The wind blew against the trees, making them sway gently, their new leaves brushing each other lightly. The sweet sound of birdsong met my ears, along with the babbling of the stream and the gentle thu-thump of my horse’s hooves against the soft dirt track. It was a lovely day for a trail ride. The sun was shining, the cherry tree was in bloom, and everything was beautiful. My horse, too, was enjoying it. Her ears were pricked up, her trot was brisk, and the wind that ruffled her mane was keeping the flies away, too.
She was an odd horse, to be sure. I had been there to witness her birth, and I was the first one to point out the oddest thing about her. “Look at her side!” I had whispered in astonishment. And there, as plain as day, was the word “sea.” She was paint (brown and white), so the spots were no surprise, but that one odd collection of spots on her left side…
So we called her Seahorse. The first question people asked after we had told them about Seahorse’s word (as we referred to it) was “So, does she like water?” and the answer is “No, she loathes it with a passion.” And that’s right! I can’t even get her to cross the bridge over the stream! And whenever it rains, she’ll do anything to get inside.
I live on a ranch, so there are a ton of horses and other animals around, but Seahorse is my favorite. I think it’s because I identify with her. You see, my name is Val. My mom says it stands for valor, but I always say it stands for Valerie. I’m not very brave. I’m scared of spiders, rats, crows, dogs, thunderstorms, and the dark. So, like Seahorse, I don’t really live up to my name.
The day was made even more bright and pretty by the promise of Becky’s arrival. She was my best friend and nothing at all like me. She was strong, confident, and didn’t have a name she had to live up to. She didn’t even look like me. She was tall, fair-skinned and had straight jet-black hair and green eyes. I was medium, tanned and had curly honey-blond hair and brown eyes. But we both loved horses, and that was enough!
* * *
The day had turned dark and oppressive by the afternoon. Thunder rumbled slightly in the distance and the sky was completely clouded over. I was watching out the window for the red pickup I knew would be coming into the driveway any second.
When it did, I jumped up and ran down the stairs yelling, “Becky’s here! Becky’s here!”
When I got outside I slowed down, and we gave each other high fives. We ran inside, laughing and talking. “So, what about our trail ride, Val?” asked Becky.
I looked outside. “I dunno, Beck, Seahorse hates rain and Arthur hates loud noises.” Arthur was the horse Becky always rode when she came over to my house.
“Oh we’ll be fine.”
We checked with my mom and she said it would be OK as long as we came back if it started to rain.
It only took us a few minutes to tack up and get our horses out on the trail. I could tell Arthur was getting nervous. His tail was swishing back and forth irritably and he kept starting at little noises. “Becky, let’s go back,” I said.
“We’re fine! Quit worrying!” snapped Becky in her usual confident manner.
It started to rain.
“We need to turn back! We told Mom we’d go straight back if it started to rain!” I said, kind of desperately.
“It isn’t raining, it’s sprinkling!” she shot back.
In a few minutes the storm had broken loose. “Becky! We need to turn back!” I yelled over the roar of the storm.
“Val!” I heard her over the thunderous noise. “I can’t control Arthur! He’s…” CRRACK! A huge thunderclap cut her off, and I heard the frightened scream of a horse and saw Arthur bolting off into the woods.
Without thinking, I urged Seahorse onwards. In my mind, I knew that if Arthur reached the stream, he would jump it, and Becky would not be able to hold on.
Seahorse came to a sliding halt when we reached the stream, which had now become a torrent. Sure enough, Arthur jumped the stream, and Becky fell into the raging water.
Without thinking, I kicked Seahorse until she dove into the water. Make no mistake, I was terrified, but I reached out my hand and grabbed a handful of Becky’s shirt. I pulled her gasping and panting up onto Seahorse and urged her onto the shore. I dismounted from Seahorse and grabbed Arthur’s reins. The fact that he had lost his rider seemed to have puzzled him enough to stay put. And, besides, the rain was lessened by all of the trees.
It took me a while to lead the horses back to the barn. Arthur kept startling at the thunder, and, after her heroic show of bravery, Seahorse did not want to cross the bridge. But I finally got back to the house, and, by the time I did, it was sprinkling again. “Whoever controls the weather around here should be put in a rubber room,” I murmured to myself as I helped Becky off and put the horses away.
* * *
Becky’s mom made a huge fuss over us and mine called the hospital (who said she would be fine with some rest and a warm blanket) and my dad made everyone hot chocolate.
I sat down next to Becky, careful not to spill any of the hot drink I had in my hands. “You’re being unusually quiet,” I told her softly.
She smiled slightly. “Well, part of it is aftershock, I mean, it was a pretty dramatic thing that happened. And part of it is just that I’m thinking…” She trailed off and sipped at her cocoa.
“What?” I asked after a minute. “
Well, first of all, it was a very stupid thing I did. I should have gone back the first time you told me to. Second, you saved my life. No really!” she said when I blushed and looked down. “You did. And I’m really grateful. Third, what you did back there was brave. Really brave. I’ve always thought that being brave meant you aren’t afraid. It doesn’t. Being brave means that you’re afraid to do something, but you do it anyway. You were brave. I was just…” She trailed off again.
“A moron?” I supplied helpfully.
She grinned. “Thanks. Remind me to write you out of my will.” We laughed.
* * *
After Becky and her mom left, I went to check on the horses. Poor Arthur was asleep in his stall. I put an apple in his feed bucket, knowing he would find it when he woke up.
Seahorse was awake but very tired-looking, and she crunched happily on the apple I gave her. I patted her on the head. “You lived up to your name today, girl.” And so did I, I thought, smiling. A bird chirped somewhere outside, and in her stall window, I could see a rainbow. I smiled. The weather around here really was crazy.