White Chapel, Wyoming
At first there was only pain. It battled up and down his chest. He tried to talk, but some kind of mask covered his mouth. He raised one hand and an instant stab of pain shot through him. Then his vision blurred. It took all the strength he had to keep his eyes open. He slipped in and out of consciousness. He stared at the blurry shapes around him. There was some kind of movement off to the side. His fists clenched the sheets as he tried to focus, but there was nothing beyond the pain and each breath was sheer torment.
A shadowy figure loomed above him. Something tugged at his wrist. He struck out blindly and heard a muffled curse. Something slapped his arm. His eyes blurred again and he heard a low cry. The blurring was everywhere now. Suddenly it became hard to breathe. He was still panting when light flooded the room. Hurried footsteps raced toward him.
“Mr. Kelley, stop. You’ve knocked off your oxygen mask and your IV is out.” Soft hands pressed at his face. “Stop fighting me or you will hurt yourself.”
The darkness was growing around him. “My legs,” he struggled to talk. “Can’t…feel my legs.”
“Now you just relax. Let’s get your oxygen back on. You’ll feel better.”
He felt the prick of a needle and the slowing numbness blurred the pain. He closed his eyes as the darkness engulfed him.
Twelve months earlier…
Riding horses was as natural to Gideon Kelley as getting out of bed in the morning. His father was part of the US Olympic Equestrian team. His mother was a bareback rider. He had been riding since he was old enough to sit a horse. Like most fathers, Edward wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. And like most little boys, Gideon wanted to be like Daddy. It was his destiny…his destiny to win. Not just any trophy… the gold medal. The Olympic gold medal. Something his father had never been able to do. Gideon had come in second place last time and since then he had stepped up his routines and had his eye on the prize. And this year was going to be the year.
To qualify the riders demonstrate their aptitude by the successful completion of three tests.
Qualification begins with a dressage, or training test. This course is to be completed by the rider entirely from memory. Any hesitation to negotiate obstacles or damaged obstacles is counted as an error, three strikes and you’re out. Competitors have a maximum time of 20 seconds to negotiate any given obstacle.
Dressage phase (held first) consists of an exact sequence of movements. The judges are looking for balance, rhythm and most importantly, obedience of the horse and its harmony with the rider. The challenge is to demonstrate that a supremely fit horse, capable of completing the cross country phase on time, also has the training to perform in a graceful, relaxed and precise manner. It was quite possible for a horse to have a terrible dressage test, then run a clean cross-country and show jumping, and still finish near the top of the standings.
Since then, correct dressage training has become increasingly important should a horse and rider wish to be placed (complete all sections, and finish in the top 12). Gideon had placed fourth out of 27 at a competition earlier in the year.
The next phase, cross-country, requires both horse and rider to be in excellent physical shape and to be brave and trusting of each other. This phase consists of approximately 12–20 fences (lower levels), or 30–40 at the higher levels, placed on a long outdoor circuit. These fences consist of very solidly built natural objects (telephone poles, stone walls, etc.) as well as various obstacles such as ponds and streams, ditches, drops and banks, and combinations Additionally, the cross-country phase has become more technical, asking the horse to be adjustable and supple through combinations. A horse can no longer just be brave and athletic, but must have a good deal of dressage training should his rider wish to successfully negotiate odd distances or bending lines at a gallop.
Show jumping tests the technical jumping skills of the horse and rider, including suppleness, obedience, fitness and athleticism. In this phase, 12–20 fences are set up in a ring. These fences are typically brightly colored and consist of elements that can be knocked down, unlike cross country obstacles. This phase is also timed, with penalties being given for every second over the required time. In addition to normal jumping skills, eventing show jumping tests the fitness and stamina of the horse and rider. Also, in show jumping, a horse is asked to move with impulsion and engagement; this makes the jump more fluent, brings the horse to bascule more correctly, and is less jarring for both horse and rider.This was Gideon’s favorite. He enjoyed the thrill and risk involved.
Successful completion of the combined test allows the rider to compete in the contest and confers membership on the US Olympic Equestrian team.
Horses were being prepped for the next race. In the boxes, grooms wrapped long, thin legs that would carry those huge bodies in a blur of speed and power. Trainers with keen eyes and gentle hands moved among the horses to pamper a skittish ride or rev up another. Two hot walkers cooled down horses that had just run. Legs were examined, iced down. Steam rose off the horses’ backs.
Gideon had just completed an almost flawless dressage course. One of his best. He sat straight on his mount feeling very proud, waiting for praise from his coach Hugh Wagner. But the compliment never came. When Gideon looked over and saw his long-time coach and friend, he could tell something wasn’t right.
Hugh was bent over slightly. His eyes were glassy. He tried to hold on to the railing. He was dizzy. Then he bent his knees and lay down on the ground very carefully. He didn’t speak at all. Gideon slid from his horse and ran over to where Hugh lay. By that time other coaches and riders had started to come over to see what was wrong. A female trainer said right away that something was wrong with his heart. It looked like he couldn’t breathe anymore. She told Gideon to call 911 as she started to perform CPR.
Gideon paced back and forth in the waiting room of the Lexington emergency room. It had been two hours since they had brought Hugh in. Finally, a doctor called Gideon’s name. He rose and followed the doctor back. The doctor explained Hugh had a heart attack and three out of the four arteries pumping blood to his heart were clogged. He would need to have triple bypass surgery. The doctor assured Gideon Hugh was stable and as long as he had plenty of rest and followed the doctor’s orders, he should fully recover. Gideon sighed in relief and he knew it was wrong of him, but the first question that came to his mind was, “What am I going to do about the Olympics?”
“Can I see him?”
“Of course,” the doctor replied. “But just for a little while. He needs his rest.”
When Gideon walked in to Hugh’s room, Hugh looked like he was sleeping. A heart monitor beeped showing a wavy line and a saline IV dripped down a tube taped to his arm. Gideon stood next to the bed quietly. Even though he didn’t say anything, Hugh knew he was there. There had always had a deep connection between them.
“I sure have good timing, don’t I?” Hugh sighed his eyes still closed. “I woke up this morning and thought, hey why not have a heart attack today? I’ve got nothing better to do. Sounded good, right?” He managed a weak laugh that turned into a hollow cough.
“Just take it easy.” Gideon helped him sit up and take a sip of water. Worried lines creased Hugh’s forehead. “You’re going to be fine.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about you.”
“Me?” Gideon responded knowing very well what Hugh meant.
“I don’t want to be the reason for you falling behind. You have made too much progress to quit now. I feel it is my duty to find you another trainer.”
“I can train myself,” Gideon offered. “I have been doing this for basically my whole life so I do know a thing or two about it.”
“True enough,” Hugh said. “But I’d feel better knowing you were getting the proper instruction. There is a special connection between trainer and rider. You know that. It is something you can’t afford to be without. It’s as important as the connection between rider and horse.”
“I know someone out in White Chapel, Wyoming. It would be quite a trek for you, but she’s well worth it.”
“She? A woman?”
“Hope’s not just any woman,” Hugh replied. “Trust me, Gideon. She’ll take you all the way.”
Gideon knew Hugh always had his best interest at heart. He wouldn’t send him to just anyone. But a woman? What could a woman possibly teach Gideon that he didn’t already know? It felt like Hugh was throwing him into this cold turkey There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a trainer. They have to truly care for the horses and have a good relationship with them, keep a clean and well managed stable and give the riders confidence and motivation…to name a few. Gideon hoped that Hope was not just a name.
