“That stupid horse,” I hear my mother say. “You had to go and get her that stupid horse, as if that might somehow assuage your guilt, and now here we are. Watching our daughter lay unconscious in the hospital.”
Assuage. I don’t know what that word means, but it doesn’t matter. I can tell my mom is angry at my dad, like she always seems to be these days, and now she’s blaming him for buying me Thunder. And even worse, blaming Thunder for me being here, just because I fell off of him and hurt my head.
I’m not sure what my dad’s supposed to feel guilty about, either. Maybe moving out and leaving my mom and me alone? I miss the way things were when we used to be a family, the three of us. We were happy, and I thought we were the perfect family. I even asked my parents for a baby brother or sister for Christmas last year. I didn’t get my wish. Instead, my mom got mad at my dad and my dad moved to an apartment in the city, where I only seem once a week. And I got Thunder.
Yeah, I’ve always wanted a horse and I love Thunder. I think he’s the best horse ever, and the prettiest, even after what happened today. But I’d trade him in a minute to have things back to the way they used to be.
I don’t even care about a baby brother or sister anymore. I only have one wish for Christmas. I want my dad to come home. I want my family to be together again.
“Sheesh, Ashley, can you let it rest for even a minute?” my dad wants to know. “Does everything always have to be a fight with you?”
It never used to be like that. She used to smile. She used to be happy. Then she started crying a lot, and my dad left, and she cried even more. Now she doesn’t cry as much, but she always seems angry, especially with my dad.
“I don’t know, Brennan, you tell me,” she snaps. “After all, you’re the reason we’re here.”
“Yes, I know. It’s always my fault.” He gives that sigh that I’m so used to hearing, like he’s just tired and frustrated. “Everything’s my fault, and I’m sick of it. That counseling you’re getting sure doesn’t seem to be helping much. You’re still hostile all the time.”
“And gee, why might that be?”
“Just stop it, okay?” he says. “You hate me, I get that. I messed up, and I’m sorry. But that shouldn’t matter right now. What matters is Hayley, and her getting better.”
I’m glad he says that, that he seems to be thinking about me. Sometimes, since he left, I’ve wondered if he’s mad at me, or if he just doesn’t care about me as much. I worry he’ll find a new family and forget about me. That happened to a friend of mine from school. Her parents got divorced, and now her father has a new family that he sees every day, and she only sees him every two weeks.
I don’t want that to happen to me, and I don’t want them to fight anymore. I’m so sick of them fighting. They used to love each other. Why are they so angry now?
“Stop it, both of you!” I say as I snap my eyes open. “Why do you always have to yell at each other? Why can’t you ever be nice anymore?”
“Hayley, honey, you’re awake,” my mother says as she turns around and rushes to the bed. “Oh my God, Brennan. She’s awake!”
For a moment, Ashley McLaughlin forgot her anger at her husband and hurried to their daughter’s bedside. Relief washed over her as she looked into Hayley’s eyes—eyes so much like Brennan’s—and tried to gauge any lasting effects from the fall. As if she’d know what to look for? She ran a collectibles boutique and tea room. Head injuries were far from her sphere of knowledge.
“I’ll go get her doctor,” Brennan said, before rushing out into the hallway.
Ashley squeezed her daughter’s hand. “Are you okay, honey?”
“My head hurts,” Hayley said.
“I’m sure. You took a hard fall.” And scared all of us to death in the process. Ashley doubted she’d ever forget the fear she’d felt when she went outside to look for Hayley just in time to see her thrown from her horse. As scary as it was, though, she was thankful she had been there and able to respond right away. Maybe there was such a thing as a mother’s intuition that led her outside at that precise moment. “Didn’t I tell you to always wear a helmet when you ride?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Mommy.” Hayley’s voice came out in a whisper and cut through Ashley’s heart. She hadn’t meant to scold.
“It’s okay, honey. I’m not mad at you. I’ve just been worried about you. We all have.”
The door opened, and Brennan returned with the young ER doctor. “I hear our patient’s awake,” he said, moving toward the bed. “Hayley, I’m Dr. Radcliffe. Let’s see how you’re doing, okay?”
Ashley watched as the doctor conducted an examination of Hayley’s vision, hearing and reflexes. He nodded a few times, and she wondered if that might be an encouraging sign. “I’m going to ask you a few questions now. Can you tell me how old you are, Hayley?”
“Nine,” she answered.
“And what grade are you in?”
The questions went on, and Hayley seemed to answer them just fine. Dr. Radcliffe had a great bedside manner and seemed to be a natural with kids. Ashley wondered if he had any children of his own. She noticed he was wearing a wedding ring.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Dr. Radcliffe ashed Hayley.
“She fell off her horse,” Ashley supplied. Hadn’t they already been over all of that?
The doctor turned in Ashley’s direction and nodded. “Yes, but I want to hear it from Hayley. I want to see how much she remembers. It can give us an idea how her brain is functioning, especially her memory.”
It made sense, and even if the doctor’s words weren’t harsh, Ashley chastised herself for interfering. Just because she was stressed and angry right now, that was no reason to take it out on Hayley’s doctor. “Of course, I’m sorry,” she said, backing away.
“It was a nice day, and I know it’s going to get really cold soon, so I wanted to ride Thunder when I got home from school,” Hayley began. “Thunder’s my horse.” Continue reading