"You hate me!" Destini Ardman screamed from behind her closed bedroom door. "You hate me, you always have, and I HATE YOU, TOO!"
"Honey, please, don't make such a scene," whispered her mother outside the door. "All your party guests are still here. You don't want to upset your party guests, do you?"
"To HELL WITH THEM!" Destini screamed. "And to HELL WITH YOU, TOO!"
"Destini, please, don't use language like that," whispered her mother. "You know how everyone will talk."
Her father came into the hallway. He was wearing his "Kiss the Cook" barbecue apron that smelled of generic-brand liquid smoke. "What's the problem? Burgers are almost ready."
"Destini's upset about her presents," whispered her mother.
"I WANTED A PONY!" came the shriek from the other side of the door.
Dad rapped on the door, hard, twice, THOK THOK. "Enough. Open up." The door immediately swung open, but Destini was already crouched resentfully on the edge of the bed, her face beet-red with rage contrasting with her pink princess dress, glittery tiara, and plastic sceptre. As of 4:22 a.m., she was seven years old.
"Destini, where do we live?"
"Yes, very much so. Do we live in the city or the country?"
"You know we can't keep a horse in the city or in a house. For one thing, it's against the law. For another, we couldn't afford it, even if it was legal. You know that, right?"
"I don't want to ground you on your birthday, but I will if I have to. Now come out and let's eat some cheeseburgers."
And after five minutes, Destini went back outside, accepted a cheeseburger (with mayonaisse and a tomato but NO LETTUCE OR MUSTARD), and tried to pretend she was the only person at the party.
"Destini, Destini, have I told you about my pony?" asked Brandi Hamwirth sweetly. "She's the prettiest pony you can imagine, and I feed her apples all the time. She lives in the stable right next to my bedroom."
"Did you know mine can do tricks?" said Nevaeh Cudd. "She can dance to music, and she lets me ride her all over with or without a saddle. Oh, my little Buttercup, how I love her!"
Destini ignored them. Brandi Hamwirth and Nevaeh Cudd didn't own ponies, and they were snooty besides.
"Take off, you dummies," said Parker Duke. "You could probably have a horse someday, Destini, but it's hard work. It's harder work than keeping a dog or a cat."
Destini ignored Parker, too. Her mom made her invite boys to the party, and boys were idiots. Parker actually had a horse, but that was because he lived on a farm. Farms are stupid.
"You gotta feed horses a lot, and you gotta do a lot of work to keep their stables clean, and keep 'em groomed nice, or they'll get sick. Sometimes you gotta clean up their crap, and that's no fun, but sometimes you gotta get your hands dirty to do good stuff."
"Mrs. Ardman! Mrs. Ardman!" Brandi shouted. "Parker Duke said 'crap' and that's a swear!"
"Who wants some more smores?" called Mr. Ardman, and all the worries about swears were forgotten as the kids ran to have their turn cooking smores on the grill. Only Destini stayed at her seat, still working on her cheeseburger.
"Young one," said a voice just behind her, and Destini turned in her seat to see an old woman, older than either of her grandmothers, older than anyone she'd ever seen, wearing a black dress and a black scarf that even Destini realized must be punishingly uncomfortable in the summer heat.
"Young one," the old woman said again. "You want a pony, yes?"
Destini nodded mutely.
"You would care for the right pony, love it, give it all it desired, love it more than you would love your parents or your friends or your god in heaven, yes?"
Destini nodded again. The old woman had a funny accent.
"Take this," said the old woman, pressing a small wooden trinket into her hand. "You will think it is small and unimportant, too small you will think. But meditate on it. You know meditate? It means put your soul and your love and your thoughts in it. Meditate on it, and it will be grand. Love it, young one."
Destini nodded again, and the old woman turned away and walked out the backyard gate.
"Who was that, Destini?" her mother asked. "Was that one of the children's grandparents? Did she give you a present?"
Destini looked at the trinket in her hand. It was a pony, a pink one, like in her daydreams. It looked like a My Little Pony, but more tiny and more real, like it could walk around in her hand.
"It's mine," said Destini, and she pushed it into the pocket of her dress.
It was hours later, and all the children had gone home.
"Did you ever get a look at it?" asked Mr. Ardman as his wife came to bed.
"Yes, just a little horse pendant," she said. "Bright pink, kind of a weird design. Can't tell how old it is, but I don't think it's worth much -- it doesn't even have a chain. Maybe you could attach one, so she could wear it like a necklace?"
"Maybe. Depends on how small it is. Did she ever let it go?"
"No, she's holding it right now. I wish I knew which one of the kids' grandparents gave it to her, but I'm glad it calmed her down."
"Small miracle, I guess," said Mr. Ardman. "I just hope she doesn't lose it."
Destini didn't lose it, and she didn't let her father put a chain on it. Why would anyone chain such a beautiful pony?
She meditated on it, at least as best as she knew how. She held it close in her hands. She examined every detail of it. She whispered to it late at night and told it stories, and she imagined it told her stories, too. She held it during Sunday School, and when everyone said prayers, she said her own.
She named it.
"I can't imagine how you even pronounce it," said her mother to her father as they lay in bed.
"Oh, it's easy," he said. "Just four little syllables. Hoe. Row. Go. D--"
"Stop. Please. Bad enough to hear her say it without hearing it from anyone else. The way she says it..."
"It's not so bad. She'll grow out of it eventually. That's what kids do."