Gideon turned his black, four door F-250 onto a country road hauling a horse trailer behind him. Hills and evergreens marked the vast land. The land dropped and curled between spring green hills. The rolling hills covered with soft green grass seemed to go on forever before rising into mountains that glowed pink with morning light. A flawless blue sky stretched from one side of the world to the other and the air smelled like dew and fresh grass. The river meandered through the pasture, rippling and turning its banks shaded by tall leafy trees and towering evergreens. Wildflowers dotted the meadow with vibrant reds and yellows.
The house was clad entirely by western red cedar. A spectacular two story surrounded by a wraparound porch overlooked the pristine beauty. There were also multiple paddocks and an arena perfect for practice. Gideon felt as if he has stepped into a dream. He turned around and another vision flashed before his eyes.
She was running a black horse through an obstacle course that consisted of barrels, jumps and straight stretches. Her body was so tuned to the horse they might have been one figure. With the slightest shift in rhythm and angle she took her mount over three consecutive jumps. The horse moved with incredible ease. Cantering still, she started the next circle. She looked as if she had been born in the saddle. Her sun streaked hair lay across her shoulders from underneath a cream colored cowboy hat. Gideon never realized there were that many different shades of gold. She wore threadbare jeans and a pink, yellow, blue and green plaid button down shirt.
When she glanced back over her left shoulder she saw him watching her. She pulled up on the reins and directed the horse over to the side of the paddock. As she came closer Gideon saw her eyes were almost a transparent blue. He had never seen anyone with eyes as blue as hers.
“You must be the one Hugh told me about,” she said as she slid from the saddle.
“I’m Gideon Kelley.”
“Hope Carrington.” She offered her hand to Gideon which he took.
“Pleased to meet you Ms. Carrington.”
“Pleasure and its Hope. Everyone’s on a first name basis out here. Welcome to Wappapello Ranch.”
“Wappapello,” Hope repeated smiling. “It’s an old Indian word. It means rushing water.”
“Then why not call it that?”
“Rushing Water Ranch? Try saying that three times fast. So what did Hugh tell you about me?”
“Not a lot. Did you really ride your horse from California to Wyoming?”
“Oh, that. Sure did.”
“Because I could. Actually, I love this land, the horse, music, art, people. I am going to connect with them the best way I know how. Just knowing the horse you’re riding depends as much on you as you do on her. It’s unlike any feeling you have experienced before.”
“So is this the famous horse?” Gideon walked over to where she had tied the black horse she had been riding.
“No, that’s Black Jack. But he would be candidate for cross country. The one you’re talking about is over here.”
Hope led Gideon to a pavilion type structure where six horses were tied. She went over and started stroking a horse that was almost completely white.
“Hi, sweetie. How’s my girl? This is the one,” Hope replied. “Her name is Serendipity.”
“She sure stands out against all your other black horses.”
“’I guess she does.”
“I take it she’s your favorite then.”
“They are all special in their own ways. They each have a distinct personality. Sugar is the sweetest horse you could meet obviously. Danny Boy is the mischievous one. Troublemaker if you will. He’s the kind of horse who would milk an injury for all its worth. Sapphire loves to perform. I am not sure about Phoenix. He’s the newest addition. Right now, he seems to be sort of a loner.”
Hope moved around as she talked about each horse. What Gideon saw on her face was absolute joy.
“You really love these horses, don’t you?”
“Only with my whole heart and soul.” Hope smiled. “So when can I meet your sidekick?”
“Oh, right. Come on.”
Hope followed Gideon over to where he had parked his truck. Inside the trailer was a large black stallion. He was so black he was almost blue. He could put ebony to shame. His name was Destiny. He could run the dressage course once and then remember it. A bay gelding stood next to him. His name was Ace and he was Gideon’s back up incase Destiny was unable to compete. Hope went through and gave them both a thorough examination.
“So?” Gideon asked after her survey was complete. “What’s your opinion?”
“They’re beautiful. They both look like fine horses. I can’t wait to see them in action.”
Destiny stretched his neck forward and nibbled on Hope’s shirt pocket where she had place a sugar cube earlier. Hope’s smile was laced with delight.
“Well aren’t you the smart one.” She fished it out of her pocket and fed Destiny his finding.
Gideon found himself for the first time being jealous of his horse. If his horse liked her, then that ought to count for something. Horses had keen senses. Or maybe Destiny just wanted the sugar cube.
“Your room will be the first one on the right at the top of the stairs. The bathroom’s down the hall. Just make yourself at home. Holler if you need anything. I have some chores to finish.”
At least Hope cared about the horses so that was a step in the right direction.
Gideon was restless that night. He was used to noisy traffic and street lamps shining in his window. Out here it was too quiet. The only sounds were the peaceful chirp of crickets and locust. After tossing and turning for over two hours, Gideon finally gave in and got up.
He quietly crept down the stairs. The light over the sink had been left on as a nightlight. It was a good thing too; otherwise Gideon would have been engulfed in total darkness. He glanced around the room taking in his new surroundings. The whole first floor was one big great room. In the kitchen oak cabinets lined the back wall. There was a large picnic style table with long wooden benches in the middle. A couch and a love seat created an L shape in front of the fireplace. There were exposed wooden beam across the ceiling giving it just a touch of rustic charm. The floor underneath Gideon’s sock clad feet was all hard wood. The floor to ceiling brick and fieldstone fireplace commanded someone’s full attention. It was certainly the focal point of the room. The mantel was lined with pictures. The first one was of two people; a man and a woman. Gideon guessed them to be Hope’s parents. The next photo was of two little girls. He knew for a fact one of the little girls was Hope. There was nothing mistaking those blue eyes. There was a picture of a little blonde hair boy, Gideon didn’t recognize. Two more pictures finished off the row. One was of Hope and Serendipity. It looked like it had been cut out of a newspaper. Hope was seated on the ground with Serendipity’s head lying in her lap. Must have been when she was on her cross country ride. That still nagged at Gideon’s brain. The last one was of a handsome young man in Marine’s uniform. Was this her boyfriend? Or even worse her husband? She hadn’t said anything about being involved or married. It wouldn’t be the first time Gideon had been attracted to another man’s wife. A soft sound behind him started him.
“Sorry. I didn’t know you were still up.” Hope entered the kitchen. She wore a white tank top and pink plaid pajama pants. The fluorescent light gave her skin a milky hue. If that disheveled bed headed look didn’t suit her just fine. “I was just going to get some warm milk. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea maybe?”
“Uh, no thanks. I’m fine.”
“Oh, I see you have found the pictures,” She came over and stood beside him.
“I wasn’t trying to pry,” Gideon stammered.
Hope smiled understandingly. “This is my father and mother, Jeff and Roxanne. This is my cousin, Ainsley and me.”
“I can see the resemblance.”
“The little boy is my nephew, Oliver. I assume you recognize the next photo. And this, “she gestured toward the Marine,” is my brother, Brian. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq late last year.”
“I’m sorry,” Gideon replied sympathetically.
“Thanks.” The microwaved beeped announcing her milk was down. “Well, I guess I’ll see you in the morning.”
Gideon awoke early, washed, dressed and was eager to start practice. When he walked outside, Hope was already in the paddock with a young colt.
“So who do we have here?” Gideon walked over and leaned against the rail.
Hope greeted him with those memorizing eyes.
