Her fingers felt the cold, hard coins as she shoved her hand deep inside the money jar. The feeling of the coins against her skin surprised her and caught her attention. "Wait, what am I doing?" she asked herself. She hesitated for a moment, perhaps, taking the money was not the right thing to do. None of this belonged to her. After all, this was her father's bedroom, her father's things and of course, her father's money. She shouldn't be in here. It was a matter of trust. She loved her father but she was running out of time and she really needed the money, maybe more than he did. Besides he was probably saving up for something stupid, something he didn't need and maybe, something that would find itself stored forever in a closet, after the novelty wore off. Maybe, he wouldn't even notice the missing coins, as he had so many. "No, he really didn't need this jar full of change," she said, as she stole from the one person who loved her more than anyone else. He trusted her, he believed in her and he spent every waking moment thinking of ways to make her life better.
It had been a difficult year. Peggy's cancer diagnosis had been a shock not only to him but also to Mattie. With a strong will and lots of determination, the three of them had set out together to beat her sickness, as a family. For a while, it seemed that their optimism prevailed. However, just before Thanksgiving Peggy had taken a turn for the worse and by Christmas, Peggy was gone. He knew his daughter was deeply affected by the tragedy. There was no way that he could ever fill the void that Peggy's absence had left in her life. But he tried, to make life better for her, even though at times, he felt overwhelmed. Lately, his daughter's silence had grown louder and longer. No matter what he said or did, the silence was deafening and he was bothered by it. And then, there was a problem, the missing money. At first, he refused to believe that any of the coins were missing but he had started to mark the outside of the coin jar with a faint pencil line and his eyes confirmed what he suspected. The line was so faint, you could hardly notice it."What was she doing with the money?" he wondered, "was she buying drugs?"
She walked into the supermarket and marched over to the Coinstar machine, as she fingered the zip-lock closure on the sandwich bag. She bumped into an elderly man, who turned to look at her and smiled. "You're in a hurry this morning, miss." he remarked cheerfully. Inside, she groaned. She didn't feel like talking to anyone. She just wanted to dump her change into the machine and leave with the money that she needed. Try as she could, she just could not shake the uneasy feeling and this man, reminded her of her father. "I have someone waiting for me." she said and shrugged, as she turned her back on him and started pouring the change into the machine. Twenty minutes later, with all of her dollar bills safely tucked into her pocket, she marched down the gravel driveway, her eyes searching for Emily Tompkins, the farm owner. As she got nearer to the main barn, she heard the slamming of a stall door and headed over in that direction.
"Hey sweetie, how's it going today?" asked Emily, as she saw Mattie walking towards her. Emily enjoyed having Mattie on her farm. The young girl was easy-going, quiet and had a natural way with horses. Her influence on the place was extremely positive and Emily was delighted to see her. Not only was she a committed student, Mattie was a talented rider with incredible potential. Had she been able to have children, Mattie would be the daughter she wished she could have. "Are you going to work the colt again today?" Emily smiled, as she asked her that question. "I left a box by the pasture fence. I wanted you to take the plastic bag that I put inside and cover your right hand with it, as if you are wearing a glove. Then I want you to run your hand, with the plastic covering it, all over the colt's body, all over his head. Let's get him desensitized to the sound and feeling of crackly plastic things." she explained.
Mattie listened carefully to every word that Emily said. She was a great teacher and Mattie was benefiting from all of her lessons. Not only had Mattie blossomed into a strong rider, she was also learning valuable lessons in horsekeeping. Emily was about the same age as Mattie's mother, Peggy. She knew just about everything there was to know about horses. When Mattie's mother died, Emily became a surrogate mother to Mattie. They had grown even closer than ever and Mattie spent every waking moment at the farm. It was a happier place and a temporary escape from the sadness that seemed to ooze from every pore of her home. A few weeks ago, Riva, Emily's best broodmare foaled a beautiful black colt. He was breathtaking. Mattie had fallen in love with this colt and begged Emily for a chance to buy him. Emily was touched by the sincerity of Mattie's desire. The colt was stunning and Emily knew that she could sell the colt for a lot more money than Mattie could ever pay her. This was a business and no matter how she felt personally, all of the horses had to pay their way. There was no room financially for free rides. However, this was Mattie and Emily was aware of how much Mattie had struggled over the past year. It was the first time since her mother died, that Mattie had felt so happy and Emily had not missed seeing that. The newborn colt helped to ease the pain of the loss that Mattie felt, in every second, of every day.
