- See Also: Minor Characters in Nicki's Stories
Chapter By Chapter Summary
Chapter 1: One Little Word
Nicki is somebody who has trouble saying "No", and is usually overworked due to not being able to refuse a request for help. One morning, Nicki's Mom informs her that the Doctor has told her that she's pregnant with identical twins due in the Fall. Mom says that she's fine, but is going to have to rest a lot, which is something that is difficult on the farm. She reminds Nicki that she made a commitment to train a new service dog- she used to do that professionally before Nicki was born- but now she won't be able to. She asks that Nicki help her train the Service Dog; Mom would still be the main handler, but Nicki would provide extra help so Mom wouldn't have to overexert herself. Nicki is hesitant, due to how much she disliked giving away a lamb she raised for the country fair, but Mom is insistent and it's time for her and Adam to get on the bus, so Nicki agrees.
Chapter 2: Moguls
Nicki and Adam board the bus, which was waiting for them. At the next stop, Nicki's best friend Becca boards and sits next to her; she lives on a Chicken Farm, instead of a Pig Farm, like Nicki. Becca asks if they can go skiing over the weekend before all the snow melts; Nicki wants very much to go, but instead she informs Becca about the twins, and how she'll have to help out even more around the farm. Becca insists that Nicki should at least ask, as now they can get cheap lift tickets due to her own Mom being on ski patrol. As they arrive at school, the bus parks up behind nice cars and SUVs; rich parents started moving to the country to escape city life, and live in nice, big houses without farms, and their kids have their own phones and wear different shoes every day.
After class, Nicki's favorite teacher Mrs. Baxter pulls her aside and asks her to help plan the Gala Decorations, which will involve choosing a theme and planning the decorations. Though Nicki is swamped with other commitments, she is once again unable to say "No." Nicki agrees to stay after school to plan and take the late bus home.
Nicki tells Becca about the gala planning group, and Becca is upset that she will have even less time for skiing. Nicki tries to make Becca feel more included by saying she wishes she was on the committee, but Becca says she has too much work, and Nicki does, too. Nicki remembers that she hasn't told Becca about the service dog yet.
Adam goes home on the normal bus to tell their parents that Nicki would be late, and Nicki goes back to her classroom. She sees that the other two kids on the Council are Heather and Kris, two of the new, rich girls. She is immediately intimidated, as Heather and Kris became instantly popular once they started school, though Nicki isn't sure why everyone wants to be like them. Mrs. Baxter leaves them to start planning, and Heather and Kris start talking about wanting a Carnival Theme, including dressing the students as clowns and getting carnival games. Nicki informs them that a carnival had been done a year or two before. Heather starts to tap her pencil on the edge of the table as she thinks, making a rat-a-tat-tat pattern. It was a habit she'd been asked to break, but made no attempt to. She then says that if they did a carnival theme, it would be different, and refuses Nicki's idea to re-use materials. She also suggests getting a snake charmer. Nicki wonders where they would get the money for that, but just says that the school might not allow it due to students being scared of snakes. Heather refuses to listen to her, and asks what she has against the idea. Kris joins her, and Nicki finally succumbs to the pressure and doesn't say more. Heather and Kris bring up other ideas, but nothing unusual or different. They eventually give up, having accomplished nothing. Upon arriving home, Nicki informs her Mom about the disastrous meeting, and Mom says that Heather and Kris might turn out to be really nice, but in any case, Nicki made a commitment, though she is disappointed Nicki didn't think of the service dog first.
On Saturday, Nicki helps her Dad with the work around the pigs, as it was almost piglet season, which they breed and sell every spring and fall. All the piglets- which Nicki calls shoats- will need vaccinations and health certificates, making raising them time-consuming. But after Nicki finishes work, she gets to go skiing with Becca, happy that she got her own skis for her tenth birthday and didn't have to rent any. The best friends go down the Mogul for the first time, and both enjoy it immensely. Skiing helps Nicki forget about her problems momentarily.
