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Kristiena was with her pony, Buttercup, a beautiful golden mare. She was riding her bareback through the meadows, holding onto her pretty black mane. She saw butterflies dancing, rabbits peeking out of their holes to watch the girl and her magnificent horse…

“Kristiena! Earth to Kristiena! What is eighty-five divided by five?” Kristiena’s teacher, Mr. Howard, demanded.

Kristiena blushed. “Um… nineteen?” she guessed. As the other kids laughed, she felt her face redden more.

Mr. Howard ignored them. Looking straight at her, he said, “If you were paying attention, you would have known that Jackson correctly answered seventeen. Please stay after class.” Looking away, he asked the entire class, “Now, what is one hundred twenty-seven divided by eight? Don’t let the remainder trick you!”

After school was dismissed, Kristiena slowly made her way up to Mr. Howard’s desk. He looked at her sternly. “Kristiena, you have been such a good student all year, and now, all of a sudden, I’ve caught you in la-la land five classes in a row. Is there anything going on?”

Kristiena shook her head. “No, sir. I’m just… finding it harder to pay attention in class. It will stop soon, I promise.”

“I hope it will. If I catch you again, I’m afraid I will have to call your parents, and nobody wants that.”

“Yes, sir. You won’t have to, sir.” And with a nod of approval from Mr. Howard, Kristiena quickly walked out into the hallway to walk home. It was a gray day, and there was a bitter wind. Just for once, she wished that her parents didn’t have to work so late and could come pick her up from school, or at least pay bus fees.

The Pony tied to a tree pony
What was more beautiful than the clearing itself was what was in it

Once she was home, Kristiena grabbed an orange and sat down to do her homework. Or at least, she thought she was going to do her homework. But her mind drifted back to the meadows and her dream ride with Buttercup.

The truth was, ever since Kristiena had seen the pony in the barn and saw the sign that said, “For Sale: One Mare Named Buttercup,” she knew she had to have that dear pony. She had nagged her parents countless times about it, but each time their answer was the same: “We don’t have enough money to spare.” And Kristiena knew it was true. But she couldn’t stop hoping. So, naturally, with the mixture of hope and sadness, what else could she do but daydream?

Kristiena had been daydreaming there for a while when her mom walked in. “Honey, I’m home! Is your homework done?”

Kristiena jumped. “Huh? Oh. Um, not really…”

Her mom’s face fell. “Oh, honey, I know you want that pony, but you’ve got to stop focusing so much on it. I heard from a kid in your class you had to stay after school because you were daydreaming— for the fifth time in a row!”

Kristiena was embarrassed and, truth be told, rather upset. She loved her mom and wanted to keep her happy; for her mom to be upset because of her was one of the worst things that could happen to Kristiena. “Mom, I’m really trying harder… it will stop, and soon, it’s just that I really want her…” She trailed off, realizing she was only making her mom feel worse.

“Kristiena, baby, I know you wish that you were in a rich family, and you could have that pony, but you were born to this family… and I’m trying so hard… I’m sorry…” And her voice broke. Then Kristiena saw her mom do something she had never known mothers to do.

Kristiena’s mother was crying.

“No, Mom, I didn’t mean it like that… I didn’t mean that I wanted to be rich… Mom, it’s different, I just wish that… Mom…” Kristiena tried in vain to make her mother feel better, but her attempts were unsuccessful. “Mom, I don’t want to be in a different family, you’re the best mom ever… you and Dad are the best family for sure,” Kristiena tried.

“But you hardly ever see us,” said her mother, still crying and hugging herself. Feeling terrible as she watched her mother cry, Kristiena did the one thing that seemed right: She snuggled into her mother’s arms and cried with her.

*          *          *

The next morning, Kristiena woke up. She felt sore, stiff. The vague memories of the night replayed in her mind: Her mom had struggled over to the couch with her when she was almost cried out and Kristiena was almost asleep. Then, her dad came home and snuggled next to them. Kristiena was asleep and just barely woke up to see him come in, then fell asleep to the background murmur of her parents’ voices. After a while, Dad had carried Kristiena upstairs to bed and they kissed her goodnight.

It was only after the replay that Kristiena looked at her clock. It was ten o’clock! She was late to school for sure. Rushing to get dressed, she suddenly came to a conclusion: Her parents must have let her sleep in! Just the same, Kristiena did her morning routine. When she was done, she went downstairs. Her parents were usually long gone by now, so when she smelled coffee brewing, Kristiena was surprised.

“Mom? Dad?” she called out as she walked into the kitchen. Her mom stood by the coffee maker as she waited for it to brew, and she smiled at Kristiena when she walked into the kitchen.

“Hey, baby girl,” her mom said, rather wearily. “Come take a walk in the backyard with me. I want to talk with you.”

Kristiena followed her mom out the back door into their rather large backyard. She and her mother just walked for a few minutes before her mother spoke. “Kristiena,” she began, “I want you to know that, although we’re away a lot, and you don’t usually see us very often, your dad and I love you very, very much. And even if you feel as if we don’t take much interest in your wants and priorities, I want you to know that we do. If you wanted to play soccer very badly, Kristiena, then we would look into soccer leagues. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. But then again, sometimes, it does.”

Something in the way that her mom spoke, the words, perhaps, or the tone of her voice, made Kristiena feel very warm and content, gave her a feeling that she would never need or want anything else. In that walk around the backyard, her love for her mother had grown immensely, and it was wonderful.

And that is what made what came next even better and more meaningful.

Her mother led her around to the small “forest” they had in the backyard and through it to a beautiful clearing in the middle. But what was more beautiful than the clearing itself was what was in it.

There was the mare from Kristiena’s daydreams, the horse she had yearned for, the beautiful, magnificent Buttercup.

*          *          *

From that day on, whenever she felt unhappy or discontent, Kristiena would go out to Buttercup, ride her, and talk to her. When she was mad and Buttercup was too old to be ridden, Kristiena would wash the gentle horse as they talked, the human in words and the animal in neighs and whinnies. And when the sorrowful day of Buttercup’s death came around, the story of Buttercup had the same power that the real horse had had; and the story of the dear old parents and the dear old horse was passed along through generations, with the power of the horse, girl, and parents’ love passed along with it.

The Pony Mackenzie Crum
Mackenzie Crum, 10
Olathe, Kansas

The Pony Kate Bailey
Kate Bailey, 11
Bethesda, Maryland