It was finally spring in the woods of Montana. The bitter coldness had ended at last, and not only was the temperature warmer, but also the hearts of those who lived there. Bozeman, a chocolate-brown horse, was about to have a baby. Her life as a rodeo horse was over, for she had retired months ago.
One day, her beautiful foal arrived. Here’s how the day went… “Mama, Mama, is Bozeman OK?” I, the owner’s daughter, asked.
“Max, Bozeman’s foal is being born!” Mrs. Andrews cried to her husband.
Mr. Andrews ran out to the pasture and saw a little foal, seconds old, lying in the itchy grass. Even though the foal was covered in slime and looked very ugly, Mr. Andrews could see the kindness in her eyes.
“What’s her name going to be, Daddy?” I asked, when my mother came out.
“She deserves a very special name, Addi. So, I’m going to name her Missoula,” explained Daddy with confidence.
Just as Mr. Andrews said Missoula, her head lifted up, making her look even more real. We all got quiet, admiring her beauty. We didn’t talk for the rest of that day, and that is how that one magical day went.
* * *
Missoula was growing up livelier by the day. She walked around the pasture where she was born every day to visit her mother. She was very kind, especially with me and my friends.
One day, Mr. Levi, the Andrews’ friend, came.
“Come on in, Mr. Levi,” said Mr. Andrews through the moaning screen door.
“Max! May I meet Missoula, please?” asked Mr. Levi.
“Sure! I still can’t believe you came all the way from Joplin, Missouri!” Dad said, leading him to Missoula’s pasture.
Right as Missoula saw Mr. Levi, she steadily walked over, very curiously. I ran out and gave Missoula a big hug. Missoula lovingly and lightly nudged my neck, letting her kindness shine brighter than the sun.
“In two weeks, we are sending her off to rodeo training,” Mr. Andrews explained.
Mr. Levi’s face turned red. “Rodeo? Rodeo training? The sweetest horse I ever did meet, and rodeo?”
“What’s wrong with a rodeo?” I asked.
“It’s what her mama did,” explained Mrs. Andrews.
“Please, please, please send her to be a therapy horse at my hippotherapy ranch!” begged Mr. Levi.
“Only for one month, but if my dear Missoula isn’t happy there, she’ll go straight to rodeo training,” my daddy said, very sternly.
“Great!” called out Mr. Levi.
“What is hippotherapy?” I asked, worried poor Missoula wouldn’t be happy.
“Well, it helps kids with different diagnoses to improve posture, and many other important things,” Mr. Levi explained. “Addi, we especially need therapy horses now because the tornado wiped out more than half of them,” Mr. Levi said, trying to put an end to my jealousy, which was bubbling hotter and hotter.
I thought about how terrible it would be if Missoula got swept up by another tornado. My jealousy exploded. “I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m really mad that another kid gets to ride my dear Missoula!”
“Addi,” Mother said softly. “These children have Down syndrome, autism, brain injuries, and so much more. Don’t be selfish.”
Just then, my jealousy went away. There are so many bad characteristics in this world, but selfishness is one of the worst.
“Put Missoula to good use,” I said, not angry now, but rather proud. “She deserves it.”
* * *
Five days after Mr. Levi had left, the air was misty and gray, and a certain sadness loomed that fit the mood. Tomorrow Missoula was leaving, but now I was glad and I even knew who was riding her. The girl’s name was Sammy, and she was very smart. She had mild autism. We sent letters back and forth. She said she has always dreamed of riding a horse. I said I was really happy to fulfill her dreams. I wasn’t lying, not even the tiniest bit. I mean, I knew that Missoula was leaving, so why not help a girl my age with autism? And everyone knows that after every storm a beautiful rainbow appears. The only one who was sad now was Bozeman, who seemed to know that Missoula was leaving.
I went to bed instantly, and it seemed like only a snap of the fingers before I woke up. I gave Missoula a big kiss and told her she’d be great. She nudged me, and my biggest enemy, crying, met me again.
Then, a big truck with a cage attached to it drove into our driveway, and Mr. Levi came out. I rubbed my tears and wiped them across Missoula’s back. I wanted Sammy to know me, at least a little bit.
Missoula was loaded on the truck, and it slowly drifted away with Missoula now looking sadder than she ever had. I ran inside and let my wet face soak up on Mama’s dress. The beautiful lavender turned an ugly shade of purple, almost like the day.
I was very upset, so I went to talk to Bozeman. “Bozeman, I know you’re sad, but I have a plan,” I said, waiting for an answer.
Bozeman said, “Neigh!” as if to say, Addi, are you out of your mind?
So I just sat down on the rock by the barn door and thought—until it came to me.
“Bozeman,” I said, “what if we could raise enough money to go visit Missoula?”
Bozeman’s eyes twinkled with delight. I dashed into the house and grabbed a piece of paper. “Help Us Raise Money to Visit Beloved Horse in Joplin,” I printed. It was beautifully decorated, so I posted it up by a tree and sat down on the top of a thick root. At first, nobody came. So I chanted, “Missoula of the mountains, Missoula of the mountains!” I left the sign up and ran inside and wrote to Sammy. Here’s what I said:
I am very happy that you are riding Missoula, but I miss her very badly. I tried to set up a stand to raise money to visit her, but it won’t work. I don’t want to create more problems in your life, but please help!
