"Is that your daughter?"
Arthur smiled and nodded. "That's her," he said, tensing slightly as she went over the jump. No matter how much confidence he had in horse and rider, it was his flesh and blood out there.
The middle aged woman raised a camera and snapped a picture. "She's an excellent rider. How long has she been at it?"
"All her life, I think," he said with a slight grin.
They watched her guide her mount over another jump with ease. "It sure looks like it," said the woman. "She handles that horse like a pro."
Arthur didn't respond, instead turning his attention back to the field. Mary-Lynn passed over the last two jumps in quick succession and headed off the field. After the quiet applause from the small group of parents faded, Arthur tried to excuse himself from the woman. "It was nice talking to you."
She started to match his footsteps. "I just wanted to tell your daughter what I thought of her riding."
Arthur didn't say anything, just shrugged and continued on with the woman on his heels. His daughter came out from behind a small growve of trees and waved. He returned it. "You did great, honey!" he called out. He quickened his pace and got to her side. "Fantastic job." He gripped the bridle lightly and rubbed the horse on the nose. "You, too."
"Thanks, dad," said his daughter as she swung out of the saddle. "I could have done better, though."
"No, you both did great," interjected the woman. She held out a hand, "Claire Smyth," she said, making sure to pronounce the 'y'. "What's your name?"
She graciously took the woman's hand and shook it. "Thank you, Mrs. Smyth. My names Mary-Lynn," she replied, making sure herself to pronounce the 'y'. "But I really could have done better."
Smyth shook her head with too much emphasis. "Nonsense! You're wonderful!." She paused for half a heartbeat. "Tell me, if you don't mind, who is your instructor? My daughter and hers don't get along _at all._"
Mary-Lynn seemed momentarily lost for words. "Well…"
Arthur stepped back in. "Her mother instructs her, actually." He started walking the horse back toward the trailer. "But she doesn't take students."
"Are you sure? I assure you that I can pay very well."
Arthur chuckled. "Believe me, Mrs. Smyth," he said, not caring if he pronounced the 'y', "My wife has no interest in teaching anyone other than Mary-Lynn."
Smyth looked troubled. It was obvious she didn't know how to deal with not getting what she wanted. "Do you mind if I speak to your wife? Perhaps I can convince her."
"I'll let her know you're interested, but I won't promise that she'll even call you. Can you give me a…" Arthur didn't have the sentence out when Smyth reached into her purse and pulled out a crisp, white business card, and shoved it into his hands. "Please see that she gets it." She looked again at Mary-Lynn and smiled, "Make sure she does, please." Mary-Lynn was barely holding in a laugh, but managed to nod.
As Smyth walked away, Arthur nodded over toward the trailer. "Com'on, we've got to get going as soon as we can." The horse made a reach for the business card with her lips, but Arthur pulled it away. "None of that now," he said with mild admonishment. "I'll have to figure out how to handle this later."
"You're not going to tell mom?" asked Mary-Lynn.
He sighed first, then chuckled. "I'll tell her, for what good it will do. I just hope that this Smyth woman doesn't come around." He glanced at his watch. "Damn, we're really going to be late. Let's get moving." When his daughter tried to protest, he just held up his hand. "None of that, you know that your mother is waiting for us at home. Now if you want to explain why we were late…"
"No!" she said quickly, but with a grin, "That's okay. Let's get moving." She tugged on the horses reigns. "Let's go, girl."
They got back to the trailer and quickly stripped off the tack and dropped it into the truck. While his daughter changed out of her heavy riding clothes, he led the cooperative horse into the trailer and secured her for the drive.
"Want me to close up the trailer, dad?"
Arthur nodded. "Sure, honey. Oh, do you want the leg wraps?"
She shook her head. "Naw, they're just a pain."
"Okay, your choice," he walked out the empty side of the trailer and swung the ramp up while his daughter latched it. "We're all set."
"Do we have time to see how I placed?"
He thought a second and nodded, "Sure, but be quick."
Arthur climbed into the truck and started the engine, letting it idle while he waited. He glanced at the dashboard clock. They were running a little late, but Helen had known that was likely. As long as they made it by early afternoon, he'd be able to handle her.
If they made it later, he'd let his daughter explain.
She threw open the door and jumped into the seat, "I'm in first!" she said excitedly.
"That's great, honey!" he said proudly. "You'll have to tell Lynn," he said as he put the truck in gear and eased out of the lot.
"I will, but I don't want her to get a swelled head."
"Now, Mary, that's not nice. She works just as hard as you do."
"Yeah, but she makes me nervous," said Mary. "She keeps saying that one of these days she's gonna…"
"Oh, don't worry about her doing something. It would violate the spirit of M.A.D."
"Mad?" asked Mary. "What's that?"
Arthur started to answer, but spotted a secluded turnoff and pulled off the road. "Remind me tonight and I'll tell you. It's time, though. You know the drill."
Mary sighed. "Aw, dad, can't we at least wait until we get home?"
He shook his head. "You knew the deal when we planned this. Go on."
She sighed and slid out of the truck cab. He watched her in the sideview mirror as she popped open the side door of the horse trailer and stepped in. After a few minutes, the trailer door opened again and his daughter stepped out. She jogged up to the truck and jumped in. "All set!" she said happily.
Arthur put the truck in gear as he laughed. "Excited, Lynn?"
She frowned. "Not really, why?" He glanced over at his daughter and waited for her to realize it for herself. Slowly, she reached up and felt the nylon bridle around her neck. "Oh, geez!" she laughed as she pulled it off. "Mary didn't say anything!"
Arthur chuckled and pulled the truck out onto the street. "If it makes you feel any better," he said, "I scheduled the vet check for this week." He grabbed a box of tissues off the dash and handed them to her. "She didn't tell you about the grass stains on your lip, either."
Lynn winced and started rubbing it off. "You'd better tell me if there is anything that's going on this week. Last time, Mary 'forgot' to let me know about Beth's birthday."
"Well, when the two of you get tired of it, we can always break the curse…"
Lynn looked shocked at the suggestion. "And one of us ends up like mom!"
Arthur shrugged, "I know, but you two are thirteen. We can't hide this forever."
They drove the rest of the way home in silence. Life hadn't been easy for his daughters. Life was hard enough without dealing with a family curse. As long as one was a horse at all times, they had a chance of sharing a single life. It had almost worked for Helen and her sister.
Arthur prayed it would work for Mary and Lynn.