The recovery progress had been a long one. Katy McLaughlin had been desperate to ride Flicka ever since her father had shown the beautiful mustang to her after she had become well enough to venture outside. Katy found it difficult to describe the immense feeling of love for the horse – her brother Howard didn't really understand the bond Katy and Flicka shared. He had said himself that horses were all the same – all had four legs, the food went in one end and out the other.
Katy missed Howard terribly. He had gone off to college and from the moment Howard had told her of the scholarship, Katy feared her brother would never come back to the ranch. Her father pretended not to mind that Howard was gone, but Katy could see that he missed his son too. Her mother just tried to stay busy. Katy finally knew the effect she had on her parents when she went off to boarding school. She didn't really understand their logic – if they disliked her absence and she hated the school, what was the point of paying those outrageous fees when it made them all unhappy? Why not send her to the local school in Wyoming? She supposed she would now, now that Howard was gone and the ranch was hers. The fact excited her – she would one day be in charge of Goose Ridge Ranch.
Now, finally, Katy and Flicka were both ready to ride again, to be free. Katy woke up that particular morning with a thrill through her veins. It was only 6 am. Katy was eager to go out and ride immediately, but her father had made her promise that she would not go out by herself. The condition was that he rode with Katy and Flicka to make sure they were both okay.
Katy got dressed slowly, trying to drag the action out so it wouldn't be so long to wait before she could go riding. It was stupid logic, but Katy was content in believing in it. She went downstairs and paused at her favourite painting hanging on the wall at the landing. How many times had she stopped to look at this piece of canvas? Too many to count.
"About time you go up."
Katy gasped and turned. "Daddy. You scared me," she said.
He laughed. "Hon, I knew you'd be up early so I thought I'd beatcha to it. Ready to ride?"
Katy nodded eagerly. "Yeah."
She ran to her father and put an arm around him, hugging him. It wasn't often that she made this gesture, but the joy she felt at the thought of riding Flicka again made her be impulsive.
He laughed again and hugged her back. "C'mon – I ain't tacking up for you."
Katy was glad. Her father wasn't being her father if he did everything for her. He liked his kids to work for themselves, and Katy valued that in her father.
Jack and Gus were already in the stables when Katy and Rob arrived.
"Hard at work fellers?" said Rob, smiling.
"You know it boss," said Jack, tipping his hat. "Well, I am. Gus just got up."
"Yeah, sure," said Gus.
Katy had a new respect for Gus ever since he had given her the idea to name her wild mustang Flicka. Flicka had been a name that Gus had used for Katy once, but it had been given to her horse now. It meant 'pretty, young girl', and the name gave off an essence of freedom.
"Enough talking!" Katy said. "I want to go runnin'!"
The phrase gave Katy an intense feeling of déjà vu. The morning after she had arrived home from boarding school she had said something along those lines. "Who wants to go runnin'?" Now she didn't have to ask. She had Flicka.
"Right, right. Better not keep Katy waiting, boss," said Jack. "You know how she gets."
"Oh, funny Jack," said Katy, rolling her eyes. He was always the joker. "C'mon!"
Rob shrugged and followed Katy down the aisle of stalls.
"Alright Katy, I'm gonna tack up Yankee. You go get Flicka."
Katy went to the stall that her father had generously donated for her horse, but Flicka was not there.
Gus was walking down the aisle with a bridle. "Flicka's in the paddock by the corral."
Katy went into the tack shed and got her saddle and bridle before heading out. The corral brought back many memories. It had been Flicka's home for so long, when her father had forbidden her to ride the beautiful black mustang.
Katy saw Flicka grazing in the middle of the paddock. Her heartbeat accelerated at the thought of riding that beauty again.
"Flicka!" she called.
The horse's head came up as she scanned the fence line for Katy. When she spotted her mistress she whinnied loud and clear, pawed the ground once and then took off at a light canter. Katy climbed over the fence and put her arms around her horse, breathing in Flicka's strong horse scent. Katy ran her hand over Flicka's neck and withers, feeling the slight bumps of the scars there. She was healed. Katy tried to keep the memory of that night out of her head but it was difficult at times. Flicka had thrown Katy off, trying to keep her away from danger. Katy had been astounded – she had believed Flicka trusted her completely by that moment. But then the mountain lion had fell onto Flicka from a tree and the sharp screams of her horse echoed through the mountains. Katy had desperately thrown rocks at the lion before it ran off, but the damage had been done.
Katy had feared Flicka's life was at an end – her father had gone out to shoot her, or so she had thought.
Katy saddled and bridled Flicka, running her hands over the mustang's sturdy legs. Then she led Flicka over to the stables where her father was waiting.
"All set?" said Rob, who was already mounted on Yankee.
"You bet," said Katy. She swung up into the saddle and felt at home for the first time in weeks. This was where she truly belonged.