Every time I shut my eyes I see him there on the floor, his face pale and his body limp like a rag doll. It is an image that I can never get out of my mind; an image of pain and fear. The journey home had been long and uneventful as far as I am concerned, since he was taken away I haven't seen him and have been locked in a bubble of worry. I have barely spoken to Nikki in the weeks that I have been back home, I have stuck to the top end of the field in the hope of seeing him coming back for me. Each time a thundertruck pulls up in the drive, I gallop up to the fence to see if he's inside, and every time I have been disappointed, but I cannot give up because then I'd be a broken, purposeless horse. It's funny how you get attached to things you didn't even know you needed; I never felt empty without him before I knew him, but now I am incomplete. The gap he's left in my heart is larger than the one Nikki left - this time, I know it's my fault. Owen has bounced up to me and I have been forced to turn away, to reject him. I have seen their torn faces as Nikki slowly approaches him and leads him away, the sad look on his face as he glances back over his shoulder at me, the shake of his head. But I cannot let Ramiro down, so I continue waiting. I wait endless days and even longer nights for him to return. I barely eat, I only consume enough to stop me from starvation - it's a distraction from my duty. I have no idea if my duty as sentry will pay off, but it's all I can do and it makes me feel a tiny bit better about myself. Mia has come to try and soothe me, but I have politely refused her carrots. When she comes she talks to me about him, and I listen patiently to her. She uses some new words I haven't heard before about him, like 'coma', 'spinal cord', 'temporary partial paralysis' and 'wheelchair'. I do not understand what any of these words mean, but I guess they must be bad. She will come and see me once, occasionally twice a day, always bringing a carrot although I never eat them, and she will just sit on the fence and talk to me. Her voice is sweeter, smoother and more natural than Ramiro's, yet she does not have the thick Scottish dialect that many of the 'lads possess. I am beginning to trust her a little bit, letting her put on the blue halter that still smells of him and lead me around the field a little, but only in walk. I think she understands how I feel about him, and knows that I don't want a replacement for him, and won't accept one.
Today, when she comes to see me her attitude is different, her eyes are brighter and her speech more bubbly and excited. She runs over to me and throws her arms around my neck, her thick scarf flinging into the air and wrapping around my muzzle. I'm not impressed... But she soon launches into a torrent of words of which I can only pick out a few. "Ramiro... awake... coma... hospital... wheelchair... visit... today!" Her eyes are filled with excess water, and, as she blinks, a tear rolls down her cheek. I tilt my head; why does her voice sound so happy yet her eyes are crying? I nudge her face with my muzzle and wipe up the tears for her, gesturing for her not to cry. "Aww, you're such a gentleman, Rico. So kind and giving - Ramiro couldn't ask for any more. You know he's proud of you, right? You've given so much to him, and he says you mustn't blame yourself. Be a soldier for him, Rico. Fight on, little Kiwistang." While we are locked in this moment, we do not notice a thundertruck pull up in the drive. We both look up simultaneously as a figure steps out of the front and walks over to the back end and pulls up a cover. Why's he doing that, I wonder? Mia gasps. "Oh Rico, it's him!" She runs forwards, the ends of her scarf billowing out behind her like wings. The man finished his job behind the vehicle and now I understand Mia's excitement. I can only vaguely make him out from this distance away, but it's a face I could not forget - Ramiro's. As she reaches him, she bends down and throws her arms around his neck, kissing him gently on his cheek and burying her face into his neck. She stays like that for a moment, her face hidden in the folds of his jacket, before standing up and taking the handles from the driver. She smiles to him before beginning the trek over to the fence, to me, which had seemed so short only moments ago but was now taking her a while. When she finally reaches me I whinny in delight and stamp the ground with conviction. Ramiro is alive. I had naturally feared the worst, but for once the worst had not happened. I look at him; powerless in the chair with wheels (I see now what a 'wheelchair' is), his legs skinny and unmoving, but his cheeks rosy and his eyes bright as he makes eye contact with me. I stretch my neck out to him as an apology for what I had done, but he simply smiles at me. "Oh Rico, you've made me so proud. You put everything into that competition and I don't blame you at all for what happened. It was only our first competition; mistakes were going to be made by both of us. In truth, I don't think we were ready for a competition then, but it was good experience for the both of us. You gave it everything you had, and really invested in our relationship." He scratches my neck fondly as he continues, "I couldn't have wanted anything more. You tried your heart out and that's all that matters. I'm here now, let's put it behind us." I feel a mental weight lift at these words, his forgiveness of me. All my worrying over the past weeks has now evaporated into nothing, I can finally face the music, as it were. As if on cue, Nikki and Owen appear either side of me and I press my head into Nikki's neck. I'm sorry, I'm sorry... Forgive me please. She bends her head round and nudges my shoulder playfully. Of course you're forgiven, Rico. You never meant to do anything wrong in the first place. Mia's laugh broke the silence and Ramiro looked at each of us in turn. "I guess that makes us family then!" Mia blushed bright pink. "You mean, you're..."
Ramiro winked, smiling. "Yes, I am!"
She gasped, but in a good way. "In that case, there's not really anything else I could say except 'Yes!'"
"We'll that makes two happy couples then," Ramiro said, before he was cut off by Mia's kiss. They smiled together as they pulled each other closer, sharing that moment of bliss and euphoria when your crush has just said yes and you're officially together. Indeed, Rico thought, that makes two happy couples! With that he nuzzled Nikki's sweet face and pressed his forehead against hers.
They may have been unconventional, but they were family, and that's what mattered most.