Chapter 3: The Arrival
Nicki wakes up early the next morning, and her Mom gives her a journal to log her training with the Service Dog. She explains that the dog's name is Sprocket, and he's eight months old and was found in a shelter. Later, the other dog trainer, Mrs. Tate, brings Sprocket over. Sprocket is much more excitable than Nicki thought he would be, as well as much bigger. Nicki is a little scared of how much help she'll need, as she'd been expecting a small puppy instead of how big Sprocket was. Mrs. Tate explains that though he looks like a Bernese mountain dog, he's probably a mix of Australian shepherd, retriever and maybe a border collie. He is very smart and had aced their intelligence testing; she also explains that he's more of a teenager dog than a puppy, which worries Nicki, as the only teenager she knows is Becca's rude fifteen-year-old sister. Mom informs Mrs. Tate that Nicki will be able to handle the training. They all go to the living room, and Mrs. Tate instructs Nicki on how to train Sprocket. The dog is very curious, and tries to take one of Nicki's socks, drink water from the toilet, and steps in his dog bowl. Nicki asks Mrs. Tate why Sprocket was chosen, since he's so hyper, and Mrs. Tate says that there's just something special about him, and all Dogs need training, and to teach him the First Command tomorrow. Nicki asks what that is, and Mrs. Tate says that first he'll have to learn his name, before she brings in a crate for the dog, explaining that it's important for Service Dogs to get used to the crate.
When Mrs. Tate leaves, Mom explains that the First Command- after his name- is actually "Watch me," as Service Dogs have to learn to focus on their owner above all else. Nicki takes the gentle leader- a head collar attached to a leash- off of Sprocket, and thinks about how cute he is. When Mom leaves, Sprocket starts getting jittery, and Nicki can't figure out what he wants until he pees on the kitchen floor. Nicki cleans it up, angry at herself for not figuring it out. She takes him outside, and then tries to get Sprocket into his crate; unfortunately, he doesn't want to go. She gives him her old teddy bear to take into the crate with him, though he still whines.
Nicki starts going through training manuals, and Becca calls, excited that she can go skiing and asks Nicki to come with her. Nicki asks to go, but Mom and Dad say no, as this will be her first day with Sprocket, and she also needs to help Adam with his homework. Nicki is upset that she can't go skiing, all because of Sprocket. She goes back to the manuals, intimidated by how many commands she will have to teach him, as well as how to ignore objects and other animals, and to drop items from his mouth, as well as how to interact with people in public. Nicki takes a break and starts playing with Sprocket. When he finally responds to his name, she gives him a treat; however, he doesn't respond the next time she tries. She wants to ask help from her parents, but Mom was busy and Dad was analyzing his financials on the computer. That night, Nicki writes in her journal about how she wishes she could say "No," and how nobody else in her Family seems to have this problem.
Chapter 4: Watch Me
The next day on the bus, Becca is upset at Nicki for not going skiing with her. Adam also complains to Nicki because he forgot his math homework at home, and the two of them had worked on that for an hour the night before. Nicki tells Becca about Sprocket, and she can tell Becca feels sorry for her.
After school, Nicki stays late with Heather and Kris again, and the two of them discuss a garden theme. Nicki remembers that that had also been done before, but says nothing. Heather suggests putting fake grass on the floor, and Nicki finally speaks up, reminding them that people have to walk on the floor, and they shouldn't put slippery stuff there. Heather asks if she has ideas, and Nicki suggests wildflowers, and make it a mountain meadow theme. Kris is interested, but Heather bristles and says they'd never get real wildflowers. Nicki shuts up.
When she arrives home, Mom calls Nicki into the Living Room, to show her that she taught "Watch Me" to Sprocket. Nicki tries, but it takes some time before he listens to her. After dinner, Nicki helps Mom with the dishes and Dad with the pigs who were getting ready to farrow. Nicki takes Sprocket on a walk after that, but the dog keeps heading for the animals on the farm and in the wild. When a hawk cries out, Sprocket starts freaking out, shaking and barking. Nicki can't get him to move or shut up, so Dad eventually comes outside and gets them back inside. Even in the house, Sprocket keeps barking at the back window, and pees on the kitchen floor again. Dad slips on it, but reminds Nicki not to get discouraged. Nicki writes in her journal again, upset at her situation and thinking that she'll be in for the worst spring ever.
Chapter 5: Blizzard
Nicki is busy training Sprocket and helping her Dad with the horses- including her own horse, Jackson- over the weekend, so she has to turn down Becca's offer to go skiing. Becca decides to ask Emily instead, which confuses Nicki, as she wasn't one of their best friends. Becca explains that she never gets to go skiing, so she'll be dying to go. Nicki is jealous, but knows she can't do anything about it.
