Amy buried her face in Storm’s mane, breathing in the pony smell she had come to love.
‘Is he going to be ok now?’
Cait rubbed her eyes. She looked exhausted. ‘I think so. He’s up and eating, so that’s a good sign.’
‘I’m going to fetch mum.’ Amy hauled open the stable door and ran across the lawn towards the house. The grass was wet with dew. The rain had stopped it was one of those beautiful, clear, still Connemara days.
She pulled open the kitchen door.
‘How is Storm?’ Amy’s mum was in the kitchen, making coffee, her dressing down tied around her middle.
‘He’s up and eating. I think he’s going to be ok.’
‘Oh darling, that’s brilliant.’ Her mum crossed the room, her bare feet padding on the tiled floor. She put down her coffee mug, slopping some of the liquid down in her haste and enfolded Amy in a big hug. ‘I’m so glad. I hardly slept last night worrying about you both. And Cait.’
She crossed to the window and looked out, at the stable, where Cait was just leading Storm out into the field. ‘Thank goodness,’ she breathed.
Amy stood beside her mum, tucking herself under one of her arms. ‘Yes, thank goodness.’
‘I bet you’re starving, aren’t you? And Cait?’
Amy nodded, now she thought about it, she was very hungry. It seemed like forever since she had last eaten. At some stage during the night her mum had brought hot chocolate and biscuits out to the stables, but that seemed a very long time ago.
‘Go and fetch Cait. I’ll make some breakfast then I’ll run Cait home in the car, she must be exhausted.’
‘Mum’s making us some breakfast,’ Amy crossed the field towards where Amy was leaning on the wooden wall of the stable, watching Storm graze. He ate hungrily, cropping quickly at the sweet grass.
Great, that’s lovely. I’d better walk home afterwards.’
‘No.’ Amy smiled. ‘Mum’s going to drive you.’
‘Thanks, that’s very kind of her.’
They walked side by side across the field into the garden and then into the house.
‘Eggs and sausages and…’ Amy’s mum crossed to the dresser which took up the whole of one wall in the kitchen. She opened a cupboard door and pulled out a loaf of bread, wrapped in a clean tea towel. ‘My first attempt at brown bread.’ The bread was fresh and smelt delicious.
‘Looks delicious,’ Cait breathed in the fresh bread smell.
‘I’m not sure,’ Amy’s mum smiled. ‘I’ve never been much of a cook. Too busy painting.’
She heaped sausages and a fried egg onto each of their plates and cut thick slices of the brown bread which she spread with butter, watching with a contented smile as the girls ate ravenously.
‘You must be worn out Cait,’ Amy’s mum said when the girls pushed their plates away.
‘I am so tired,’ Cait yawned, putting her arms in front of her on the table and resting her head on them.
‘Come on. I’m going to get you home before you go to sleep,’ she rubbed Cait’s hair gently. ‘Amy, will you go up to bed for a while and try to get some rest?’
Amy nodded, yawning as she waved goodbye to Cait and then heading tiredly up the stairs, where she sank gratefully down on her bed. She was asleep within moments, vaguely aware of the car pulling out of the drive as her mum dropped Cait home.
It was lunchtime before she woke again. The bright sunlight playing on her eyelids woke her. For a moment she thought she was in the stable, watching Storm’s battle between life and death. Then she remembered. Stretching luxuriously, she wriggled out from under the duvet, and leant on her windowsill. Storm was in the field, grazing happily, his tail swishing occasionally. Amy sighed with blissful relief. Her pony had survived. He was home safely and so was she.
‘There you are,’ Amy’s mum was in the studio painting. The work she was doing was a vast canvas of bright colours, yellows, blues and a beautiful pinky purple. ‘I was going to come and wake you.’ She glanced at her watch and sighed, ‘Oh that was ages ago. I got distracted by the painting, as usual.’
‘It’s ok,’ Amy said. She’d once hated her mum being so absorbed in her work, but now she understood that she needed the time alone to make her fabulous creations. ‘That’s the beach, right?’ Amy tilted her head on one side, admiring the painting. Her mum was incredibly talented.