“This is Socks,” Hope replied with a smile. “He is eight months old. Today I am going to start to gentle him.”
Gentling a horse takes time. For the first month Hope did nothing other than feed Socks and make him comfortable. She did not attempt to halter or catch him. She did nothing other than get him to relax around her.
Hope made feeding time her special time. Soon Socks be waiting for her when she came. She spent time each day standing close to him while he ate and talking softly to him. If he allowed Hope to touch him, she would on his neck, near his shoulder. That was how horses said hello to each other. Eventually, he would let Hope scratch him on his withers and his back. At this point all she was trying to do was gain his trust.
Winning the horse's trust was the hard part. Next, Hope had to work on getting her hands all over him. Socks would learn to like Hope’s attention and would soon not object to nearly anything she did with her hands. At this point, she should be able to halter Socks with very little trouble. She would be sure take the halter off and on several times.
A gentle horse is having one that sees humans as friends and partners. It has learned that humans are the source of all things good and that even if they ask strange and difficult things for it to do; it will be safe and in the end will be rewarded. This is a gentle horse and a success for the trainer.
Hope set a glass baking dish on a hot pad in the middle of the table.
“What’s on the menu tonight?” Gideon asked. He was famished.
“Chicken casserole with stuffing,” Hope answered as she gave Gideon a heaping spoonful. “Dig in.”
“Hey, this is pretty good.”
“It’s my mother recipe.”
“She must be a good cook.”
“The best. Too bad you weren’t here last Thanksgiving. Her pumpkin pie is to die for.”
“What happened to her?”
“After my brother died, she became withdrawn, totally depressed…” Hope voiced trailed off. Gideon sensed she didn’t want to talk about it so he changed the subject.
“So tell me about that famous cross country ride of yours.”
“That really has your curiosity peaked, doesn’t it? What? You think it’s kind of weird to see a girl out in the desert alone riding a horse?”
Gideon shrugged his shoulders.
“This ride was about being out on the land and with an animal whose life I depended on as much as she depended on mine. It’s about showing people that there are others out there who feel the same pains, laugh the same laugh, cry the same tears and have the same desire we all have. To be seen, heard, loved and live.”
“What made you choose to ride Serendipity instead of another horse?”
“She’s my muse, my inspiration. She reminds me to look around. To use my senses. There’s a special connection between us. We are so in tune with each other. She would notice little things I did with my body that I didn’t even realize I was doing. The way I shift my weight just before I’m about to take my feet out of the stirrups makes her stop every time. Sometimes I just want to take my feet out to ride with them dangling, but once she feels the muscles in my legs flex against her, she stops. I pretty much don’t have to say a word, but if I clear my throat or sigh or just do anything, that little ear comes back.”
“Weren’t you ever worried about being attacked or something?”
“Let me tell you one thing. You never know what a girl on a horse could have on her.”
One thing Gideon couldn’t understand was why Hope talked about it as if it was a normal every day thing. She didn’t do it for fame or fortune. There was a deeper meaning behind it, almost spiritual. She was definitely complex this woman.
After Socks was gentled it was time to start the basic commands. The basic commands for a horse are just like sit and stay for a dog. All horses must learn them. Horses are receptive to sound. Hope would tug on the lead strap while making a clicking noise with her tongue. Her hope was Socks would learn the clicking noise meant ‘go’ and the faster she did it, the faster he would go. To get Socks to stop, she would give him only a short amount of lead strap. Then when she wanted him to stop she would tug back. Sometimes she would walk Socks a while before she stopped him and other times she would only walk him couple of feet.
The horse is taught to move away from the leg. Socks moved to the right when Hope pressed her left leg against his sides and to the left when he felt her right leg. Horses also move toward the hand. The reins are connected to the bit, which fits in the horse’s mouth. When Hope pulled the reins the bit pulled on Socks’ mouth and he turned his head and body in that direction.
“Looking good,” Gideon called from the sidelines.
“Yeah, he’s coming along,” Hope replied. “But now that I am trying to control exactly where his feet go, he is getting a little testy with me…testing how far I will go to make him do what I’m asking. He often blocks me with his head. It’s not even something you would necessarily know he was doing if you weren’t taught because it’s not aggressive. He just puts his head in the way and it interferes with what I’m trying to do with him.”
A white Taurus came slowly up the driveway. Gideon was working on his jumping routine with Ace. He had to practice with Ace as well as Destiny to keep them both up to date and in condition. As he completed another circle, he saw a curious look in Hope’s eyes. He couldn’t quite read her expression from where she stood, but it looked to be a combination of surprise and confusion.
The car had come to a stop. A small petite woman with wavy dark brown hair and a blonde haired little boy emerged.
“Aunt Hope!” The little boy started running toward her.
“Oliver. Hi, buddy!” Hope bent down and held out her arms to receive the boy. “How are you?”
Hope straightened up holding her nephew. “Hello, Laura,” she replied carefully.
Gideon could tell there was some tension between the two women and they weren’t quite sure what to say to each other. Laura was Hope’s sister-in-law. She had been married to Hope’s brother. Hope knew Brian loved being a Marine and was proud to do what he could for his country and the sake of all free people. She would never forget the day the military officials had appeared on her doorstep. She knew Laura would never forget that day either.
“You know, Oliver. Kit just had a new litter of kittens a couple weeks ago. Why don’t you run out to the barn and see if you can find them?” Hope looked at Laura. “That is if it’s okay with your mom.”
The boy looked hopefully at his mother.
“Sure, honey. Go ahead. It will give me and your aunt a chance to talk.”
As Oliver scampered away Hope asked ever so gently, “How are you doing, Laura?”
“Oh, I’m fine. Sometimes I think he’s just away on a tour of duty and that he will be walking through the door at any minute. Other times I don’t know why I even wake up in the morning.”
“I know how you feel.”
“Look, Hope, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I don’t think you do. I lost my husband, the father of my child.”
“Brian was my brother and I loved him very much.”
“I’m sure you did, but there is a special connection between a husband and wife. Something you have not had the pleasure of experiencing yet.” Laura didn’t mean to be rude, but even as she said the words Hope’s heart felt like it had been stabbed with a hot poker. “I’m sorry, Hope. I didn’t mean that. It’s just that sometimes…”
“It’s okay,” Hope replied quickly. She knew Laura was in pain and still grieving.
“Actually it’s not me I’m worried about. It’s Oliver.”
“Taking it pretty hard, is he?”
“As a matter of fact, no. That’s what worries me. He hasn’t even cried, not once. I talked to my grief consular and she told me not to expect him to cry and scream or even be upset. He can’t understand the word death and all it implies. I told him his father will always be watching over him and he was like a little angel now. And I think he understood. At least as much as his four year old mind could comprehend. Maybe it’s best if he doesn’t remember.”
“I think he has a right to know about the kind of man his father was, the kind of heart he had. But I do know that you’re his mother. And I know if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t want some outsider…”
“You’re not an outsider, Hope. I know I don’t come around as much as I should.”
“We missed you at Easter. Even though Brian’s gone, you’re still a part of this family.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that. Really I do. Well, I better go make sure Oliver isn’t terrorizing those kittens.”
One cool Saturday morning, Gideon saw a truck pull into the driveway hauling a horse trailer behind it. The woman opened up the trailer and led out a half-Arabian mare. It was apparent the mare had problems. She was nervous, looky, mouthy with the bit, and when something upset her, her gaits tightened up until she moved like a cartoon character. She also had an obsessive fear of the large sponsor banners Hope had hanging in the arena to simulate the ones horses would see at major shows. She wanted no part of those. Gideon watched as Hope spoke to the woman. Then the woman handed the lead strap to Hope and left.
