Chase

Chase

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chase

There was a definite quiver in Chase’s lower lip as he followed his mother down the long, descending sidewalk to the parking lot at the orthodontist’s office. This was going to be the worst summer of any that the 11-year-old boy had known. The doctor had been kind and gentle with him, but the time had come for him to face the reality that he would be fitted with braces to correct a misalignment of his teeth. The correction would hurt, he couldn’t eat hard or chewy foods, and he thought he would be made fun of by his friends. No words passed between the mother and son as they drove back to the small, country home. It was only 17 acres, but it was a sanctuary for one dog, two cats, a rabbit and a multitude of squirrels and birds.

The decision to have Chase’s teeth corrected had been a difficult one for his mother, Cindy. Having been divorced for five years, she was the sole provider for her young son. Little by little, she had saved up the $1,500 required to have the teeth corrected.

Then one sunny afternoon, the person she cared for the most, Chase, fell in love. Chase and his mother had gone to visit the Rakers, who were old family friends, at their farm about 50 miles away. Mr. Raker took them out to the barn and there she was. She held her head high as the trio approached. Her light mane and tail rippled on a gentle breeze. Her name was Lady, and she was everything a beautiful mare should be. She was saddled, and Chase had his first taste of horsemanship. There was an instant attraction, which seemed to be mutual.

“She is for sale, if you want to buy her,” Mr. Raker had told Cindy. “For $1,500 you get the mare, all the papers on her and the horse trailer to haul her.” For Cindy, it was a big decision. The $1,500 she had saved would fix Chase’s teeth or buy Lady for Chase, but it wouldn’t do both. Finally, she determined that getting the braces was the best long-term decision for Chase. It was a tearful decision for both mother and son. But Cindy promised to take Chase to the Raker farm to see Lady and ride her as often as they could.

Chase reluctantly began his long torturous course of treatment. With little courage and a low tolerance for pain, Chase submitted himself for the impressions, fittings and never-ending tightening of the expanders. He gagged, cried and pleaded, but the orthodontic correction went ahead. The only shining moments of Chase’s life that summer came when his mother took him to ride Lady. There, he was free. Horse and rider would go galloping into the big pastures and into a world that knew no pain or suffering. There was only the steady rhythm of the horse’s hooves on the sod and the wind in his face. Riding Lady, Chase could be John Wayne, “tall in the saddle,” or one of the knights of old, off to rescue the fair maiden in distress, or anything his imagination let him be. At the end of his long rides, Chase and Mr. Raker would rub down Lady, clean her stall and feed her, and Chase would always give his new friend lumps of sugar. Cindy and Mrs. Raker spent their afternoons together making cookies and lemonade, and watching Chase ride his new best friend.

The goodbyes between Chase and the mare lasted as long as Cindy would permit. Chase would hold the horse’s head in his hands, and then rub her strong shoulders and comb his fingers through her mane. The gentle animal seemed to understand the affection given to her and would stand patiently, now and then nipping at his shirt sleeve. Each time they left the Raker farm, Chase feared that this might be his last look at the mare. Lady was, after all, for sale, and the market was good for that quality of riding stock.

The summer wore on with repeated tightening of the expander in Chase’s mouth. All of the discomfort would be worth it because this would make room for his yet undescended teeth to come in, he was told. Still, there was the agony of food particles trapped by the appliance, and that ever-constant pain of his facial bones stretching. All of the $1,500 would soon be used up on his dental work, and nothing would remain with which to purchase the mare he loved so much. Chase asked his mom countless questions, hoping for an answer that would eventually satisfy him. Could they borrow the money to buy the mare? Would Grandpa help them buy her? Could he get a job and save his money to buy the horse? His mother fielded the questions as best she could. And when all else failed, she would quietly slip away to shed her own tears, that she could not provide for all the wants of her only child.

A crisp September morning brought the opening of school, which also brought the big yellow school bus to the end of the lane at Chase’s home. The schoolchildren took turns recounting the things they did during summer vacation. When his turn came, Chase talked about other subjects, but he never mentioned the golden-colored mare named Lady. The last chapter in that story had not yet been written, and he was afraid of how it would end. The battle with the stretching appliance in his mouth had been won, and the less obtrusive retainer had taken its place.

With eager anticipation, Chase looked forward to the third Saturday, when his mother had promised to take him to the Rakers’ to ride Lady. Chase was up early on the appointed day. He fed his rabbits, dogs and cats, and even found time to rake leaves in the backyard. Before Chase and his mother left the house, he filled his jacket pocket with sugar cubes for the golden-maned mare, who he knew would be waiting for him. To Chase, it seemed an eternity before his mother turned the car off the main road and down the lane to the Raker farm. Anxiously, Chase strained his eyes for a glimpse of the mare that he loved so much. As they drew closer to the farm house and barns, he looked, but Lady was nowhere to be seen. Chase’s pulse pounded as he looked expectantly for the horse trailer. It was not there. Both the trailer and horse were gone. His worst nightmare had become a reality. Someone had surely bought the horse, and he would never see her again.

Chase began to feel an emptiness in the pit of his stomach that he had never known before. They got out of the car and ran up to the front door of the house. No one answered the doorbell. Only the big collie, Daisy, was there with tail wagging to greet them. While his mother sadly looked on, Chase ran to the barn where the mare had been kept. Her stall was empty, and the saddle and blanket were also gone. With tears streaming down his cheeks, Chase returned to the car and got in. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye, Mom,” he whimpered.

On the drive back home, both Cindy and Chase sat quietly with their own thoughts. The wound of losing his friend would be slow to heal, and Chase only hoped that the mare would find a good home with someone to love and take care of her. She would be in his prayers, and he would never forget their carefree times together. Chase’s head was bowed and his eyes closed as Cindy pulled into the driveway of their home. He did not see the red, shiny horse trailer by their barn, or Mr. Raker standing beside his blue pickup truck. When Chase finally looked up, their car had stopped and Mr. Raker was opening Chase’s door. “How much money have you got saved up, Chase?” he asked.

This could not be real. Chase rubbed his eyes in disbelief. “Seventeen dollars,” he answered in a halting voice.

“That’s just what I wanted for this mare and trailer,” said a smiling Mr. Raker. The transaction that followed would have rivaled any on record for speed and brevity. In only moments, the new, proud owner was climbing into the saddle, astride his beloved mare. Horse and rider were soon out of sight around the barn, headed for the open pasture beyond.

Mr. Raker never explained his actions, other than to say, “This is the best I have felt in years!”

Bruce Carmichael

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