Nicki takes Sprocket outside and teaches him "Watch Me" again. Though she gets tired at how energetic Sprocket is, she is happy that the two of them are learning to communicate better. Unfortunately, Sprocket's wagging tail knocks things off of the coffee table, which convinces Nicki to take him out for a walk. She sits down with him on the mountain after he stops listening to her, and she takes out a sketchbook to draw something so she can watercolor it at home. A yellow butterfly flies up, and Nicki is happy that Sprocket chooses to stay with her instead of chase it; the butterfly eventually almost lands on the dog's nose, and Nicki sketches the two of them together. She is very pleased with her drawing and takes Sprocket home; however, on the way home, a truck backfires, which reduces Sprocket to a shaking mess. Nicki tells Mom that Sprocket is too much of a puppy, but Mom just explains that that will have to be trained out of him, and his fear of loud noises might be from his past, but they'll work on his bravery. She says that they should have Adam and Dad approach Sprocket, to teach him not to jump on people or ask to be petted, as a service dog shouldn't be petted, or he could get distracted.
Nicki has Adam approach Sprocket several times until he stops jumping, and he finally starts to understand. Dad approaches, and Sprocket seems alright, but he tries to chew on Dad's hand. She takes him out for another walk, and Sprocket tries to reach the pigpen, scaring their boar.
At dinner, Nicki's parents congratulate her on doing so well with Sprocket. However, when Nicki leaves, she finds Sprocket in the living room, having ripped apart Mom's vest, the down inside being spread across the room like snow. Mom and Nicki are shocked to see this, and Sprocket gets upset when he sees that Nicki doesn't approve. Mom says that he shouldn't have any more stuffed animals, and will need a lot more training.
On Sunday night, Heather calls Nicki and tells her that they're meeting at the public library on Monday instead of school, so she and Kris won't miss ballet practice. She says that they'll be fine if Nicki doesn't come, but Nicki says she'll make it anyway. She decides to take Sprocket, so he can learn how to be in public. When Nicki gets home from school the next day, Mom tells her that Mrs. Tate agreed that Sprocket could go out, but she also tells Nicki that she visited the Doctor. She as told her blood pressure was too high due to her age, and she will have to go on bed rest for a while, meaning that she won't be able to train Sprocket. Mrs. Tate had offered to take over Sprocket's training, but Nicki offers to do all of it, and assures her Mom that she will be able to handle it.
While Nicki's waiting to go to the Library, a storm starts and Sprocket starts shaking. Nicki strokes him and talks to him, calming him down until the storm stops. She writes in her journal about how fast Sprocket is growing up, and how she feels like Heather had given her a sympathy call, and didn't actually think very much of her.
Chapter 6: Out in the World
The storm passes, and Mom helps Nicki put Sprocket's service dog cape and gentle leader onto him. She also gives Nicki cleanup supplies, reminding her that she'll have to clean up after Sprocket no matter what. They go to the Library in Dad's pickup truck, and Sprocket gets too excited. Once he gets out of the truck, he poops on the library's lawn. Nicki picks it up, happy that Heather and Kris weren't there to see her, and dumps the cleanup bag in a garbage can. She takes Sprocket inside, and they greet the librarian, Miss Hollister. When Kris and Heather arrive, they try to pet him, but Miss Hollister tells them to ask first. Kris does and Heather doesn't; however, Nicki notices that Heather is being nicer to her because she thinks Sprocket is cute. She engages in a tug-of-war game with Sprocket over her backpack, and Nicki is too nervous to tell her No; thankfully, Miss Hollister steps in and makes Heather stop. They sit at a table, and Kris says that she likes Nicki's mountain meadow idea, but Heather insists that it's too plain. They make no progress over the rest of the meeting, and Heather starts tapping with her pencil again. Sprocket doesn't like the noise and starts to go nuts, but Nicki gets him to Watch Her. After the meeting's over, Sprocket tries to charge at a group of kids; Nicki is upset that he did so, as she thought he'd been doing well.
Nicki gets home, and her Mom is already in bed; her ankles have started swelling, which, as she explains to a worried Nicki, is normal for pregnant people. She asks Nicki to do the dishes and help Adam with homework, but Nicki is tired- though she still can't say no. She tells Mom about the Library, but Mom is proud that Sprocket followed almost all of Nicki's commands. Later, Becca calls and tells Nicki about how much fun she's having with Emily, who is getting her own skates for Christmas. Nicki is upset that Becca is talking so much about Emily, and Becca is upset that Nicki has been hanging out with the Gala Committee so much, and introduced them to Sprocket before her. Nicki offers to introduce them the next day, asking Becca to come over. Becca coldly responds that she'll come and hangs up. Nicki does her homework the rest of the night, before writing in her journal that she's been seeing the progress in Sprocket, but she has way too much to do.
