Birthday Wishes

by Jeanne

It was that long slow evening that the southwest territories were known for. Even after the sun went behind the mountain the light lingered giving everything a golden glow. The day had been hot but now that the sun was almost down a breeze had stirred and quickly the air was changing to hot to cool. The sky was striped with different colored clouds ranging from rose to deep blue. No rain in those clouds but just the beauty God sent to the common man. The moon wasn’t totally above the horizon meaning it wasn’t full yet, but soon.
Chris Larabee leaned against the porch post occasionally puffing on his smoke his eyes staring off into the distance. Chores were done, supper was cleared and he was enjoying the peace he felt at the end of the day.
The reason for that peace came around the corner of the house and cocking his head he watched the man who’d given him a home for the first time since his ma had died. Vin quietly walked over and sat cross-legged beside the man. He also looked in the direction Chris was looking and began to ponder how he would broach the subject that had been on his mind for weeks. Finally taking a deep breath he spoke softly, “Chris?”
“Yeah,” the man answered without looking down.
“What’cha thinking about?”
A small grin appeared on the gunslingers face. “Why?”
Vin’s finger began twisting inside a knothole in the board he was sitting on. “Just wondering if you’d given any thought to …uh, to me and Peso.”
Chris didn’t say anything, but he looked down at the boy who was quickly becoming his son. “Got something special in mind?”
The little boy cleared his throat. “Well, ‘m birthday is coming up soon, I think. I’ll be eight an’ I was wondering if, well if you’d thought any more about buying Peso from Mr. Tiny. I know it’s a lot of money but I’d work real hard doing chores and such to help pay for him and his feed. Peso is special but he don’t like people much, seems he likes me though and I sure like him.”  The words tumbled over each other uncharacteristically for the boy that said very little.
“Vin, Tiny warned us that Peso is dangerous. He’s a handfull for grown men and he’s mean.”
“No he ain’t. I mean he ain’t mean, not to me. Most folks just don’t understand him and are mean to him. I seen the scars, I know he’s been hurt a lot. But he likes me. Really he does. An’ he don’t even try to buck me off no more.”
“You been riding that mule without me knowing it?”
“No sir, not really riding. Sometimes when we’s in town I go see him and take him a treat. He’s usually in the pasture by himself. And he lets me sit on him.”
“Vin how in the world do you get on that horse? He’s tall?”
“Oh it’s easy. He stands by the fence and I slide over from the top rail to his back. He don’t go no where so it’s just sittin’ not ridin’.”
Chris covered his silent laugh by stubbing out his smoke in the bucket of sand. It’d been a long time since he’d heard “Little Boy Logic”. Clearing his throat he said, “I see. I’m not convinced that he’s the horse you seem to think he is. But I’ll make a deal with you. We gotta go into town tomorrow. If you can catch him and tack him up, by your self, and ride him around the outskirts of town without any trouble, I’ll take him off Tiny’s hands.”
Vin stared at the man beside him his mouth open in surprise. “Yes sir, we’ll do it. Peso and me, we’re a team.” The boy jumped up and hugged the tall man’s legs. Both were surprised at this sudden show of affection. “Thanks Chris,” the boy whispered before he ran out toward the barn.
Chris watched him go, holding onto the feeling of the little arms around him.
Larabee and Tiny leaned against the wood fence watching Vin struggle to lift the heavy saddle high enough to place on the surprisingly patient horse. The boy had no trouble catching the gelding and getting him to lower his head and take the bit. Then Vin had led the animal over to a bale of hay and walked him until he was standing beside the bale. Holding the reins in one hand he climbed up on the bale and carefully smoothed the saddle blanket out on the big black’s back. Lifting the saddle was something else. Luckily it wasn’t a full saddle, which would have weighed more than the boy while this one was slightly lighter. Tanner hoisted the saddle up with one knee to get it high enough to drop onto the broad back.
Chris held his breath as it dropped down almost perfectly in place. He smiled as Vin rocked the saddle back and forth to settle it and then held his breath again as the small boy reached under the belly and grabbed the cinch pulling it over to fasten. Many a man had been kicked at this point. He waited expecting the horse to blow up so Vin couldn’t tighten the cinch enough. But the boy leaned toward the flicking ear and whispered something and returned to tighten the cinch another couple of inches.
