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He ran a hand along the side of the rocking horse, its yellow, blue and red paint now faded almost entirely. He smiled wistfully at how small it seemed…how simple, yet it had meant everything to him once.

It had been a present on his fourth birthday. His father had spent weeks working on it, and his mother had painted it herself.

It got lonely, living on a farm, so his toys were his only real companions, and he didn’t have many. But that horse, it was his favorite. He named it Pride, and told it everything; his fears, his dreams, how he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up, but he knew he’d have to take over the farm because his daddy needed him to, and he didn’t want to let his hero down.

Most days, he and Pride would keep the house safe from outlaws, but sometimes, they’d just ride and ride, across deserts, through forests, until he got so tuckered out he’d fall asleep mid-gallop. But Pride never let him fall.

He sat on that horse for days after his mama died. Stared out the window from dawn to dusk, thinking how it wasn’t fair, and wasn’t he just a little young to know how bad a heart could hurt. His chest ached, and he cried, and his tears fell onto Pride’s face, and he leaned down and hugged his horse with all his might.

When his papa remarried a few years later, things got better. Not near as good as before, but it was nice to have a lady around again. She certainly made his dad happy.

He was six when his baby sister was born. He’d thought she was a red, wrinkly mess, and washed his hands of her. But as she got a little older, he noticed how much he liked to make her laugh. He’d turn their living room into a regular three-ring circus, playing the part of a clown, reveling in his little sister’s rabid giggles.

After she started walking, he decided to teach her how to walk up the stairs. Without hesitation, she found her way to his room, and walked right up to Pride. ‘That’s my horse, Pride,’ he’d told her. She’d cooed back, petting the horse with her chubby little hands.

It wasn’t until her second birthday that he was allowed to take her on his and Pride’s adventures (Papa had been afraid she’d fall right off). She got the hang of riding and shooting outlaws pretty fast. He’d been so proud.

One summer, it had finally happened. He’d had a growth spurt and gotten too big for Pride. He sat on the floor and looked up at his horse, explaining things. ‘I’m too big now. I’ll break you. So you’re going in Sissy’s room now, okay, Pride? She’ll take good care of you, I promise.’ He moved the horse to his sister’s room that night.

He told himself only babies cry, but that didn’t make the tears stop.

Papa started building things more often after that, leaving the farming to him and Lady, as he’d nicknamed his stepmother. Then, something amazing happened: people started to place orders for chairs, tables, cabinets and desks, even rocking horses. They started making a lot of money, though Papa would never tell him how much.

When he was ten years old, his daddy told him he ought to get an education, and did he agree? He answered yes, of course, and finally admitted how much he wanted to be a doctor. Papa had smiled and said that he’d have to work very hard to do that. ‘I will, Papa, I promise!’

He’d given his four year-old sister a big hug, Lady a kiss, and Papa a handshake, and then he’d left his home for Salt Lake City, Utah, to become a doctor and make his family proud.

At 18 he began attending a university and he’d a met beautiful girl, a poet with eyes like his mother…warm and kind. At 22 he began assisting an elderly doctor, and then he asked the beautiful girl to marry him. By 24, he had a wife, and he decided it was time to go home and open his own practice.

He became a father at 25, and almost a widower as well, were it not for his skill and perhaps God smiling on them.

Papa was ill at the time, so he and his new family moved back into his childhood home so he could take care of things. Sissy had pulled him upstairs to his old bedroom, saying she had a surprise for him. He opened the door, and there was Pride, right by his bed. Sissy smiled up at him and said she’d figured he’d want his horse back. After all, Pride was never really hers.

He explained the horse to his wife, who simply nodded and said that their son would love it someday.

His papa died in the summer. He got angry, angry at himself for failing, angry at God for not doing anything. He’d stormed into his bedroom, headed for Pride, rage in his eyes.

It was Lady that stepped in front of him, held him back, warned him not to do anything he’d regret.

He fell to his knees. Lady rested a hand on his shoulder. He looked past her, looked at his horse, and wept.

He hired someone to manage the farm and sold what was left of his father’s work. Papa was a smart man; he’d saved even more than he’d spent.

As the months went by, things got easier, just like when Mama had died. But he now truly felt the weight on his shoulders, the weight of a family and a business and how alone he really was, because he just couldn’t bring himself to burden Sissy, Lady or his beautiful wife with his troubles. They were content, and he was the man of the house. He had to be strong for them.

So, late at night, when his wife and infant son were sound asleep, he climbed out of bed and sat on the floor in front of his horse. ‘Pride…things are tough still…that’s all they’ve ever been when I’ve talked to you, I suppose. But it’s never been this hard before. Papa’s gone, I’ve got so many responsibilities, things weighing on me. I’m…afraid. I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake.’ Like always, Pride never said a word back, but…just telling the horse, just looking at it, touching it…he felt somehow at ease.

He spoke to his horse often from then on, like he had as a child, but only at night when all were asleep…until his son’s fourth birthday.

‘I’m trusting you to take good care of Pride, Junior. You know how special he is, don’t you?’ Junior nodded seriously and smiled at him. He smiled back, reveling in the joy of the day.

His son had taken care of Pride until he’d gone to college. The horse then went to his office, where children could play with it while in the waiting room.

But now, Pride had somewhere new to go. A beautiful house, built entirely by Junior, on the acreage next to his farm. Pride needed a fresh coat of paint, some sanding, and a red bow.

After all, it’s not every day your grandson turns four.

Created: Aug 12, 2012

Tags: fiction, story

Elle_James Document Media