Chapter 7: Old Friend, New Friend
Becca comes over after school, and Becca likes Sprocket a lot. Two two girls take him for a walk in the countryside, and Becca asks when Sprocket's training will be over. Nicki realizes that one day she'll have to give up Sprocket, which makes her upset. She finally responds that he'll be with them for six or seven more months, and if he does well in the fall, he'll be sent for advanced training with an organization. If he doesn't pass training, the experts may put him up for adoption, and Nicki's family would get first choice. The two girls continue talking, and Becca asks her to go skiing one more time over the weekend, as the area is closing Saturday. Nicki doesn't respond, not wanting to make another promise.
Later that week, Nicki's parents keep helping her with Sprocket, and Nicki helps her Dad on the farm, including getting a thorn out of a mare's leg. Mom tells Nicki that she deserves a day off, and gives her permission to go skiing with Becca over the weekend.
On Saturday, Becca and Nicki go on the moguls again, and Becca says that she and Emily did them, but it wasn't as fun as with Nicki. After the two best friends go down the moguls, they have lunch at the lodge, and talk about the Gala Committee. They say that they'll probably get private skiing lessons, and Becca jokes that they should take them on the moguls before they can get good. Nicki admits that Kris is actually kind of okay. After lunch, the girls continue to ski, with the two girls thoroughly enjoying themselves. Towards the end of the day, however, Nicki starts to miss Sprocket. When she gets home, she greets Sprocket and teaches him to wait for food. Nicki writes in her journal about how much she enjoyed her day, but is upset that one day she'll have to give Sprocket up.
Chapter 8: Gaining Ground
Two weeks pass, and Sprocket continues getting better. The family has dinner, and Nicki's parents once again congratulate her on getting Sprocket so far. She asks if dogs sometimes stop getting better, and Mom responds that sometimes they do, but Sprocket is showing no signs of plateu-ing, and he'll probably continue his training until Mrs. Tate makes the final decision of whether or not he'll be a service dog. Both Adam and Nicki seem upset at this idea.
On the Tuesday meeting, Nicki suggests that they change the summer meadow theme to be a night meadow theme, as no one had done one of those before. Kris really likes the idea, and Heather grudgingly accepts it, as Mrs. Baxter was upset at her for not having anything. Kris even comes up with an idea for an aluminum stream, and her and Nicki continue brainstorming. Kris asks Nicki to call her so she can set up a conference call.
That night, Mom tells Nicki that her blood pressure is normal and they can go shopping soon, and to invite Becca. Nicki calls Becca, but Becca refuses her; Nicki gets the feeling that Becca is only rejecting the offer as payback for Nicki spending all her time with the Gala Committee and Sprocket. After she hangs up, Nicki realizes that she forgot to call Kris.
Chapter 9: Jackson
The next day, Nicki apologizes for not calling. Kris accepts her apology, explaining that they only talked for a little bit, but Heather tries to guilt trip her for not working with a team. Nicki thinks that's unfair, as Heather was the one always disagreeing with everything.
On Saturday, Mom and Nicki go shopping, and on Sunday, Nicki and Dad ride out to check on the cattle on their horses. Nicki rides Jackson, and her and Dad run the horses; she finds riding almost as fun as skiing. Dad says that it's good to hear Nicki laugh, and Nicki tells him that Becca is mad at her; he assures her that they'll work it out. That night, Kris calls Nicki and asks her to have dinner with her family. Nicki really wants to go, but turns her down, as she's still not sure she trusts her, and also will have to make dinner for her family that night. Kris tells her that they'll do it again another time, and Nicki notices that she sounds like she means it. After she hangs up, the phone rings again, and Heather reminds her that they'll be meeting at her house the next night, and tells her to bring Sprocket. Nicki remembers that she likes Sprocket more than she likes her, and was planning on bringing him anyway. She writes that Becca is mad at her, but now Kris likes her and Heather likes her dog, and she isn't sure if she likes any of this.
Chapter 10: A Big Word
Nicki dreads going over to Heather's, as she's not as nice as Kris. She goes anyway to finish Gala Planning, and takes Sprocket. Heather's house is outside of town and so big that it sticks out from the mountainside like a jewel. Upon entering, Nicki is intimidated by the polished wood floors and in how much it looks like a model home. They sit in Heather's family's breakfast nook while her mom makes pizza. Once the girls finalize the planning, the three eat pizza and Heather answers her phone, only responding, "Yeah. Now." She says that her friends Marcy and Amanda are coming over to have a party with them, and they go to the basement.