Finally from the advantage of the hay bale Vin pulled himself into the saddle. Even though the stirrups were as short as they could be made his feet barely touched them. Kicking the saddle more then horse Vin clicked his tongue and Peso sedately walked over to the gate.
The grinning boy looked at his newfound dad. “See, I told you he’d be good. We’re ready for our ride now.”
Chris nodded and opened the gate. “Okay, once around the town. I’ll be over at the sheriff’s office. You come there when you’re done.”
“Right.” Vin clicked again and the big horse started down the dusty street at a trot.
“He’s a good horse Chris. That boy has a real touch with all the horses but I’ve never seen anything like the way he gets on with Peso,” Tiny said trying to reassure the worried man.
Larabee nodded, and walking over to the office prepared for one of the longest hours he’d had in a long time. He fought the urge to mount up and follow the boy, or to call him back and tell him no. But every boy/man had to learn and in the West a boy needed a horse of his own. Vin didn’t know but money had already changed hands for the big black with Ezra and the others chipping in for the saddle. For once, by damn, that boy would have a happy birthday.
Chris was waiting on the porch his long legs stretched out and ankles crossed seeming to all that saw him that he didn’t have a care in the world. But under that calm façade he was a bundle of nerves watching for his son to come around the corner and ride up to him. He started to second-guess himself. Should he have let Vin ride out alone? Did he misjudge the time it would take? Should he go looking for the boy? If anything happened to Vin, he would shoot that mule of a horse and leave him for the coyotes to eat. Wasn’t it time enough to circle the town? Oh, he’d stop and tell himself what a fool he was to worry so. But then he’d start right up again.
Larabee felt more than saw Josiah come over and sit in the chair next to him. The deep rumble of a voice asked quietly, “Waiting for something?”
“Vin’s out on a little ride. Just waiting for him to come back.”
“Ah, he talked you into that black devil of a horse did he?”
Chris started to say no but thought better of lying to the preacher. “Yeah, at least a little. Tiny swears the horse is a different animal around the boy. He’ll let Vin do anything to him when that jackass would kill any man who tried.”
Josiah nodded. “Tiny should know. He’s good, maybe the best I’ve seen with horses. ‘Course Vin isn’t far behind. They’ll be fine. It’s JD you’ve got to worry about now.”
“JD? Why?”
“Once he sees Vin has his own horse he won’t give Buck a moments peace until he has one too. Can’t say I envy Buck at all the next few weeks.”
Chris snorted. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Any idea exactly when Vin’s birthday is?”
“Nope just a general idea. There weren’t any records of either one of the boys. Vin just says his birthday was in the summer and JD’s was in the winter. Guess you and Buck should pick a day and go with it. Or not.”
“I guess….” The gunman’s voice faded as he spotted the big black ambling down the street.
Vin pulled the black to a stop right in front of the two men. He was grinning so big his face was nearly split in two. Both of the men felt their hearts melt just a bit because the boy was usually so solemn and getting him to smile was considered a major feat.
Larabee cocked his head. “Nice ride?”
“Yeah. Peso is so easy to ride. He’s the most wonderful horse in the world.” Vin leaned over and tried to wrap his small arms around the big neck.
Peso stood perfectly still except for his ears flicking back and forth as if he were listening to the boy and watching the men at the same time. When Chris stood and stepped toward him and the boy, Peso shook his head up and down and blew out his nose.
Chris stopped. “Tell your mule I’m not going to hurt him or you.”
“Oh, he knows that. He’s just excited to be out with me. Chris, I know it’s a lot of money. I...I’ll work really hard to pay you back….” The big blue eyes pleaded.
“It’s a deal, Cowboy. You’ll work around here cleaning up and at the ranch and you have to take care of him.” Thinking back to what Josiah had said he added, “and you have to keep JD under control around any of the horses.”
Little Tanner gasped, “It’s a deal, Chris. I’ll work really really hard.” Once again the boy leaned over the saddle horn and hugged the big horse. “Hear that Peso, yer mine, for ever and ever.”
Josiah smiled as he watched the man and boy. “Surely Lord, this is a happy day for man and boy. I thank you that those that were lost are lost no more.”