“Come on, baby girl,” Hope said clicking her tongue. She tugged gently on the lead strap in an attempt to lead the horse to the paddock.
“What’s going on?” Gideon asked.
“This is my current student, Diamond in the Rough, Di for short. The woman you saw wants to use Di as a show horse, but has had minimal success. It’s not hard to see why. She used to be so fearful she wouldn’t go from one end of the arena to the other without spooking. I am using the training ball method with her. Come on I’ll show you how it works.”
A training ball is simple to work with. A horse may fear the training ball at first, but their inborn curiosity will draw them to it. Once they learn that they can make the object move by pushing it with their nose and bumping it with a knee, the fear will give way to a sense of being in control. They also learn the ball won’t hurt them.
Di stretched out her neck and looked. Pretty soon her curiosity prompted her to walk toward the ball just as Hope had predicted. As Di sniffed the ball, she bumped into the ball with a knee causing it to roll. The next time she approached the same thing happened. Di believed herself to be in control which was the opposite of being afraid. After Di got comfortable with following a moving ball, Hope began rolling the ball toward her. Another one of Di’s problems was that she was fearful of being approached or passed by unfamiliar horses. Hope said Di’s confidence would grow and she would learn the approaching object wasn’t going to hurt her, whether she had a rider on her back or not.
As he watched, Gideon became dazzled by Hope’s tenderness, exuberance and inner strength as she worked with the beautiful half-Arabian mare. It was clear to see why Hope’s training ability had earned her awards and recognition throughout the horse world. One of the horses she trained had won the Canadian and US National Reserve Champion Western Sidesaddle after only two years of training.
When came time for the gait, Hope started Socks out by walking and then gradually moving him into a fast trot. Another thing Socks would have to learn was speed control. Hope had to teach Socks to trot, canter and gallop. She had been able to get him into a trot already. She led him around at a much faster pace and started clicking her tongue faster. Between these two techniques, she hoped Socks would learn when she wanted him to go at a certain speed.
On the longe line, she circled him into a walk while he pretended to ignore her. Still, when she spoke to him, his ears twitched. Days of hard work were rewarded when she lengthened the line and Socks broke into a canter. Hope shortened the line and he dropped into a trot. Shorten it still further and his gait changed to a walk. Sweat gleamed on his coat and trickled down his neck. Hope’s face glowed pink with satisfaction.
One cold November day, Hope leaned against the rail of the paddock watching Gideon as he went through his dressage routine on Destiny.
“You know,” she commented. “Dressage is considered to be a choreographed dance between rider and horse.”
“And you think I don’t know that?”
“I’m sure you do. I’m just saying if your change of movements was smoother rather than stiff, it would be even better. Fluidity is the key word. Just a little refinement is all it needs.”
“So now my routines aren’t good enough for you? I’ll have you know I won a competition with this routine.”
“I just want to see you reach your full potential and not sell yourself short.”
“Is that why sent Hugh sent me out here?”
“Possibly.” Gideon could tell by the way Hope said the word, she didn’t believe it any more than he did.
“Then why?” he asked.
“Because,” was the word that came from Hope’s mouth, but her eyes said. “Unless you are a fool.”
“I have known Hugh for a long time. He’s like the fun loving uncle…and has been trying to marry me off since I was twenty-two!”
“He says he just wants to see me happily settled down with the right guy. His heart's in the right place and all. The right guy is out there somewhere. I just…I just haven’t found him yet.”
“Well maybe you haven’t been looking hard enough.”
“Oh, believe me, Gideon. When I find him, I’ll know. Without a doubt it will just hit me…like a blizzard.”
No sooner had the words left Hope’s lips did the wind start to blow and large snowflakes started to fall. The wind hit them like an arctic blast. Out here the weather could change in a nanosecond. Quickly they corralled all the horses and shut them in the barn.
“Phoenix is still out there. I have to go get him,” Hope yelled over the howling wind, her hair blowing across her face. She got the rope off the hook on the side of the barn and was on her way before Gideon could stop her
Luckily, Phoenix was black so he would stand out in the white snow. If he had been a white horse, Hope would never have found him. The snow was becoming heavier. It looked like a white out was going to be inevitable. If Hope didn’t find Phoenix soon, he would freeze to death for sure. Hope saw a movement off to her left. She squinted through the blinding snow and saw the silhouette of a horse. She was able to get the lead strap hooked to Phoenix’s halter. Now, all she had to do was get him back to the barn.
Walking out the wind had been to her back. Now, Hope was walking into it head on. She could hardly walk in the beating, whirling wind. She could see nothing in front of her, but the swirling whiteness and endless snow. She felt like she was being smothered. The icy particles of snow whirled, scratching into her eyes. Her carharts were plastered against her legs and then it felt like the wind went right through them. She was all alone in the confusion of whirling winds and snow except for Phoenix’s lead strap that she must never let go. The wind struck her this way and that. She could not see or breathe. She stumbled and was falling then suddenly she seemed to be lifted off the ground. What if she was lost? What if Phoenix and Hope were both lost? No, she couldn’t think like that. She had to be heading in the direction of the barn. When she stopped to catch her breath, she realized how cold she actually was. Her hand was so numb that she could hardly feel Phoenix’s lead strap. She was shaking all over and deep inside her there was a shaking she could not stop. Only in her middle there was a solid knot that ached and her shaking pulled this knot tighter so the ached grew worse.
Off to her right, she heard Phoenix grumble. And he didn’t stop until Hope had come back to reality. It was like Phoenix was telling her she had to keep moving. Hope took hold of the lead strap with her other hand that wasn’t quite so numb. Her chest cried for air and her eyes strained open and the icy snow particles hurt them like sand. There was nothing she could go by--no sun, no sky, no direction in the winds blowing fiercely. It seemed the cold and the winds, the noise of the winds and the blinding, smothering, scratching snow was going on forever. Phoenix continued to grumble.
Then out of the whirling whiteness, something hit Hope. She knew it had to be the barn. She entered it breathing hard and gasping for air. It was then she noticed Phoenix had stopped grumbling. He had grumbled the last few feet and helped Hope make it through. She put Phoenix in his stall. Hope rubbed her eyes. When she pulled her hand back, she saw a pink smear. Her eyelids were bleeding. The snow had scratched them. She blinked. The room looked like it was spinning. She dropped to her knees. Everything began to blur. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted.
Gideon found her passed out on the barn floor. He picked her up in his arms, holding her as if she were a crystal vase and carried her to the house. He placed her on the loveseat in front of the fireplace. He felt for a pulse. She was cold to the touch. She’d die of pneumonia if he didn’t do something. He broke the icy scarf from around her neck and wrestled with the frozen zipper of her coat. Her frozen hair had begun to thaw and it dampened her white turtleneck. The shirt clung to her and Gideon saw her rosebuds pucker. He glanced around the room and found a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants lying in her laundry basket. He also grabbed a pair of heavy socks. Gideon turned back to her.
Stop gawking at the woman’s chest, Gideon scolded himself. He was a red blooded American male for God’s sake. He tampered down his fantasies. He peeled off her turtleneck and jeans, while deliberately diverting his eyes away from her chest. She was as limp as a rag doll. She moaned some incoherent curses as he pulled the sweatshirt down over her head. She flailed her arms and legs blindly as he tried to maneuver her arms into the sleeves. She didn’t seem to have any control over her movements.
