Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write a Coming OF AGE short story (11/20/14)
TITLE: Blisters and Scars
By Rachel Barrett
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Inside the house, dishes rattled. Whatever was cooking for dinner smelled wonderful.
Gingerly, he flexed his hands, working out the stiffness, and stretched to ease complaining muscles in his back. Nailing shoes on recalcitrant freight horses since sunup had left him with blistered palms, sore arms, and a hoof-shaped bruise on his leg when he hadn't dodged one irritated customer fast enough.
His boss cut no slack at the blacksmith shop, even for a rookie seventeen-year-old apprentice. Tough work, but a steady job. Satisfaction tempered Ritchey's exhaustion as he looked out at the white picket fence running the length of the yard. Riches would never be theirs, but they were doing all right.
An unfamiliar horse stood tied at the gate, patiently dozing on three legs. Ritchey frowned. He recognized neither the animal nor the brand it carried.
The door creaked behind him. “Ritchey?”
“Hiya, Sue.” He rose stiffly to hug the elfin bundle of curls and pinafore that bounced into his arms.
“Mama's waiting dinner on you!” Sue announced, locking her hands behind his neck and leaning back to peer at him. “She's got a surprise!”
“Okay, Sis.” Ritchey slid her down and tugged her pink hair ribbon, earning a delighted squeal, then let her push him inside. She was worth all those blisters.
Someone had arranged the table already, with wildflowers in the center, and the fancy lace tablecloth that he hadn't seen in...
He stopped so short Sue nearly ran up his heels. “What are you doing here?”
The big man across the table half-grinned. “Didn't expect such a warm welcome.”
“Cane...” His mother's gentle touch on his arm broke through the shock. “Ritchey, listen...”
Her eyes entreated acceptance, and he bit his tongue to keep quiet. All right, for her sake, he'd stand the antagonism. But he didn't have to roll over and take it.
He slid into his chair, glaring at his father. “What is it this time? Out of money again?”
“No, Ritchey,” his mother interrupted. He saw her tremulous smile, her hand on her husband's arm. “Your father's come home—to stay.”
Anger twisted up in Ritchey's chest. “Since when?”
“Would you ask the blessing?” The question cut him off precipitately, addressed not to him, but to Cane.
“Let us bow our heads.” His father's stare bored into him, taunting him, until he complied. “Lord, we thank Thee for Thy bountiful mercies, for this food before us, for the comforts of home...”
Ritchey clenched his hands together in his lap to stifle their shaking. The words chipped away at his self-control—smooth words, masking the lies underneath.
“...ask Thy blessing on this family—”
Ritchey bolted up, his chair crashing against the wall behind him. The prayer dangled in midair. He could feel his mother's shock as he met Cane's flinty eyes. “You gonna come waltzing back here after the way you left us?”
“Sit down, Ritchey.”
The curt words bounced off him. “I ain't forgotten what you did to me. Or to Ma! Who do you think's been taking care of her all this time?”
“Watch it, boy.” Cane's tone hardened. “I'm still head of this house!”
“The heck you are!” Ritchey exploded, hurling defiance in his father's face.
“Shut up!” Cane roared, and charged out of his chair.
Anger overthrew reason. Ritchey was done backing down. He faced Cane squarely, canting his head so the old scar would stand out, daring his father to hit him. He wasn't thirteen anymore. This time it wouldn't be so easy.
“Ritchey, no!” His mother pushed him back, getting between them.
Always covered up. Explained away. That's how it would end. Ritchey jerked free and flung himself out the door. Taking the steps in one jump, he pounded across the yard.
He stopped inside the barn, fighting down his agitation. If that's what they wanted, he was through. He could hitch a ride out of town—get another job somewhere.
He spun around to find Sue, gazing up at him wide-eyed. She hung back until he knelt with a sigh and opened his arms.
She ran to him. “Please don't go away, Ritchey!”
Reproach squeezed his heart as she sniffled into his shirtfront. “I won't, Sue.” Holding her close, he sought resolve. “I promise.”
Some things were worth the scars.
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