Heather's basement is enormous and decorated just for her; everything is done in a music theme. She turns on the stereo, turning it so loud that it scares Sprocket. Marcy and Amanda arrive, and Sprocket jumps on her; Nicki can't get him under control. Heather starts explaining about Sprocket to the new girls, as if she's the expert, as Nicki tries to control him. She knows that they should leave, but she also wants to stay. When Heather's mother gives everyone more pizza, Amanda gives Sprocket a slice, and Sprocket grabs more from the floor. Nicki tries to understand that he shouldn't have people food, but the girls think it's hilarious- with the exception of Kris, though she doesn't do anything.
Finally, Nicki says that she needs to call her Dad to pick her up, as Sprocket's not supposed to get that excited. Heather seems upset that Nicki can't let it go just one time, and Nicki senses that if she stays, she'll be accepted into Heather's popular friend circle, but if she leaves, she can't go back. Nicki is scared for a second, not sure what to do. She almost says "Yes", just so she doesn't upset someone, but then she looks down at Sprocket, and sees that he has a very trusting expression; he trusts her, and he's worked too hard for Nicki to set him back. So Nicki does the one thing she's never done before: She says "No."
Chapter 11: Help
Dad comes to pick Nicki up, and Heather barely says "Bye." Nicki and Sprocket both feel bad all the way home. When they get home, Mom asks Nicki to do the dishes and help Adam with his homework, and Nicki yells "NO." She and Sprocket go to their room while Dad tells Mom and Adam to leave her alone for a while, and she wonders if Dad spends so much time with the animals because they can't ask him for something all the time. A little later, Mom comes and brings Nicki dinner and cookies, and Adam gives her a painting he'd done at school. Becca calls, and Nicki answers, though she knows she'll get a hard time. Becca states that she expected Nicki to be hanging with her friends, and Nicki responds that they're not her friends, and she doesn't want to talk about it. She can tell Becca's worried, and lets her know that she'll tell her next time they see each other in person. Becca asks if she really doesn't have two new best friends, and Nicki affirms this. Becca adds that being around Emily is fun, but not the same as being with Nicki.
The next day, Heather won't look at Nicki as the Committee Members hand out their list of teams and assignments for the gala. Mrs. Baxter congratulates the group on their work, but she can tell there's something off with them. As they leave in separate directions, Kris stops her and lets her know that she knows what Heather did wasn't right, and she feels bad for not standing up for her. She says she can come to her house anytime and bring Sprocket, and she won't turn it into a party. She also adds that she wants Nicki to meet her cat, Pumpkin. Nicki's first impulse is to tell her "No," but she can tell Kris really wants her to come over, so she says "Maybe."
Nicki takes Sprocket out for his last walk of the day, and she lets him loose while she looks at her sketchbook. She looks up and sees Sprocket is gone. When he returns, he has two porcupine quills sticking out of his nose. Her and Dad pull it out, and she promises to Sprocket that she won't let that happen to him again. When it comes time to write in her journal, she finds she can't write anything except I love him.
Chapter 12: Gala
Mrs. Tate says she thinks it would be okay for Nicki to take Sprocket to the Gala, as Sprocket was doing very well and Mom would be there to help. Sprocket listens to Nicki's commands as they arrive, and Nicki and her family sit with Becka, Sprocket sitting at Nicki's feet. Becca had been talking about taking Sprocket to the mountains when they go hiking, and Nicki finds it hard to believe that school is over. The Gala Decorations are a huge hit, and everyone compliments it for being original and well-made. Nicki notices that Kris is sitting alone (except for her parents), and Heather is sticking with Amanda, Marcy, and the other new kids; she doesn't even look at her.
When the Gala ends, Kris comes up to Nicki and Becca, and Nicki feels sorry for her and asks her if she'd like to come hiking with them sometime, which makes Kris really happy. Some boys from Nicki's class, Jason and Matthew, come up and want to pet Sprocket, but Nicki knows that it would be too much and tells them no. They ask how to get into training service dogs, and Nicki gives them Mrs. Tate's name and a website with information. Nicki gives Sprocket a treat for being so good, and she can tell that Sprocket thinks she's a good trainer.