“Come on, honey. Don’t fight me on this.”
Slowly, her violent movements stilled. That made it easier for Gideon to get her pants and socks on. He laid her on her back and draped a red and white afghan over her. He brushed her wet hair out of her face. She whimpered and curled up into the fetal position. He sank into a nearby armchair.
Christmas was coming. The whole town of White Chapel had come alive. Even Wappapello Ranch was sporting Christmas decorations. Gideon had taken it upon himself to hang the many strands of tiny white lights around the house. Hope hung a big holly wreath on the front door and had holly leaves and garland scattered on top of the mantel. Glittery white snowflakes hung from the beams. Even the barn had been decorated with old style big bulbs. Big red bows hung on both doors.
Hope was on a step ladder putting the angel on the top of the tree when Gideon came in. Hope loved the smell of pine so Gideon knew it meant a lot to her to have a live tree. He let her pick it out, but had paid for it himself. As she stretched to place the angel, the ladder started to sway and she lost her balance. Gideon rushed over and caught her in midair. For a moment neither one said a word. Their eyes locked. Hope drew in a sharp breath and Gideon found himself getting lost in her mesmerizing eyes. He didn’t want to admit it, but it felt nice to hold her in his arms like that. When he set her down, her hands remained at his shoulders. They both happened to glance up. They were standing under the mistletoe hanging above the mantle.
“You know it is a Christmas law,” Gideon said, his voice was low and soft.
“And I am a…law abiding citizen.”
Gideon moved toward her. There were two things the Kelley men were known for: kissing and horsemanship. He lowered his mouth and gently touched his lips to hers. His kiss was slow, soft and sweet. He felt his arms wrap around her pulling her close. When he lifted his mouth from hers, Hope’s face was still turned up and her eyes were still closed. He wanted to kiss her again two, three times maybe, but he decided to play it cool. When she didn’t say anything right away, Gideon started to wonder did she like it? Maybe she hated it. When her eyes opened, Gideon would have given anything to see red and white pinwheel’s spinning around, but Hope’s eyes were the same clear blue they had always been. Something in her eyes had captured him as soon as he set foot on Wappapello Ranch.
“I’m looking forward to doing that again…” she started. Gideon almost breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe she had enjoyed the kiss. “Next year,” she finished. “I’m tired. I’m going to go to bed now. Good night.”
She couldn’t have gotten away from him fast enough. Inside her room she leaned against the closed door trying to wrap her mind around what had just happened. She could still feel the warm pressure of his lips. She felt feelings stirring inside she had never felt before. She felt warm, feverish…maybe even a bit lustful. She didn’t know what it was. Was it the shape and skill of his mouth? Was it the way he wrapped his arms around her? In his warm arms she had felt safe and secure. She had liked the kiss…a lot. A lot more than she should have. And it didn’t help that he was so gosh darn handsome. Hope could ride a horse across three different states alone, but she found herself tripping over a man she hardly knew.
Hope came downstairs the next evening dressed in a white blouse with a scalloped collar and cuffs, a black pleated skirt that came right above her knees and a red sweater with snowmen on it. She also wore white stockings and a pair of gray clogs. Gideon stopped and stared. It was the first time he had ever seen Hope in a skirt. The sides of her hair were pinned back and he saw two little diamonds studs in her ears. A matching necklace completed the look.
“You look nice,” he commented.
“I don’t remember seeing this before.” Gideon lifted the necklace to get a closer look. “Is it new?”
“No,” Hope answered. “Actually it’s pretty old. It belonged to my grandmother. I only wear it at Christmas time.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s kind of a long story.”
“I have time.”
“Don’t you think you should get ready? Christmas Eve service stars in half an hour. You are planning on going, aren’t you?”
Gideon had completely forgotten that it was Christmas Eve. Over the years he had been more occupied with training not spiritual matters of the heart.
“Ah, sure. Of course. Christmas Eve service.” He was only doing this because he saw it mattered to Hope.
When they walked into the church, Gideon felt oddly out of place. A young woman with blonde hair just a shade darker than Hope’s waved her hand motioning for them to join her. She was dressed in a short black dress, skin tight black leggings and simple black flats. It was chic and ultra-hip, but classy.
“It’s my cousin,” Hope said. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
“Hope, it’s so good to see you.” Hope and her cousin embraced. “So who’s your friend?”
“This Gideon Kelley. I’m helping him train for the Olympic Equestrian team. Gideon, this is my cousin, Ainsley. Ainsley, Gideon. Gideon, Ainsley.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Gideon,” Ainsley offered him her hand. “Merry Christmas.”
“You too, Ainsley. Happy Holidays.”
“Oh, it’s okay to say Christmas in church. We’re all believers here.”
The preacher walked down the aisle and the service began. Even though Gideon hadn’t been to church for quite some time, he could feel the intimacy of the moment. He listened to Hope’s clear alto voice. He preferred altos over the high shrill of sopranos. He even tried to join in the singing, but found he didn’t remember anything after the first verses. Hope knew them all by heart. During the candle lighting and the singing of Silent Night, he glanced over at Hope. The soft glow of the candlelight played off her face giving her somewhat of a heavenly glow.
“This must be what an angel looks like,” Gideon thought. “And I am sitting next to one right now.”
After the service Ainsley and Hope went up to retrieve their poinsettias. Hope had given one in honor of her brother and Ainsley gave one in memory of her grandparents.
“There are hearts’ breaking wide open all over the world tonight, “Ainsley commented.
“Why?” Hope asked absently as she reached for a poinsettia.
“Because unless you are a fool that boy’s off the market. He’s one hundred percent prime time in love with you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Hope could almost feel the heat creep into her cheeks.
“Oh, come on, Hope. I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
“We’re just friends.”
“You just keep telling yourself that because you have feelings for him, too.”
“Do you want a red or white poinsettia?”
“I better take the red one. Your cheeks could put blushing red roses to shame.”
Later that night, Hope sat on the couch staring at the fire in the fireplace. Gideon came into the kitchen to get a glass of water.
“Hope?” he asked. He walked over to the corner of the couch. When she opened her eyes to look at him, Gideon saw tears brimming her eyes. “I’m sorry. Do you want to be alone?”
“No, it’s okay. Have a seat.” She patted the cushion next to her.
“Are you all right?”
“It’s just this time of year when I remember my brother. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. This is the first Christmas without him. Even when he was overseas we still managed to send care packages and Christmas cards to each other. I can’t believe it’s been a year already. I miss him so much. I can’t imagine what Laura’s going through.” Tears trickled down her cheeks.
“It’s takes time to heal.” Gideon tried to say something encouraging. He reached for her hand.
Just having him there with her, holding her hand and letting her cry was more comforting than a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Gideon didn’t know how much time had passed when he noticed Hope’s slow and peaceful breathing. He gently eased his hand from hers, maneuvered her into a more comfortable position and covered her with a quilt. He liked the feeling of taking care of her.
Christmas morning dawned clear and bright. Wapappello Ranch was covered in a blanket of newly fallen snow.
“It just wouldn’t be Christmas without snow,” Hope said as she pulled on her boots and coat and headed out to do the morning chores. Gideon helped her by making sure all the horses had blankets and that their water wasn’t frozen. Hope gave them each some extra oats for Christmas. Gideon noticed how she treated Destiny and Ace as if they were her own.