"Destini!" shouted Nevaeh. "Come on! We need a right-fielder for kickball! You coming?"
"I don't have time," Destini called back, sitting against the school building, stroking the pendant's nonexistent mane. "I'm busy."
"You're not busy, you're playing with your horse toy again!" yelled Brandi. "Come on, we need an outfielder!"
Destini ignored them and kept staring at her pony. Her sweet, sweet pony.
"You suck, Destini," yelled Nevaeh.
Sweet, sweet pony.
"Destini, Mrs. Gafford asked me to talk to you, but you're not in trouble," said Mr. Moreno. "That's okay, don't you think?"
"Yes, sir," said Destini. Principals were always liars, and any time they talked to you, it meant you were in trouble. Principals always think kids are stupid.
"Mrs. Gafford is concerned about your classroom behavior," said Mr. Moreno. "She says your grades are down, your attention is slacking off, and you've stopped socializing with your friends. Is everything okay?"
"It's fine," said Destini. Bored. Bored, bored, bored.
"Mrs. Gafford said you've got a new horse toy for your birthday. I hear you like it a lot."
"It's not a toy," said Destini, immediately realizing her sharp response would make him more interested.
"May I see it?"
She fished it out of her pocket with a groan and set it on Mr. Moreno's desk.
"It's very nice," he said. "Maybe too nice for school. Have you considered leaving it at home where it would be safer?"
There was no answer, and when Mr. Moreno looked up, he almost flinched away from the expression on Destini's face. He'd never seen such pure, murderous rage in his life.
He did the only thing he could think to do. He pushed the pink horse medallion back over to Destini. "Does she have a name?"
Destini glared at Mr. Moreno as she shoved the pony back into her pocket. "Horogodor," she growled. After he'd sent her back to her room, the principal scolded himself for feeling so reasonlessly unnerved -- kids today were crazier than they'd been when he was a boy.
"Give it back, give it back, give it back!" Destini was pleading desperately. Nevaeh and Brandi had her pony pendant and were playing a game of keep-away while Mrs. Gafford was out of the room.
"Throw it here, throw it to me!" Brandi giggled.
"Your dumb horsie toy sucks, Destini," sneered Nevaeh. "Can't dress it up, can't play with it, it doesn't have a playset or anything." She flipped it just over Destini's head, and Brandi caught it easily.
"Yay, lookit me!" sang Brandi. "I've got Ho-Goo-Goo-Dork!"
"Stop being idiots," yelled Danny Fegler. "I'm gonna tell when Mrs. Gafford gets back."
"Shut up, Danny, you teacher's pet," Brandi yelled back as she threw the pony back to Nevaeh. She bobbled the catch, and the horse went skittering and bouncing across the classroom floor.
Destini sprawled on the floor, scrabbling after her toy, and Nevaeh took off after it, too, giving it a small kick to push it out of Destini's reach. Destini reached for it again, and Nevaeh kicked it again. Destini reached again, and Nevaeh brought her foot down on it, hard. There was a snap.
The wail brought every teacher in school running. When Mrs. Gafford got there, the other students were all seated quietly. Only Destini was left crouched over the shattered pendant. She didn't even notice Nevaeh's and Brandi's smirks as Mrs. Gafford dragged her to the principal's office.
"Why are you blaming my daughter for this? You think she broke her own toy?"
"Sir, she was being very disruptive. She's here because her obsession with that toy is causing disorder in my classroom."
"You know other children have been tormenting her! Why aren't you doing anything about them?"
"Mr. Ardman, Mrs. Ardman, please, let's not cause any more chaos today than we've already had!"
Destini was tired of hearing her parents, her teacher, and the principal shout at each other. They'd left her in the principal's office while they stood in the hallway to yell about her. The door was closed, but she could hear them. Everyone could hear them.
She didn't care. Her pendant was sitting on Mr. Moreno's desk, cracked apart into three different pieces. She couldn't take her eyes off of them. Her pony. Her sweet, sweet pony.
Destini reached across the desk and pulled the pieces to her. She pushed the pieces back together as well as she could -- head to body, body to back legs. It wasn't a precise fit -- some tiny fragments were also missing. She knew she'd never be able to find them again, and that even if she could, she'd never get them all to make a single figure again.
Destini pushed the pieces together, held them as well as she could, and meditated. She put her thoughts, her love, and her soul into it. She forgot everything else around her, forgot the office, forgot the shouting outside, forgot how dumb Brandi and Nevaeh were.
She whispered to it, so low and so quiet, that even she wasn't sure what she was saying.
She heard the clip-clip-clop in the hallway outside, and she wasn't sure whether her imagination was getting away with her or not. But she looked, and it was real, and she was happy. She ran out into the hallway, past her grown-quiet parents and principal and over the limp body of her teacher.
It was pink, like the color of uncooked meat. It had numerous hooves and a beautiful, flowing, grasping mane. Its eyes were large and red, and as wise and limitless and dead as the whole universe.
She only had to ask her parents to lift her up twice before they obeyed. She sat astride her sweet, sweet pony, feeling more like a princess than she ever had in her life.
As she rode it slowly down the hallway toward her classroom, her parents and Mr. Moreno fell in line behind, like properly loyal, blinded, croaking attendants. Destini wrapped her arms around its neck and rested her head joyfully against its warm, wet, squirming flesh. She whispered her love to it, and she was happy.
Sweet, sweet pony.