(This post is a continuation of a story begun here a day or two ago and continued in a second post the next day. This is part three. If you want the whole thing to date, back up a few posts on this blog till you see the title “New Story.” Read from there, Ed.)
“I can see you in there. Don’t be a chicken.”
He considered the challenge and the invitation and thought of another girl back home. She was also a bit older and maybe not quite as good looking and he had spent so much of the last year thinking about her and about the tantalizing prospect of being taken into her world and confidence, whatever that might mean, and being frustrated in both act and thought and it flashed across his mind that chances like this one were rare and could vanish in a moment. In his old life and in his old neighborhood there were a thousand things that might have frozen him in his tracks right then and there, but he was in new country and he had made his way through the great forest alone with only his hatchet and he considered himself a man and so he stepped toward the light and the girl. He could have gone a few steps to the right and simply walked out of the woods, but he instead went straight ahead into a thicket of sumac and swung his hatchet wide and whacked down the pithy stalks and walked onto the open field like a conqueror and looked up at the girl who was radiant in the sun.
“Who are you?” She asked. It was not a demand. There was no threat of eviction implied.
“Johnny Williams. John Williams. We just bought the place over on the other side of the woods here.”
“The Johnson place?” She pulled the reins again to discourage the horse from the grass.
“Yeah. Just moved in a few days ago.”
“You’re a long way from home.”
This was music to his ears. First, it implied her recognition of his own independence and courage; second, it meant this girl knew her way around these parts and had not spent all her traveling on paved roads. The blonde hair and the horse would have been enough, but the girl’s boldness and sense of the world had written on the blank table of his young soul. He was struck with her.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Few miles, maybe.”
She shook her head and smiled. “Maybe a mile. How old are you?”
Although he had never been near a horse before, he stepped again toward the girl and lied. “Fifteen.” He said.
The horse had shied at the boys approach and she adjusted herself in the saddle and stroked his mane. “I don’t believe that. You might be thirteen.”
And thus he had gained a year.
“I’ll be fifteen in March.” This was true, strictly speaking. He would be fifteen in March three years hence.
“What are you doing out here. All by yourself.”
“I’m just exploring. Looking the place over. You’re by yourself.”
“I’m older than you. And this is my daddy’s land. And I have a horse.”
“Would your daddy mind me bein’ on his land?”
The horse shuddered and blew and stepped back. She steadied it expertly and turned again to face the boy. “He might. He wouldn’t like you taking that ax to his trees.”
“That stuff I cut wasn’t really trees. It’s just big weeds. Nobody will miss it.”
“That might not be for you to judge.”
“Well. It’s true though. People will pay me to get rid of that stuff. Have before.”
“Oh, so you’ve had jobs before.”
“Some. Not a real job. Just work to do, here and there.
“Maybe for your daddy.”
“Him and a neighbor or two.”
“You’re funny, but I don’t believe anything you say.”
“You can believe this. I’m looking for a drink. Thirsty.”
“Follow me,” she said. “There’s a cold spring on the other side of the pasture. I’ll walk the horse.” And she turned the horse around and began walking across the field and he followed her.