Seth watched the grass move with the wind. It bent, and waved, and straightened, and rested, only to perform the dance again with the next breeze. The pink haze in the sky warned that it would be dark soon. Although he was unsure how long he’d been sitting in the mud, he knew he’d already wasted too much time.
He rubbed his thigh and fresh pain bit at his muscle. The dull throbbing returned, or maybe he just began noticing again. He bet that under his jeans a big black and yellow ring was forming. He knew that his mom would be horrified if he showed it to her. She’d fuss over it, running around the kitchen, looking for some remedy to use. Maybe she’d pull a cold steak or a bag of frozen peas from the freezer to press against bruise. Or maybe she’d have some kind of lotion to rub on it. Seth imagined the feel of the soothing lotion. He bet it would cause the throbbing to disappear. The idea made him smile. His mom was full of answers like that.
But his dad. Dad would have a different response. He’d want to see it, of course. Then he’d probably make some comment about how “bruises build men from boys,” or some other such meaningless phrase. He’d then likely tell a story about how one time he’d gotten a bruise three times that size and still fought through the pain to get up in the morning and do all his chores. Seth laughed to himself. Dad was always full of stories about how hard things used to be and how easy Seth had it now.
Jasper neighed and snorted, trying to get Seth’s attention.
Seth looked at the horse, allowing his eyes to drift over the saddle. It looked like it was still tight. None of the straps or buckles appeared undone. The stirrups moved gently against the horse’s flank, calling Seth to place his boot in one and mount up again.
But then Seth noticed a cloud. It floated in the distance over, slowly drifting over Jasper’s ear. Seth couldn’t decide if it looked more like a bunny or a convertible. He was sure his mom would see a bunny. That’s what she always saw, even when the cloud looked nothing like a bunny, she found a way to make it into one. His dad, on the other hand, would probably say something like, “It’s a cloud. It looks like a cloud.”
Jasper stomped his hoof and snorted, ready to return to the barn.
Seth sighed. He rubbed the grass with his hands, letting it tickle his palms. He wondered how long it would take for his parents to notice he was gone. Mom was probably getting dinner out of the oven right now. She’d been working on a shepherd’s pie when he left. He thought about the mix of mash potatoes and meat, and his stomach rumbled. Would they need to sit down at the table before they realized he wasn’t there? Even when they did, would they care? It was a Friday after all. No school in the morning meant a relaxed evening schedule. Seth was sure his mom would question his absence, but his father would say, “He’s probably out riding somewhere. Let the boy be a boy. When I was his age, I’d stay out all night in the woods.”
With his muzzle to the ground, Jasper moved close enough to Seth so the boy could feel the horse’s warm breath on his shoulder.
The stars were coming out. Seth watched as the small specks of light appeared on the horizon. An owl sounded, startling Seth. The quick movement inflamed the bruise on his hip, reminding him of his fall. He sniffled and rubbed his leg as he searched the tree line, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bird. The growing darkness of the forest glared back at him, refusing to reveal its secrets.
Jasper nuzzled Seth, pushing the boy gently.
Seth rubbed the horse’s nose and thought about what his father would say if he saw him now. “What are you just sitting there in the grass for? Nothing’s broken. Get up, boy.” Seth could feel the disappointment radiating off the imagined words. He hadn’t even been riding that fast. If Jasper hadn’t of pulled up short at that rock, Seth wouldn’t have fallen off and they’d be home already. “Stupid horse,” Seth said.
Jasper nuzzled Seth again, this time with more force, pushing Seth off balance and onto his bruised leg.
“Ouch,” Seth said, pushing the horse back.
Jasper neighed in disapproval.
Seth heard his father’s voice again. “When you fall off, the only thing left to do is shake it off, stand up, and get back on.” Seth sighed, leaned back on his elbows, and watched a firefly as it played in the grass, sparking and then going dim, careless and free of expectations.
Jasper snorted and hoofed at the dirt.
“This is your fault, you know,” Seth said. “If you just knew how to run right. What kind of horse is scared of rocks?”
Jasper nudged the boy a third time.
Seth looked at the stars. They sparkled in the twilight, announcing the coming of the moon.
Jasper snorted and stomped his foot. Seth knew it was time for the old horse to be in his stall.
“I just need another minute,” Seth said, running his hands through the grass. “Just a couple more minutes.”