‘That’s right. It’s abstract, just the colours the impression of the sea and the coast and the sky. It’s going to be part of my new exhibition.’
‘It’s lovely, can I come to the exhibition too?’
‘Of course you can, I’d love that. Perhaps Cait could come too? We could go and have dinner somewhere. Celebrate the sales I’ll make. Be really grown up together.’
Amy crossed the room and hugged her mum, breathing in the familiar smell of paint that seemed to soak into her hair and clothes.
‘I’m going out to Storm.’ Amy disentangled herself from her mum’s hug.
‘Come and tell me when its time for dinner.’ Amy’s mum turned back to her painting, immediately lost in the work she was doing.
Outside it was warm, the sun casting shadows across the lawn. From below the house Amy could hear the sea, cascading on the beach. Storm lifted his head as she walked to the fence and then curious in case she had treats, came across the field towards her.
Amy stroked his face, feeling the bony cheeks and his soft muzzle beneath her fingers. How she had changed this summer. A few months ago she hated Storm, she hated her mum for getting him for her and had longed to be back in the city. Now here felt like home, the gorgeous scenery and the incredible beauty of the beach was something she never wanted to leave.
A few days later she telephoned Cait to ask she should start to ride Storm again. Cait agreed. He’d seemed fine since he’d been ill, there had been no reoccurrence and he was eating well again.
Amy saddled Storm, tying him up to the stable wall. At the start of the summer she would have been afraid to do this on her own, now everything felt normal as if she had done it all of her life. Storm stood patiently while she moved around him competently. It felt good now, to be around him, she wasn’t afraid. It was amazing to think how much she had hated him then. Now she adored him and knew she would never let him go again.
The saddle and bridle on, Amy clipped her helmet in place beneath her chin, turned Storm away from the stable and mounted up, swinging herself easily into the saddle. Her mum, watching from the fence smiled proudly as Amy rode out of the field. ‘You look like you’ve been riding all of your life.’ Amy smiled, leaning down to kiss her mum. ‘I’ll come and remind you to go to bed later,’ she smiled, knowing that once she’d gone her mum would go back to her painting and forget everything around her except the piece she was working on.
Amy trotted Strom up the lane towards Cait’s home. She loved the bouncy feel of his stride beneath her and didn’t even mind when he stopped dead to look at an ice cream wrapper, stuck on a bush that some thoughtless person had discarded. ‘Go on,’ Amy nudged him with her heels. Storm, snorted in protest, his ears pricked so sharply they nearly met in the middle, but he obeyed her and trotted past the scary wrapper.
A short time later Mrs Dunmore’s prizewinning donkey galloped across its field to say hello. Braying loudly as it reached the stone wall that bordered the roadside. Storm just pricked his ears and glanced at the donkey before carrying on. Not so long ago, Amy thought, the very sight of the donkey would have terrified Storm and had her scrambling off his back and leading him home.
Cait was ready when Amy arrived. Her pony, Drizzle was tacked up and waiting in the stable beside the house. ‘Mountains or beach?’ Cait asked, leading Drizzle out of the stable and getting on him.
‘Beach,’ Amy replied, grinning at her friend. At one time she would have been scared of riding anywhere let alone the beach, now the wide open expanse of sand seemed to be the perfect place.
The girls trotted side by side down the lane towards the beach, the ponies happy to be together.
The big beach, even though it was still summer, was deserted. Very few tourists made their way here. There were smaller, not as nice beaches further along the coast where it was easier to park and get to the shops for supplies.
Storm began to jog as his hooves touched the soft sand, knowing what was coming. He put in a small buck which only made Amy laugh. Cait grinned at her. ‘You’d have fallen off in shock if he had done that a while ago.’
Amy laughed, ‘I would. Not now though,’ she turned Storm to face the far end of the beach and nudged him into a canter. His ears flickered forwards and backwards as Drizzle caught up with him. Side by side they cantered the length of the beach, going into the shallow water, feeling the spray splashing at their legs and dotting their clothes with salty water.
At the far end of the beach they slowed to a walk, before playing in the sand dunes, cantering up and down the sandy slopes. Further along, pulled high up away from the waterline they came across a currach. Cait and Dizzle flew over it. Amy turned Storm to the boat, feeling him soar into the air as he leapt it.