When I sent it, I didn’t have the least bit of regret. All of a sudden, the doorbell rang. I went to open the door and saw Shirley, my best friend. More and more people joined behind her, each with a sympathetic look on their face. Soon almost everyone in my town stood before me. “Thank you,” I said to everyone standing out there. I had a good idea what was happening.
“Missoula left?” everyone asked in a beautiful chorus. Their eyes, so bright and sparkly, made me realize how much they cared.
“Yep,” I whispered to myself. They all took shiny coins and crisp bills from their pockets. I gasped. “Oh, thank you so much!” I said as they handed them to me one by one.
“You deserve it. You really love Missoula,” they said, and then they left.
As Shirley handed me her crisp dollar bill she said, “Good luck…”
Once everyone left I dug through the trash can and found an empty can which had held sweet peas. I dropped the money in and shook it around, just to make sure it was still there.
* * *
Three days later, I went to the mailbox and found a letter from Sammy. It said:
Thank you! Don’t worry; it won’t be another problem, but another miracle! So far, I have collected over $100. Hope to see you soon…
I tried very hard to think about that one sentence, “Not another problem, but another miracle.” Then it came to me. It made me realize I couldn’t give up and, if I did, I knew I’d never forgive myself. I asked Mama how much money it would be to fly to Joplin.
Mama said, “It would cost about $600!”
A tear slithered down my cheek, I knew I couldn’t earn that much money. Then a thought came to me. “Mama,” I said, “Shirley, you, and I must ride to Joplin in our car.”
“Now, honey, I would need at least $200 for that, and we’d need a trailer for the horse. You know I can’t spend that kind of money,” Mama said, looking heartbroken.
My eyes lit up. I ran upstairs and emptied out my can. I grabbed the money and raced downstairs. “Mama, look at this!” I cried out.
“Did you rob a bank?” Mother asked, suspiciously. (I never had a single penny in my pocket). I had $350 altogether.
“No, Mama, Sammy sent some of it to me! And everyone in town chipped in. And…” I squealed excitedly.
“Very well then, we shall make the trip to visit Missoula,” she said, interrupting me, but I could see the sides of her mouth curl up into a smile.
* * *
Mama pulled out the car and we headed for Shirley’s house. Mother explained it to Shirley’s mother, and she agreed to let her go. So we set off, having great fun together, with Bozeman in the back trailer.
Then a thought appeared in the back part of my mind. What if Missoula didn’t remember any of us? I couldn’t think of anything worse than Missoula forgetting about us, now that she is Sammy’s horse.
“Mama, is Missoula still our horse?” I asked.
“She may not live in our old barn anymore, but she sure still lives in our hearts,” Mama said, sounding like she was reading it out of a book.
“Oh,” is all I said.
She smiled and put her hand over her heart. I looked over at Shirley. Her face was lit up. Just then, I let go of all the stress and worry, and the only thoughts left were the positive ones. I was slamming my old, dark, negative door and was opening up a friendly, bright, joyful one.
“Shirley, Missoula is going to love those flowers!” I said, trying out this new room. And it felt great!
* * *
As we continued back down the road, I cried tears of joy when I spotted the sign that said “Welcome to Joplin, Missouri” in big, proud letters. We only drove a couple of minutes before I saw it. It was a worn-out red barn and had a cream X on the door. There was a green sign next to it, and in fancy cursive letters it said “Joplin’s Therapeutic Ranch.” We parked the car and walked slowly up to the barn as if this was just a dream, as if we had come all this way and were scared it wouldn’t be true. But a little girl came out of the barn, about as tall as me. Her red hair glimmered in the sun and swayed in the wind. Her blue glasses reflected Shirley, Mama, and me. I noticed that we were all smiling, but she wasn’t.
“Sammy?” I said, my stomach doing a flip-flop. Did she want us here?
“Addi, Shirley, Mrs. Andrews?” she asked, not frowning now, but looking rather pleased.
“It’s us, Sammy,” my mother said, satisfying tears skipping down her face. She ran over to Sammy and gave her a big hug.
“Before we see Missoula, I have some good news… thanks to all my friends back home, I raised an extra $150 to help rebuild Joplin!”
“Really? Thank you, we have needed money to help rebuild this old barn!”
“How’s Missoula?” Shirley asked quickly and quietly.
“Good,” Sammy said slowly, almost as if she was remembering something while she said it.
Just then, a baby horse peeked its head out of the window. Its fragile little body slipped and fell, then jumped to its feet again, looking at us curiously.
“Who’s that horse?” I asked.
Sammy took a deep breath and was quiet for a moment, smiling. “That is Yellowstone, Missoula’s baby,” she announced.
I stared at the yellow-and-cream horse in awe. I didn’t know whether to be mad that they didn’t tell me about him, or just soak up the glory of Missoula’s foal—the baby she once was. I looked over at Sammy, who wore a soft smile that made my heart melt like a popsicle in the heat. I was the popsicle surrounded by love. I decided to be happy about it.
I ran to the window and gave Yellowstone a big, truthful kiss on the nose and immediately knew this horse was going to grow up and be as meaningful to me as Missoula is. Yellowstone nudged me under my chin so I was now looking up at the sky. I saw what Yellowstone saw—a big cloud, shaped like a heart!
I ran inside the barn and saw Missoula. She was so much bigger than before. When I hugged her, my scrawny arms only went halfway around her neck. She looked at me, remembering our times together, and gave me a slobbery horse kiss. Yellowstone walked over and I realized that he was right, love was in the air.