The cicadas chirped in the blazing summer heat, and the shimmer in the air combined with the cicada symphony made the world feel dream-like. Tall wheat swayed gently in the fields, golden waves dominating the view in every direction.
It was heaven for Josephine. She lay sprawled on an old Mexican blanket, spread out in a haphazard rectangle on the wheat, the long stalks waving around her, looking up at a square of clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight. She couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
She had her eyes closed, humming the tune to a well-loved country song when a shadow blocked out the warm sun on her face. She squinted her eyes open and gazed up at the silhouette blocking her heat source, a shining halo around the figure’s head where the sun was still trying to reach her with its bright caress.
“Nate, whaddayou want?” Josephine asked, a hint of grumbling tainting her southern accent.
Nate moved out from in front of the sun, blinding Josephine momentarily. She groaned and sat up, leaning back on her hands, legs stretched out in front of her.
“Jose, it’s Desert Rose. There’s been an accident.”
Josephine leapt to her feet, the calm feeling she had been enjoying vanishing with the wind.
“What happened? Never mind, I gotta go see her. Right now. Is she at home?” Without waiting for an answer, Josephine took off through the wheat field, Nate scooping up the blanket she had left behind and following after her.
Desert Rose had been only two years old when Josephine had gotten her at age thirteen as a gift from her parents. For years she had been begging for her own horse, riding those that her family boarded in their stable even though she technically wasn’t supposed to. She just couldn’t stay away. Riding was as essential to her life as breathing. Without it, she was sure she would die.
When her parents had brought her into the stables on the day of her thirteenth birthday, and presented her with Desert Rose, then called Tinkerbell, Josephine couldn’t believe her luck. The dusty grey and white horse was exactly what she had wanted. She was what Josephine had knelt beside her bed and crinkled her eyes closed and folded her hands together, praying and hoping beyond hope that she would get for her birthday this year at last.
For the past nine years, Desert Rose and Josephine had grown up together, side by side. Rain or shine, Josephine would spent every afternoon out in the paddock with her horse. No other horse would do for Josephine. She knew that Desert Rose wouldn’t live forever, but it was easy enough to pretend in the moment, that their partnership would never end.
All things, good or bad do, of course, inevitably come to an end.
Josephine skidded into the stables, located on the twelve-acre property her parent’s owned, her cowboy boots kicking up a cloud of dust around her. The first person she spotted was her mom, dark hair in a braid and a worried crinkle on her forehead between her eyes.
“Where is she?” Josephine asked, a little louder than necessary.
“Out in the paddock, hon. She ain’t lookin’ good. I’m sorry, baby.”
Josephine ran out to the paddock, where her father was kneeling over Desert Rose who was lying on the ground in the center of the fenced area, breathing heavily. Jack, the family dog, paced back and forth beside the horse, head low to the ground, tail between his legs. He looked as uncertain about the situation as Josephine felt.
She dropped to her knees beside the horse, rubbing her hand over the horse’s beautiful dappled flank.
“Daddy, what happened?”
Josephine’s dad looked up at her, brown eyes full of sadness. “Her and Alamo were out here together. I was runnin’ ’em around and Rose tripped on somethin’, a rock or somethin’. I ain’t never seen her trip on somethin’ before. She was a bit ahead of Alamo when she went down, so fast I hardly seen her fall. Must’ave spooked Alamo though, ’cause he reared up and before I could get to him…well, he kicked your Rose in the head and it don’t look good. Dr. James is on his way though.”
Nate had finally caught up to Josephine while her father was explaining the situation. He put a hand on the girl’s back as tears began to drip down her face slowly.
“You don’t know what Dr. James is gonna say, Jose. Don’t worry til there’s actually somethin’ to worry about.”
As Nate said the words, Desert Rose let out a shuddering breath, causing the grass under her nose to shiver, as if it was aware of the intense love and sadness dwelling among the shiny green blades in that very moment. As the grass stilled, so did the horse it cushioned, gently caressing her as she passed on.
Josephine almost choked on the grief that filled her chest and she laid her head down on the horse’s side, stroking her gently while her father and Nate sat on either side of her. Jack nuzzled up to Josephine’s side, sensing her pain and trying to help in the best way he knew how. Nate rubbed her back while her dad stroked her hair and the four sat quietly, mourning the passing of a beautiful creature and good friend.
Josephine lead Montana Gold into the stables after a long day out riding. The horse slurped up water like she had never come across it before, then munched hungrily on the hay Josephine scooped for her.
A year had passed since Desert Rose’s accident, and Josephine had spent the whole year struggling to move on, but when she got Montana Gold three weeks earlier, the reddish-brown mare had stolen her heart. Josephine had never expected another horse to come into her life so quickly, but when she saw Montana Gold, there was no stopping the inevitable.
Josephine couldn’t live without riding, without the feeling of the horse’s powerful muscles underneath her, carrying her along with unstoppable force. It was essential, perfect and powerful. Though Montana Gold would never replace her first love, Desert Rose, Josephine’s appreciation for her new mare never wavered.
She spent as much time with Montana Gold as she had with Desert Rose, and it surprised her when she realized that she felt the same amount of love for both horses.
It was just as unstoppable as her horse.
The wheat still blew in the field, and the sun still shone on the dirt and the grass and the girl who loved riding never forgot.
And it was heaven once again.