the horse i stole

– I hope I’m not incriminating my eight-year-old self with this –

It was around nine a.m. on a crisp April day. I was eight years old, sullenly walking into a Target near Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, with my mom. At the time, she was 39 years old. She wore a pair of dark blue jeans and a red and white long-sleeved shirt with a black hoodie on top. We had come to look for swimsuits, but I just dragged my feet as I walked, complaining about having to leave my toys at home.

That’s when I saw him.

His name was Oats. He was a rich, chocolate brown with white “socked” legs, a mere six inches tall, fur so silky smooth, shining eyes. He was also the newest edition on display in the Beanie Babies section. I knew I had to have him, but one look at Mom and I knew there would be no chance of it – we had come for coats, and only coats.

“Whatever,” I thought to myself angrily. “I won’t be back here anyway.”

My parents had just told us we would be moving to yet another suburban New Jersey town, Springfield, so we could be closer to my dad’s office. It was a forty-minute drive away from Woodbridge, where we currently lived. I was past the denial stage. Angry. It was already our second move since we came to New Jersey from India and I wasn’t ready to leave school behind – my friends, Mrs. Sullivan (my third grade teacher), our neighbors, my room.

I waited until mom was near the winter coats and snuck back over to Aisle Eight. I walked around a bit, looking back at Oats every so often, admiring the way he stuck out from all the other brown ponies. After glancing repeatedly and quickly to my left and right, I grabbed Oats and shoved him in the pocket of my navy-blue Gap sweater. I hurried out, as if nothing had happened.

It happened around a month later. We were in our new apartment, me on the top of the bunk bed my sister and I shared at the time, playing with some pink, rainbow-pawed stuffed animal, but still upset because I had no friends at my new school. My mom walked in, Oats in her hand. “This was in your pocket,” she said. “I don’t remember it.”

I could have said I found it on the street, on the road. But nope, I probably blew it for myself.

“I – I got it at Alexis’s party,” I said.

“You didn’t go to Alexis’s party,” she replied after a few seconds.

“Well, I wanted to,” I exclaimed, suddenly angry all over again.

“Alyson, where’d you get the horse?”

We went back and forth for a bit, me claiming I got it from Alexis (a friend from third grade) after school and then that Dad bought it from me from New York. But finally, I admitted I might have just picked it up from the store.

I knew what was coming even before she bundled me up and silently walked us to our dark green Honda Odyssey. We drove back, while I glared straight ahead for forty minutes, ignoring her pursed lips and attempts at conversation. We finally reached. She stopped the car outside the store.

“Go on – go give it back,” she said. “I don’t want to see you with it.”

I’d like to say I gave that stupid horse back. But instead, I walked around for ten minutes inside the store, doing nothing. I somehow fit the toy inside my jacket hood and pulled my hair over it, humming as I walked up to the front of the store.

“Well, now I won’t be back for sure,” I told myself, grinning.

So reassured and far from feeling guilty, I grabbed a few mints from the candy aisle and popped them into my mouth, humming as I walked back to the car and we drove away.

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