This is part of a series. Refer to the Blog Index if you wish to read them in order.
A Few Months Later…
The buying of materials and building of the fort had all gone swimmingly. He couldn’t have asked for a more incredible pair of kids. They took to everything like they’d been doing it all their lives, which they had. At six and nine years old they’d already built their fair share of bird houses, bat boxes, owl boxes, jewelry boxes for their mother…who was never coming back. Like the dog.
He shook himself. He had to stop doing that.
At any rate, he didn’t get it. They’d built the fort together with no problems, even painted the damn thing. They’d gotten along so well for months, and they were finally sleeping better too. No longer all crowded into the king bed, the boys had slowly made their way back to their own beds. Claiming, “dad, you just snore so loud.”
What had gone wrong? Why were the boys causing trouble now? Hadn’t they had their fair share of rough? Hadn’t they finally settled it all out? He heaved his shoulders a few times, and took some deep breaths. He had good kids, he just had to keep that in mind. Don’t automatically assume they were in the wrong. He went inside where the boys had been told to wait for him, it had seemed best considering the circumstances to keep them on the linoleum. He crossed over to where they sat, muddy, possibly bloody, it looked like bright blood, maybe paint? Jesus, these kids.
“Can you tell me, without all talking all at once, exactly what happened?” he asked as he took a seat at the kitchen table.
The boys looked at each other, and in that way they had, that way that made him grateful they weren’t twins cause surely then it’d be much worse, way creepier, they conversed with one another using their eyes. When they’d made a decision they both turned back to him and the younger one dropped his eyes while the older one began:
They’d been at the fort, like every day since they’d started working on it and every day since they’d finished it. Today they’d brought a bottle of ketchup (“sorry, dad,” interrupted the youngest, earning him a glare from the eldest who continued), so it they could have “real blood” and they’d been playing cowboy movie. They were taking turn being John Wayne cause he was their favorite, and they were taking turns being the bad guy cause they also each wanted to get bloody. But then they ran out of ketchup so they decided to use mud, only they didn’t have any mud, so they had to get water so they could make mud. It was such a long way back to the house but it was just a short jaunt down to the creek…
“What’s the rule about the creek?” he interrupted, glaring at both boys, his face stony.
“Never go to the creek without telling mom or dad,” both boys said without thinking, shoulders up to their ears and eyes downcast.
As soon as it came out of their mouths they froze. He froze.
She’d just been mentioned again.
He silently cursed. It was the first time the creek rule had been broken or even come up since she’d passed. Of course the boys would repeat the rule with “mom” in it. He sighed.
“Boys, she’s always gonna be with us. Even though she’ll never be here the way we want. It’s okay if she keeps coming up. It’s just gonna be hard for awhile, til we really get used to it…” he trailed off.
“When will we get used to it?” the eldest asked.
“Ah hell, boys,” he rubbed his face in his hands and looked back up at them, “I don’t know. I really don’t know. They say it happens though. Alright, alright, so you decided the creek was closer. Then what?”
“We had that bucket from when we were bringing supplies back and forth,” the youngest started but stopped when the eldest gave him a sideways kick to the foot. “Ouch!”
“I’ll tell it,” the eldest reminded before continuing:
They decided they’d take the bucket to the creek and the eldest would keep his feet out of the water while dipping the bucket in just enough to get a little water, as long as the eldest didn’t actually touch the water, they wouldn’t really be breaking the rules.
They’d both turned a deep red at this and looked up quickly to see if he bought their justification. When it was clear he didn’t they immediately looked back down and after a swallow of shame the eldest continued:
Everything was going perfectly according to plan, eldest out of the water, bucket filling with water, when the neighbor kids came running down their hill and saw the boys at the creek. After thinking the boys were bloody and then finding out they were just covered in ketchup the neighbor kids wanted to join in the game, too. All four boys agreed there was no need to get parents involved, the creek was low, the neighbors would just cross and they’d all go play…
“I oughta beat both your buts just for that,” he started before seeing their eyes go wide.
They’d agreed not to use corporal punishment before they’d even had kids. They’d agreed because they both knew it didn’t work. They’d agreed because neither one of them wanted their kids to live in fear of them. They’d agreed because they’d both grown up with that and hated it. But the boys still knew what a but beatin’ was, they’d read about it in some book or heard some other kid talk about it, and they’d definitely seen it in some movies. This was the first they’d ever been threatened with it though.
Grumbling to himself in an effort not to roar, why couldn’t he roar? He needed to let off steam here too. He took a deep breath and then motioned with his hand to the eldest to go on.
They neighbors crossed with just a small slip but it was no big deal, only the one boy got really wet and he swore he was fine, and they all ran back up to the fort and they were having a great time. They weren’t playing anything specific, they were just all cowboys and that was their fort and they’d take turns going out to check on the cattle or poke the fire for the beans…
“What?” he roared. There. He’d roared. And he did feel better. “You started a fire?”
A chorus of “no’s” ensued and from the furiously quick babble he came to understand it was a pretend fire, they’d just stacked up a bunch of branches in a ring of stones but no one actually had any matches so…
“So you couldn’t start a fire?” he asked.
“Right!” both boys said and looked at him with big smiles on their faces.
“But you would have if someone had matches?” he asked.
What followed was a whole lot of what sounded like spluttering and coughing and no-no-no-no followed by wide eyes that quickly looked back down again.
“What am I gonna,” he started then stopped. “Just try to tell me the rest guys.”
Everything was going great until the neighbor kids said they couldn’t be cowboys anymore. They had to be bad guys cause everyone knows bad guys don’t have moms and they didn’t have a mom anymore. That’s when…
“That’s when I hit em with a stick from the fire,” interrupted the youngest, tears running down his face.
“And I shoved em,” said the eldest, using his fist to wipe the tears off his own face.
~~~That’s one hour~~~