down the hall when Issie realised that, once again, Dee Dee was using her toothbrush.
Issie crouched down by Victory’s shoulder and began to wind the bandage around the horse’s cannon bone, taking care to make it firm but not too tight. Satisfied with her efforts, she knotted off the end of the bandage and tucked it away neatly, then began on the next leg.
When she had finished, she stood back to admire her work. She had used white bandages and gamgee, and they stood out against Victory’s dark brown coat, making him look like he had four white socks.
She had already tacked him up with his jumping saddle, which was made in two-tone shades of tan leather, and she had swapped the reins on his bridle, taking off the sleek leather ones that she used for dressage and buckling on webbing reins instead, for extra grip.
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