Read after [Draft] Setting Fire 001.
Point of View: George
Featured Characters: George Polk, Knucker Polk
Word Count: 700
Ten is a difficult age.
“Kid,” said George Polk, as the screen door slammed behind his ten-year-old son, “that’s the third week in a row now.”
Knucker’s ginger head ducked down. He was always hunching and ducking his head like that. George just didn’t get it. The boy was pushing five feet already after his first growth spurt (if he only stood up straight), and he wasn’t about to join any sports teams but he sure wasn’t small for his age either—and Knucker still carried himself like he was about two feet tall.
“Sorry,” the kid muttered, shuffling over to sink down on the faded couch next to his dad. There was dirt smudged across his face, a fresh strawberry-red scrape on his knee, and bits of pine needles sticking up out of his hair. When he had left the house this morning, he’d been carrying his Star Wars backpack; now it was nowhere to be seen.
George frowned and narrowed his eyes.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he offered. He had a pretty good idea what had made Knucker so late, and he was more than ready to go throw around his badge if need be. Screw what his mother thought, and screw that she said he was ruining her grandson. Elementary school kids didn’t need to be tough; that’s what fathers were for. No one messed with his kid.
Knucker just shook his head once, mute, and George sighed. This was a new phase, the sulking. And not his favorite by far.
“I thought you wanted to practice today,” he reminded him in a low, gentle voice, shifting to face his son. “Can’t build up callouses if you don’t keep playing, kid.”
“Then I won’t play anymore,” Knucker answered. He slumped down further in his seat, scuffing his sneakers against the carpet.
The Sheriff’s eyebrows rose. He glanced to the corner where his old guitar was propped against the living room wall. “You’ve been begging me to teach you since you were knee-high, Knucker.”
His son mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like it contained the name “Lexi”. Yeah, George might have guessed his son’s best friend had something to do with this, though he was struggling to work out why Alexa Ryan meant that his son didn’t want to learn the guitar anymore. He’d have figured she’d be Knucker’s biggest fan. If he hadn’t known better, he’d have thought she was the one who suggested it in the first place.
“Wanna run that by me again?”
The boy’s chin came up, and he finally looked his father straight in the face, though his eyes had gone wide and his bottom lip trembled slightly.
“B-because,” he croaked. “If I don’t—don’t stay with her, no one else protects her. And sh-she gets hurt a lot. So I gotta always be there.”
Sheriff Polk stared at his son for a long moment.
“Kid,” he tried softly, “You can’t be with Lexi every minute of the day. She’s got other people who can keep an eye on her, too, like her dad. You can still have time for stuff you want to do on your own. Lexi must have things she wants to do by herself too—”
“No!” blurted Knucker. He leapt to his feet, hands balled into fists at his side. George was momentarily struck dumb; he’d never heard his kid raise his voice like that, ever, especially not to him. “I d-d-don’t want to play stupid guitar! It’s dumb! And if you make me, I’ll hate you!”
“Knucker James Polk.” Now the Sheriff was on his feet too, towering over Knucker, pinning his son in place with a look and tone that brooked absolutely no arguments. He jabbed a finger towards the hallway. “You get in your room right now then and do your homework, or so help me you won’t see Alexa for a year.”
The boy quailed, lowering his head again, and then slunk off. George was left there staring after his son’s retreating back, struggling to figure out where the hell that outburst had come from—and more importantly, what he was going to do about it.
He couldn’t smother the nagging feeling that he’d done exactly the wrong thing already.