A Challenge

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Chapter 8

“You did good with Challenger today.”

Mom’s voice stirred me out of my reverie. “Oh, thanks.”

Mom’s hands rubbed the steering wheel. Then she cleared her throat. I sat up a little, realizing she was about to say something she was nervous about.

“Have you thought about another horse?”

Another horse. Another horse besides Jigsaw. The words caused my insides to twist like a horse with colic.

“No... I don’t know if I want to right now.”

She nodded. “I understand. Take your time. You know you have your pick of the stable,” she said as she flipped on the blinker to make a turn.

“Yeah.” I knew I did. I also knew that none of them were Jigsaw. My throat was aching as I turned to stare back out the window.

We would have been starting back in on his work right now. I might’ve taken him to cross country today. I closed my eyes and wondered why he had to die.

I was writing an essay for school on my laptop when the phone rang. By the phone, I mean the landline. I got up and went on the hunt for it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t in its usual spot. I frantically hunted for it before finding it on the kitchen counter and picking it up on the last ring. “Yes?” I gasped out a bit breathlessly.

“Hey Tess!” The energetic voice fairly bubbled over the line. It was Lacy, my one and only friend. She was the daughter of Alice, who’s barn we’d gone cross country schooling at. “I was wondering if you were going to pick up there for a second.”

I snorted. “I had trouble finding the phone, I think dad left it on the counter. What’s going on?”

“Oh nothing, except I hear you were riding a new gray horse. Alice said that he’s yours, now spill,” demanded Lacy.

“Whoa there,” I said, sitting down at my desk. “Alice told you he’s mine? Well he’s not. I mean, we bought him, but not for me. We’re hoping to make him into upper level lesson horse. I thought I told Alice that.” I added quietly, “It’s a bit soon for another horse Lacy.”

“Yeah, sorry, I just got a bit too excited there,” she replied, somewhat subdued. Then her voice brightened. “But your family did buy him, so come on, tell me about him!”

For the next five minutes I laid out all I knew about Challenger. I told her about his pride at facing scary objects, his spookiness in general, and how he always rolled after a ride. I groaned as I said that I hoped he didn’t lighten up to soon, he’d be a nightmare to clean.

After that she asked me about the other horses I was working with and I told her about them, with her interrupting to ask questions. Lacy was very bubbly but also a good listener, and there was nothing she liked to listen more about than horses.

As I finished up my long winded rhetoric about the horses I was training, Lacy made a comment that surprised me. “You talk about him different than the other horses.”

“What? Who?” I was thrown off.

“Challenger. You talk about him differently than you do the others.”

“I do?”

“Yeah you do! Your voice grows softer.” She paused, then dropped the bomb. “You talk about him like you used to talk about Jigsaw.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I do?” I repeated again.

She giggled. “Yes, you really do.”

Suddenly I noticed that it was time to go feed the horses. Okay, well, it was a little bit before but I needed to get off the phone. “Hey Lacy, sorry but I’ve got to go. It’s about time to feed.”

“I didn’t offend you did I?” Her voice was worried.

“No,” I hastened to say. I didn’t want her to feel guilty. “You’re fine. I just now realized I’ve got to go.”

“Okay... Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up and stared at the phone in my hand. I talked about Challenger like I did Jigsaw? The whirl of emotions that came after that statement made me feel overwhelmed. I shoved it out of my head and tried to distract myself with thoughts of grain mixtures.

It worked all through feeding, until I carried Challenger’s hay to his paddock. Seeing him standing there brought it all back. I quickly dumped his hay and walked away, not lingering like I usually did. I tried to tell myself it was because of the cold wind, but I knew better.

I tried to ignore my feelings for the rest of the day, and for the most part I was successful. I distracted myself with other things. That was, until I was getting ready for bed.

As I set down my hairbrush I knocked my lotion bottle off my desk. I signed and bent down to pick it up, only to discover that it had rolled under the bed... And onto a folder.

“Jigsaw Pics,” was scrawled over it. I bit my lip and picked it up. Unconsciously I placed the bottle on the desk and sat down on the bed, staring at the folder.

Slowly I flipped it open and was assaulted with memories. I had taken many photos of Jigsaw, and labeled them all. I ran my fingers over the collage of photos that showed our first event together. That had been five long years ago.

For the next half hour I just sat there, remembering. I didn’t think I was crying, but my cheeks were wet. I put the folder on the desk and turned out the light.

I finally understood part of what had upset me about Lacy’s statement. I felt like I was betraying Jigsaw. I thought it was too soon to have another horse to love like that.

I didn’t know what to do about it.

The next morning I woke up feeling slightly better physically. Mentally I was no better. But I wasn’t going to cry today.

Praying and a shower helped relieve some of my mixed anguish. I went down the stairs feeling more refreshed, resisting the urge to look into the folder again. It’d bring it all back, and besides, I had things I needed to get done today.

I poured myself up a glass of half n half and coffee. Mother was making pancakes, which smelled good but wouldn’t be ready for a little while, so I went to my laptop. I popped it open and logged into my email.

I deleted several advertisements until all that remained was a message from Lacy and my weekly online ad from a website that sold horses. I clicked on it and scrolled through while sipping coffee. Most of them were three and two year olds, barely broken in, which I had no use for.

One caught my eye though. A vibrant seven year old chestnut who had started his jump training and had good potential for eventing. I clicked on the ad and it took me to the website.

The mare was was a thoroughbred who’d never been raced. Her named was Sunny. I scrolled through her photos. She was well built.

Mother came into the room. “Pancakes are ready.” She saw the the photos. “Oooh, who’s that?” She asked, leaning over my shoulder.

“Her name’s Sunny,” I replied. “She’s a 7 year old thoroughbred who’s just started eventing.”

“Hmm,” mom said as she scanned the ad. “She looks good.” She looked down at me. “Are you interested in her?”

I bit my lip. “I don’t know.”

“Well, we’ll go look at her if you want. She’s within our price range.”

“Okay.”

“Well, come get your pancakes,” she encouraged and went back into the kitchen.

I shut down the laptop and took a sip of my coffee. The mare did interest me, indeed, she seemed almost exactly what I would be looking to buy. She was farther along than Challenger.

I sighed and shook my head. This was all too confusing. I put it out of my mind and followed the warm smell of pancakes into the kitchen.

As I was putting butter on my pancakes mother put forth another dilemma to me. “Are you going to ride Challenger today, or do you want me too?”

“I’ll ride him.” The answer popped out of my mouth before I realized I’d said it. I wondered if I should take it back. I didn’t want to interact with Challenger right now. But, at the same time, I didn’t want anyone else to ride him.

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