Back inside Hope made a fresh pot of coffee and warmed up some cinnamon rolls.
“So what’s on the agenda for today?” Gideon asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going anywhere for Christmas dinner? Or are people coming here?”
“Well, my mother is an only child and she’s not exactly feeling the Christmas spirit. I am technically an only child. Laura and Oliver will probably spend today with her family. Ainsley’s going to spend Christmas with her parents down in Cheyenne. So it’s just you and me,” Hope replied simply. Her father had died sixteen years ago when Hope was only thirteen.
When she and Gideon had both flopped down on the couch to rest for a moment, Gideon reached behind the couch and pulled out a box wrapped in newspaper.
“Do you want to open your present now?” he teased her.
“Oh, you didn’t need to get me anything.”
“What’s Christmas without presents?”
She smiled. “I guess you’re right.”
Gideon watched with anticipation as she carefully unwrapped his gift. When she lifted the lid of the newly varnished maple box, her breath caught in her throat. Inside there were brand new circular curries, straight curries and dandy brushes. On the inside of the lid were new hoof picks and combs for the manes and tails. In the very bottom were a couple of new lead straps. This time when Hope looked at him, the tears Gideon saw in her eyes were tears of joy.
“They are beautiful. How did you know?” Hope was acting like Gideon giving her a box of diamonds.
“I didn’t,” he confessed. “I wasn’t sure on what to get you. I just thought you might eventually need them.”
“Oh, yes. This is so perfect. I have something for you, too.” She reached under the loveseat and pulled out something wrapped in red tissue paper.
Hope watched as Gideon ripped off the tissue paper. He was just like a little kid on Christmas morning. Inside the tissue paper, lay a naturally stained plaque with a horseshoe mounted on it.
“It’s one of Serendipity’s. Thought it might bring you luck.”
Hope’s gift had touched Gideon in such a personal way. She could see in his eyes he appreciated her thoughtfulness. He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Even though she appreciated this act of affection she had hoped he would have kissed her on the lips.
Over the rest of the winter, Gideon continued to practice his dressage and jumping routines using the indoor arena. Hope continued to offer Gideon some pieces of advice. She could tell Gideon was an experienced horseman, but she couldn’t help herself for pointing out the little things. Sometimes it was the little things that make you or break you.
“Relax your grip on the reins. Just go with the natural flow of the horse. It’s more comfortable and enjoyable for the horse. It doesn’t make them feel as if they are being pushed into something they don’t want to do.”
She wanted Gideon to open up his shoulders when jumping. It would improve his form. She told him to relax since a rigid tense body position can restrict the horses jumping effort. The horse’s legs need to be tucked evenly and tightly under their chest.
As soon as Hope felt the warmth of the spring sun, she resumed her training with Diamond in the Rough. One of the main reasons for her work with Di was to make her a better mount for her owner, Paris. As Di improved Paris came out to the ranch to ride Di and Hope incorporated the training ball into those sessions, too. Paris was a good rider so Hope wasn’t worried that she’d fall off if her mare happened to spook while working with the ball. If anything the training ball improved Paris’ riding. The rider has to concentrate, sit naturally and coordinate use of hands, set and legs to guide and go with the horse.
Over time Paris could ride Di toward Hope at a lope and when Hope rolled the ball toward Di, she’d see it coming and keep loping as though it wasn’t there. Paris was very pleased with Di’s progress. She planned to return to the show ring and invited both Hope and Gideon to come to Di’s maiden show.
Di’s acceptance of other horses in the arena had improved, too, as did Paris’ trust in her. People who had seen Di earlier couldn’t believe she was the same horse.
During the show, Hope blindly groped for Gideon’s hand and squeezed. She lost her breath and her sense in the sheer thrill of it all. Hope laughed even as her hand clamped down on Gideon’s. There was so much joy and excitement welling up inside her, she might as well have been competing herself. She held her breath as the results were revealed.
“She’s in first place! She won!” Hope whirled on Gideon. On a whim, Gideon plucked Hope off her feet and spun her in circles. She threw her arms in the air then wrapped them around his neck and kissed him. She was caught up in the moment Gideon told himself. She probably didn’t even know what she was doing. He gave Hope one last spin before setting her back on the ground.
Hope almost went crazy when Di accepted the winning area banner that once had terrified her. She also accepted the billowing skirts of sidesaddle contestants, the other horse and the noise of the crowd.
“From your reaction you can’t tell me you have never competed,” Gideon said.
Hope shook her head. “To me it’s much more rewarding to behind the scenes. When you see a horse that you worked with and trained complete a flawless routine and knowing you played some role in their success it just makes your heart beat different than normal. Kind of like being in love.”
Now that the weather was cooperating, Hope wanted Gideon to start working on his cross country routine again. When it came to cross country, she wanted Gideon to practice with the actual obstacles of water and hills, nothing simulated. Gideon didn’t ever remember running such a treacherous routine. If Gideon could make it through one of Hope’s training courses then he would have no problem when it came time for the Olympics.
One day Hope told Gideon to go ahead and practice on his own since she had some chores to tend to out in the field. Gideon knew she was just using the chores as an excuse to ride Serendipity.
He decided to practice his jumping first and then move on to dressage and cross country. Destiny started out fine. He cleared the first two fences with ease. Then Destiny started the jump over the third fence, and then suddenly stopped. A rabbit could have spooked the horse, or it could have been a shadow. Gideon held on and the bridle, the bit, and the reins were pulled off the horse and tied his hands together flinging Gideon forward. His left foot slipped from the stirrup. His body jolted against the saddle. He was slipping, sliding sideways.
From across the field, Hope saw the wild antics. He was going to fall. They were half a mile away. She knew she couldn’t get to him in time.
“Jump, “she silently willed as she kicked Serendipity into a gallop, hoping by some slim chance he would receive the message. “Jump.”
Gideon tilted, slipping. He was keeling to the side. Destiny’s movements tipped Gideon crazy to the side. Gideon caught air, pitching head over heels. He flew from the saddle, arms stretched. He landed headfirst on the other side of the fence .His body thudded to the ground. His head slammed into the hard earth. He bounced and rolled to a stop, face down in the dirt.
Hope raced to Gideon’s still form, dismounting before Serendipity had reached a full stop. What if he hit his head on a rock? Broken his neck? When she reached Gideon, she saw his limbs were sprawled. His arms were straight, but both his legs were oddly angled. She removed her glove and reached toward Gideon’s neck trying to find a pulse. A steady, but weak pulse beat against her fingers.
“Don’t move. Hold still. Tell me what hurts.”
“Everything. My head.”
A low, soft voice came out of the dim. It cut through the fog that surrounded him.
“Gideon? It’s Hope. Can you hear me?” She slid her hand into his.
His eyes fluttered open. “Hope?”
“Yes, Gideon. It’s me. I’m right here.”
He reached up with his good arm and placed it on the back of her hair. “God, I love you,” he said and brought her head down. Their lips met. A few seconds later, Hope gently broke away. She eased her hand out of his and patted it lightly.
“Yeah, sure, okay. I love you, too.” She was blaming it on his delirium. He didn’t know what he was saying.
A doctor dressed in green scrubs entered the room.
“Are you his wife?” the doctor asked Hope.
“No. Horse trainer.”
“Can I speak to you for a moment?”
“I just need to ask you a couple of questions,” the doctor said once he and Hope were outside the room.
“How bad is it?”