They cantered back down the beach and then walked the length of it again, so the ponies were cooled off and didn’t always associate the beach with galloping. Reins loose, they chatted as they rode back off the beach up to the lane where they parted, Cait returning home and Amy turning Storm towards where she lived.
The ponies, parted, whinnied back at one another. Amy could feel Storm’s belly vibrate as he shouted for his friend. After a short while though he settled down and walked calmly home, completely ignoring the nosy donkey and the flapping ice cream wrapper.
As Amy got closer to her home she spotted a car in the driveway. It was her father’s. What did he want she wondered, remembering with shame the last conversation she’d had with him. Had he come home? She realised now she didn’t want to be the one to force him to come home, just because she was being selfish and horrible.
She rode Storm into the field, took off his saddle and bridle, brushed the dried sweat from his back and finally there was nothing else she could do to delay having to go in.
‘Hi Amy,’ her dad sat in the kitchen, leaning up against the breakfast bar, a mug of coffee in front of him. Opposite sat her mum, her hair piled in a heap on her head, cascading down her cheeks and as always, her tunic covered in bright paint streaks. Beside her dad was his girlfriend, ‘Great to see you Amy.’ She said.
Amy poured herself a glass of water and went to sit beside them. It was amazing how grown ups could always forget a row, and then act as if it had never happened. Amy cringed inwardly at how horrible she had been to her dad’s girlfriend.
‘We’ve got something to tell you.’ Her dad said. He slid off his stool and came across the kitchen to stand beside Amy.
‘What?’ Amy could hardly speak, her throat felt so tight.
‘My girlfriend and I are getting married. I wanted you and your mum to be the first to know.’
‘Mum?’ Amy said, glancing at her mum. Instead of the tears she’d expected Amy’s mum was smiling happily.
She met Amy’s eyes and smiled. ‘I think its wonderful,’ she reached across the breakfast bar and took his girlfriend’s hand. ‘I hope you’ll both be very happy together.’
His girlfriend nodded. ‘I hope so too.’
‘Amy,’ her dad said, putting his arm around her shoulders and steering her gently across the kitchen and out into the garden. ‘I know what you said before. About me coming back.’
‘Dad,’ Amy sobbed, ‘I’m so sorry for what I said. It was mean. Stupid.’
‘No,’ he gently turned her to face him, crouching down so their faces were on the same level. ‘I’m proud of the way you stood up for yourself and for your mum.’
Amy shook her head, pulling out of his grip. She walked to the fence and stood looking across the field towards Storm. Normally he would come across to her, but she supposed he was hungry after their ride. She wanted to bury her face in his soft mane and cry for everything, for the loss of the person she had been, for how horrible she had been to both of her parents.
‘How do you feel about me getting married again?’ her dad came to stand beside her, leaning on the fence.
‘Dad, its lovely,’ Amy said, gently. And it was, her dad belonged in the city, he would hate it here. And her parents had not been happy together for a long time. Amy’s mum had her painting and the house in Connemara which she loved, that had always been her dream. Her dad had his life in the city and had now found someone lovely who he could share it with. Things had turned out ok for them both. She had no right to demand they stay together just for her sake.
‘I’m really happy for you.’
‘Thank you. And you?’ Her Dad slipped his hand into hers. ‘You’re happy here, no regrets about not being in the city any more.’
Amy shook her head. ‘No, I love it here, with mum and my pony.’
‘He’s lovely,’ her dad said. ‘I was so proud of you riding down the road when I saw you.’
As if he knew they were talking about him Storm came across the field. Amy grinned at her dad, he was such a city person, he had no idea how to react around ponies. He tapped Storm on the nose, just like she had when she had first met him.
‘Like this dad,’ Amy said, rubbing her hand down the length of Storm’s face, showing her dad what to do.
‘There’s one more thing I want to ask you.’ Her dad said, copying the way to stroke Storm and running his hand down his face.
‘Will you be a bridesmaid?’
- The Cat’s Whiskers – Chapter Twelve
- Print. Write. Sell. Chapter Twelve