"It's going okay, I guess. My Dad is acting weird and getting a bit on my nerves. I try hard to be quiet and not give him any trouble. I feel like I am under a microscope. Every thing I do, everything I say is sliced and diced to become something that I never said or did. I was hoping that you would let me spend the day with you. And, I have some more money to put down on the black colt too." Mattie blurted out, as she fished the money out of her pants pocket. She gave Emily $200 in twenty dollar bills.
Emily was concerned about the hundreds of dollars that Mattie had put down on the black colt. Where was the money coming from? Was the money the primary reason why her father was acting "weird"? Maybe he had the same questions about Mattie that she had? She hoped that Mattie was just one of those frugal kids, who saved every dollar sent in every birthday card. Emily thought long about Mattie. When Mattie saw the colt for the first time, Emily recognized the look on her face. It was the same look that Emily had on her face, when she saw Riva's dam for the first time.
"Wow Mattie, between all the chores you have been doing here and the extra money that you have been giving me each week, I think you'll have him paid off before the year is over. That's quite an accomplishment. I am really proud of you." and then she asked, "have you thought of a name for him yet?"
"I like the name Estrella very much, which is the Spanish word for star. My Star...Mi Estrella. What do you think Emily?" she asked. Emily smiled. She loved the name. It was perfect.
Later on that evening, when everyone had gone home and the farm was quiet, Emily was sitting in her favorite chair, curled up with a cup of peppermint tea. It was a special time for her, to think about the course of the day's events, in the hope that she could make the following day even better. Emily was committed to living a better life. She thought of Mattie and the wonderful name she had picked out for her colt. Mi Estrella...My Star...Mattie's Star...Mattie's colt. It was yet another sign of what a special kid Mattie is. She was committed to the development of all that Mattie could be, which to Emily pointed to an outstanding horsewoman, maybe a better horsewoman than she was. Then a cloud of fear came over her, as she thought again over the money that Mattie had been giving her for the colt. The thought of the money really worried her. Where was this money coming from? She had contemplated calling her father and just checking in, casually mentioning the money, maybe even thanking him, for helping Mattie to purchase the beautiful black colt. Then, she would wait for his reaction or surprise. Mattie's father rarely came to the farm. Emily had seen him only a handful of times, usually waiting in his car for Mattie . She had heard from some of the other parents, who also had children enrolled in her lesson program, that Mattie's father was overcome with grief over his wife's death and had become somewhat reclusive. No one really saw him anymore. That was understandable, as Peggy's death had come quickly and unexpectedly. Neither Mattie nor her father were prepared to say good-bye.
The more she thought about it, the more convinced of what she needed to do. Yes, the right thing to do would be to call Mattie's father, even if it meant risking her relationship with Mattie. That was tough love at work. And Emily realized that she deeply cared for Mattie. She picked up her cordless handset and dialed the number. She heard the first ring and then, the second. And that's when it hit Emily. She was calling to tell him of the gift. GIFT? Yes, the little black colt, Mi Estrella, would officially become Mattie's colt, completely paid-in-full, no more money due and in a way, this solution would guarantee that dear, sweet Mattie, would be spending more of her time at the farm, with Emily. This would be her investment into Mattie's future and she would support Mattie in the training and upkeep of the colt. One day, Mattie would ride the young Thoroughbred in the Medal Maclay Finals. Emily would expect no less from her or from the colt.
"Hello?" the male voice pulled Emily away from all that she had been thinking. "Hi Mr. James, this is Emily Tompkins from Sandollar Ranch. Yes, everything is okay. I am calling because I wanted to talk to you about your daughter, Mattie," and then, asked, "is this a good time to talk?"
"As a matter of fact, you beat me to it Ms. Tompkins. I had planned to drive out to your place tomorrow, as I wanted to pick your brain about a few things...."
EnJOY your life...it's the only one you have,