“He’s lucky to be alive,” the doctor answered. “Most people who suffer from head trauma consistent with a fall usually break something in the way of their neck or vertebra. Did you see how he landed?”
“He was face down.”
“What about his arms and legs?”
“His arms were straight, but his legs were oddly angled.”
“Well that explains a lot. You see as of right now he doesn’t have the use of his legs.”
“You mean he’s…”
“Paralyzed… for the moment. In most cases like this, the paralysis is temporary. Since there seems to be no spinal cord damage there is a good chance he will regain the full use of his legs. But it will take time.”
The doctor went on to explain to Hope for the first few weeks a physical therapist would work with Gideon on mobility, walking and general movement here at the hospital where they had all the necessary equipment.
The next morning a small, petite woman who couldn’t be more than five foot one in her stocking feet appeared in Gideon’s room.
“My name is Brittany. I am part of you medical team and you’re new best friend. Are you ready to get started?”
“If I say no?” Gideon gritted his teeth at her perkiness.
“I don’t care. I’ll drag you out of that bed anyway.” Brittany was a lot tougher than she appeared. “I have no mercy. My first task is to assess where you are and what you need. Our goal is for you to have an eventually safe discharge so you can return home and function on your own. Don’t you worry,” she said when she saw the skeptical expression on Gideon’s face. “A lot will happen before it’s time to send you out into the world.”
“How long will this take?” Gideon asked.
“Right now your recovery period is anyone’s guess. More than a month, less than a year. Until then I can torture you to my heart’s content. How about I give you a tour of the place?”
Gideon started to object, but stopped himself. He knew Brittany wouldn’t take no for an answer. She wheeled him down the hallway to a large gym like facility. She rolled Gideon through the facility explaining each machine’s function and laying out his therapy for the first couple of weeks.
At first, Brittany only had Gideon on the machines that would automatically move his legs since he couldn’t feel anything below his waist. Sometimes she had him hold himself up using only his arms. Hope was there every day watching so she could continue some of the exercises with Gideon once he was allowed to leave. When it was time for him to go home, they would rent out an apparatus for Gideon to use.
“There are some things you need to know,” the doctor said to Hope as she signed the discharge papers. “At first, Gideon is going to think he can do everything he used to do. And that’s just not the case. I’ll give you a list of exercises he can do at home. Now I am going to warn you ahead of time things are not going to be easy. He’s going to get irritated and angry…more at himself and the situation than at you. He may yell and curse at you. Don’t take it personally. Both of you are going to get frustrated and feel like quitting. That’s to be expected. But the most important thing is do not let him give up.”
A big, husky black man wheeled Gideon out to Hope’s van. He placed one arm behind Gideon’s back and one under his knees. He lifted Gideon as though he weighed nothing and set him in the backseat so he could stretch out his legs across the seat. Then he loaded the wheelchair into the back. Gideon was still a little groggy from all the painkillers he was pumped up on. It was only a matter of time before the meds wore off. Then the real work would start.
One morning, Gideon managed to prop himself up to his elbows. Then he manually pushed his legs over to the edge of the bed. He stopped to catch his breath and fight the weight that pressed against his lungs. As soon as he tried to push himself up off the bed, he fell to the floor since he could not use his legs properly. They were numb to his hips. His head dropped weakly. The special winning spirit that had made him a top man at the Olympics gave him strength to start inching across the floor using his arms.
Hope awoke to the sound of shattering glass. One word flashed through her mind: Gideon. She lurched from the couch where she had been sleeping. She had resorted to sleeping on the couch so she could be close to Gideon if he should need her. She ran down the hallway to the downstairs bedroom. There she found Gideon on the floor, one arm tangled in the sheets. His hands opened and closed as if he were trying to find something to hold on to. There was blood on the sheet. More blood at his shoulder. Every muscle in his body was rigid. When Hope touched his face he was burning up, his eyes delirious.
She moved his limp body into a more comfortable position. When she started to try and get him back to his bed, he caught her wrist and pressed it to the floor. His grasp was strong. She gritted her teeth against the pain.
“Gideon, please.” Her voiced was strained. “Stop. You’re hurting me.”
His grip eased, but he didn’t let go. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s all right.” She eased her wrist out of his grasp. “Let’s get you back in bed.”
Every day Hope would work with Gideon on his exercises. The exercises consisted of the manual and automatic bending and straighten of his legs. The machine the hospital had sent home had a place where Gideon could lay one leg at a time and the machine would raise his leg, bend it to a certain degree and then lower it. They had instructed him to use it anywhere from eight to ten hours every day. They also suggested he do this while he was sleeping. They had set the machine at forty degrees and the goal was to get him up to ninety. When he wasn’t using the machine, Hope would massage his legs. This was to keep the circulation going.
Hope didn’t own a hot tub, but she did have a whirlpool. Gideon would soak his legs in pure hot bath water a couple of days a week. This was to relax the muscles in his legs. The hot temperature was also supposed to help with circulation. The pulsating jets provided hydrotherapy. Whether he could feel the temperature of the water was a completely different matter.
Gideon was also supposed to work on his upper body strength by doing front and side arm lifts, hammer curls and bicep curls. It was just as important for him to keep his upper body strong as it was his lower body. Until he could stand on his own, he would have to rely on his upper body strength.
Hope made sure Gideon left his room every day. She insisted he eat his meals at the table or on the couch away from his bed. He could use his wheelchair to get around. Sometimes he would spend the day sitting on the couch or out on the porch, just staring off into oblivion. There wasn’t much more he could do. His Olympic dreams had been shattered in an instant.
Gideon was seated on the edge of one of the benches in the kitchen and Hope kneeled on the floor. She bent Gideon’s leg as far back as it would go at this point. She treated Gideon with the same tenderness and enthusiasm as she did her horses. However, Gideon was no longer dazzled by it. If anything it made him more agitated.
“Damn it, Hope! That’s hurts!” He had tolerated her long enough.
“Well that’s a good sign. It means the feeling is starting to come back.”
“That’s it. I’ve had it. I’m going outside.”
“Well don’t let me stop you.”
“Bring me my wheelchair.”
“Get it yourself.” The doctors had told Hope as long as she did things for him, he wouldn’t see any reason to get better. “You don't need a wheelchair! You could only walk if you tried!”
“We've been all through this. You don't know what it's like.”
“And you don't know what it's like for me to watch you just give up! I think you want to be a cripple.”
“What kind of thing is that to say?”
“The truth, that's what! You know, you once told me that a person could say anything they wanted, as long as they were speaking the truth. Well, that's what I'm doing now.”
“Hope, you know that I have tried.”
“Oh, yes. Just long enough to give up. The doctor gave you exercises, and you won't even do them!”
She had had her fun playing physical therapist. It was time to face reality.
“They don't work! Can't you understand that?”
“No, I don't! I don't understand anything about you anymore!”
There were days when Gideon hated his very existence. And this was one of those days. It didn’t help when Hope breezed in the room as chipper as a cricket. She started pulling up the shades letting the sunlight in, blinding him in the process.
“Good morning, Gideon.”
“What’s good about it?”
“Come on. The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day.”
“Leave me alone.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Let me die in peace.”
“Oh, that's right, just talk about dying!”
“It's what I want.”
“It's always been what you want! Whenever things didn't turn out just right, you saw to it that everyone else was just as miserable as you were! Well, maybe it’s about time you started thinking of someone else besides yourself. If you love me like you say you do…”
“When did I say I loved you?”
“In the hospital. And you kissed me.”
“Sorry. I must have been pretty out of it.”
“You were pretty doped up.”
“I’m sure I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Hope turned her eyes away from him. For the first time she couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“Look,” his voice softened just a touch. “You’re nice and pretty and smart. But we’re just friends and that’s all we are ever going to be. If there was any love involved it was our love of horses.”
“Well, I’m glad we cleared that up. To think I was almost in love with someone I could actually see having a future with.”
The future was the least of Gideon’s worries. He was having enough trouble trying to live from day to day.
“He doesn’t love me, Ainsley.” Hope sat perched on a stool at her cousin’s wall paper store.
“How do you know that?”
“He flat out told me.”
“Do you know why he told you?”
“Because it’s the truth?”
“No. Because he does love you, Hope. He doesn’t see himself as a whole man anymore. He can’t understand how you could love a man who can’t walk.”
“But that’s not true. It doesn’t matter to me.”
“Then prove it to him. Let him know you’re in this for the long haul.”
“Only you know the answer to that.”
This time Hope walked boldly into Gideon’s room.
“I thought I told you to leave me be.”
Hope turned her eyes on him and Gideon fell silent. Hope’s eyes were her strong point and she knew it. She could say a lot with her eyes. But she was mad enough to use her voice, too.
“Well I’m not going to. You’re not getting rid of me that easy. Because of your self-pity, you'll deny yourself everything.”
“I don’t want to hear this right now.”
“I know you don’t, but you’ve got to. God put you on this Earth for a reason, just like all of us! You're strong and healthy, and you should get down on your knees and thank the Lord for what you've got! But instead, you just throw it all away.”
“I want to be alone.”
“Well you’re not alone. You’re here with me. If you had some of that faith you were always talking about, you'd know that.”
“God forgive you for saying that!”
“No. God forgive you for wasting the life He gave you, feeling sorry for yourself!”
“Look at me, Hope! Look at me!” Gideon threw the covers off exposing his legs. “I can’t walk. I am not getting any better. Can’t you see that? I am a cripple, a paraplegic and that’s the way I am going to be. This is who I am!”
“You know, all I ever cared about was you being happy. I pray to God He can't see you now!” Hope stormed out of the room.
Halfway down the hallway she stopped. Ainsley’s words rang loud and clear. She turned back. She would make Gideon understand if it was the last thing she did. She entered the room all set to give Gideon another earful.
“I am not finished yet.”
“Oh, yes you are!”
“Gideon, I am only going to say this once…” she stopped short. She blinked her eyes to make she wasn’t seeing things. “Gideon, your toes.”
“What about my toes?”
“You must be seeing things.”
“No, I saw it. See? There it is again. Come on, now. Concentrate.”
Gideon took in a deep, breath, squinted his eyes and furrowed his brow. And after a lot of intense effort Gideon bent his toes for the first time. Hope ran to the other room and got a pen. She ran it along the sole of Gideon’s foot.
“Can you feel that?” she asked eagerly.
“Don’t you know how ticklish I am? Especially my feet.”
“You can!” When Gideon didn’t react she said, “Don’t you see? This is the first step. You are going to walk again!”
Gideon trudged his way down the hall of the Riverside Rehab Center at the pace of a ninety year old man. He leaned heavily on a walker. He forced himself to take another step and then another. The pain made him want to quit, but he pushed onward. Gideon raised his gaze from the floor to see how much farther he had to go where Hope was waiting for him.
“Looking good,” she said when he had finally made it. “Last week you were at the pace of a snail. Now you have moved up to a turtle.”
“Hope, “he said seriously. “We need to talk. Can we go out to the courtyard?”
“Are you sure you feel up to it?”
“It might take me a year, but I’ll make it.” He tried to lighten the mood, but didn’t have much success.
When they reached the courtyard, Gideon fell exhausted onto one of the benches. Hope sat beside him.
“I have wanted to talk to you for a long time now,” Gideon started.
“Don’t pretend to be all innocent. You know what I mean. It’s about the way I acted. I was terrible. I mean I really was. You have to know that wasn’t me.”
“You were just frustrated.”
“This goes way beyond being frustrated. I was downright hateful. Talking about dying…”
“Throwing my life away…”
“Gideon! We don’t need a reenactment. Yes, it was a bad time, but it’s all in the past. Let’s just move on.”
“When I learned that I might never walk again, I thought it was best to just end everything before it even had a chance to get started. You deserve anything and everything. A life. A husband. Kids.”
“That’s the problem with you. You are too understanding. Just once I wish you would get mad, yell and scream, but you just look at me with those gorgeous eyes and you have me at a loss.”
“Well I’ve never heard it put that way before.”
“It’s true, Hope. You’ve had me ever since I first set foot on your ranch. You stayed by my side through all of this. This must have been like a nightmare for you. You are the strongest and most amazing woman I know. And you were right. About everything. We have been through a lot together, Hope. When two people get married they always say it’s for better or worse. Well we have been through the worst. So it can only get better from here. If we can get through this, we can get through anything. Even if it involves nothing short of killing each other. Hugh was right. You are worth it.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“I don’t have a lot. I can’t give you everything you deserve. But what I do have, I’ll give to you.”
“I figured when I found the right man there would be fireworks, a big fanfare. Well I was wrong. Far better than any dream guy is one of flesh and blood. One warm and caring and right before my eyes.”
“You know Hope is not just your name. You are hope. Joy, faith, grace. You are all the virtues rolled into one.”
There was no getting down on one knee; no “Will you marry me?” But there didn’t need to be.
Across a crowded room only Gideon knew what Hope was thinking. And when they were lying in the quiet no words had to be spoken. They had a love…a love you don’t find every day.
One year later…
Gideon rushed out of the house. At least as fast as one could with a cane and a limp. He still had his days, but the good ones outnumbered the bad. But at least he was walking and that in itself was a major accomplishment and a blessing. Since competing was not in his near future, he had taken to coaching. He passed on all the secrets he had learned over the years to the next generation of riders.
“Heels down, Maddie. Good. Hands, Ellen. Cody, pay attention. All right. Trot. Heads up,” Gideon called out the next order. “Heels down. Knees, Jason. That’s the way. You’re a team remember. Looking good. Much better.” His students changed gaits with varying degrees of success. They changed leads, reversed then attempted a wide figure eight. “The rider, who keeps their heels down and their eyes up will never fall off.”
Hope was in the paddock with the newest addition to Wappapello Ranch. Destiny and Serendipity had given Hope and Gideon a special wedding present of a beautiful white filly. Hope had named her Purity. She was everything pure and good in this world.
Purity wasn’t the only gift. Hope laid a hand on her slightly protruding stomach. She and Gideon were expecting their first child, whom they planned to name Morgan. No matter if it was a boy or a girl. Gideon didn’t care as long as it had Hope’s eyes.
Laura and Oliver had become frequent visitors. Oliver was now six and really into horses. Laura thought there was no one better than Aunt Hope and Uncle Gideon to teach him all he needed to know. Oliver had started asking questions about Brian that Laura couldn’t answer. She asked Hope to tell Oliver about his father. After all she had known him her whole life. She could tell Oliver all the ornery things his father had done as a kid. And by doing this it had helped Hope heal as well.
Hope and Gideon had been blessed. They felt like they had found their way. They thanked God for all they had been given at the end of every day. They had been blessed with so much more than they deserved. To be here with the ones that loved them and to love them so much it hurt.