Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fiction: Risky Welcome

: Bear got so immersed in spring Den cleaning this week, that she missed posting on Word Filled Wednesday. But fortunately, while in the process of cleaning, she was sorting through years worth of old papers and ran across a short story that she had submitted to a magazine, but which was rejected.

So she did a major rewrite on it (and was concentrating on it so hard that the goat's milk she was pasteurizing almost boiled over on the stove -- she caught it just in time!) And she likes the story much better now, feeling it to be much tighter than it originally was. So likely will try submitting it somewhere again, although she may need to make some more adjustments before doing so.

At any rate, it got done just in time for Friday Fiction.

(And the Den is looking quite a bit cleaner, although it has a long way to go yet. That project may take several weeks! Hopefully though, more stories will turn up, as she sorts through more papers . . .)

Risky Welcome

"Heads up, Rico!" Nick called to me, stealing the ball from Mary and zooming down the sideline. He leaped into the air and made a perfect lay-up. The ball rattled the schoolyard hoop as it shot through.

"Yes!" he shouted. "Two points!"

Nick's a good friend, even though he ended up paired off with Craig, playing against Mary and me.

He hadn't seen the stuff Craig was pulling. Mary, my twin sister, hadn't noticed either. She was too busy trying to guard our hoop against Nick's onslaughts. She's fast, but Nick's taller.

I dribbled the ball, slowly moving towards the goal, trying to see past Craig, guarding me. Then, seeing Mary finally get in the clear, I bounce-passed under his waving arms. The slap he gave my forearm was so loud, it echoed across the concrete court.

Oh, he was a dirty player, all right. Closing my eyes, I waited for the sting to ease.

"Time!" I yelled, glaring at Craig. He looked back at me, dark eyes expressionless. Hands on my knees, I concentrated on catching my breath. My temper's my weak point, and I felt like I was about to burst . . . Even prayed silently the Lord would help keep me from slugging him.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon, like we sometimes get in Texas in late November. Dry leaves skittered past my feet, and the breeze cooled my sweat soaked T-shirt. Still waiting for my arm to stop hurting, I tried to figure how Mary had ever talked me into letting Craig play . . .

She, Nick, and I had been walkin' to the court last Saturday, when she'd spotted him hanging out in front of Braum's Ice Cream shop. He was wearing a denim jacket with a patch on one elbow, his ever present black baseball cap turned backwards, and old scruffy jeans. Looked like he was smoking somethin', but he put his hand behind his back quick when he saw us, so I couldn't be sure. Thought I smelled pot on his clothes in the hall one day at school too, but maybe not. It's hard to tell in a crowd.

"Hey, there's the new kid," Mary said. "He looks bored, and we could use a fourth for a change. I've seen him shooting baskets after school. He's all right."

"We don't even know him!" I protested. "And if you ask me, he's trouble. Always has that sneaky look about him."

She grinned, "Come on, Rico. He's just new and lonely. Weren't you listening when Mrs. Carey was talking 'bout how we should make new kids feel welcome?"

Mrs. Carey is our Sunday School teacher. Personally, I figured she'd cringe to hear Mary talkin' about her lesson, using it for a dude like Craig. After all, Mrs. Carey was always talking 'bout how the Bible tells us to obey parents and teachers. Would she really want us playing basketball with Craig? I so doubted that. What if it was a joint he'd just ditched in that garbage can behind him?

Nick shrugged. "I don't know, Mary," he said. "Craig's kinda rough, looks like."

She stopped walking and put her hands on hips, brown eyes flashing. "Well, what about when we rescued Gray-Boy last year? He was all dirty and growled at us at first, 'cause he was scared. But he turned out to be the most neatest, loving dog we ever had! Right, Rico?"

I knew that look. She wasn't going to back down an inch. But I tried anyway. "Craig's no lost spaniel. He was in a gang once, from what I hear. I doubt hanging with him is even safe."

She laughed in my face, hooting, "Not safe. You're scared of that lost-looking boy?"

I snorted. "He's no homeless puppy, I tell you!"

But she won Nick over, and 'fore I knew what hit me, I was in the middle of this game, with wonderful Craig fouling me right and left. My ribs still ached from where he'd elbowed me earlier.

Nick clapped his hands together. "Come on, Rico. End of time-out. Let's move it!"

We played hard over the next fifteen minutes, but neither team could hang onto the lead. Then, when we all were near the hoop and Nick was coming down from battling Mary for a rebound, his right elbow hit Craig on the cheekbone.

Craig yelped, slapping a hand to his face, then shouted, "You did that on purpose!"

Nick whirled, dropped the ball, and swung his hands up in the air, palms forward. "Sorry, dude! Didn't know you were so close."

Craig's face flushed deep red. "You knew, all right!" He dropped his hands to his sides, balling them into fists. His cheek was already starting to swell.

Mary and I just stared, it was all happening so fast.

Nick took a step backwards, warily. "Honest. I didn't mean to --"

It happened in a flash.

I couldn't tell you just how Craig got the knife into his hand. Maybe he pulled it out of a jeans pocket.

There was a loud click, and the long blade flashed bright in the sunlight.

"Run!" yelled Mary, grabbing Nick's arm to pull him away.

The three of us were outside the cyclone fence 'fore I had time to think. When I glanced back from the street, Craig was still standin' there, holding the knife. He seemed frozen, like I was seeing a snapshot, or somethin'.

It wasn't 'til we got to our driveway at home, that we finally stopped running.

"Did ya see the size of that knife?" asked Nick, panting. He looked stunned. "I thought I was dead!"

"Mary . . ." I tried to get my breath back, huffing. "If I ever let you talk me into anything . . . like that . . . again, you can --"

The words caught in my throat.

Craig had just run around the corner and was heading for us at top speed, arms pumping.

"Whoa, dude!" Nick shouted, just before he hit the end of the driveway. "Don't come no closer!"

Craig skidded to a halt. "I dropped the blade in a garbage can, man!" He shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "I'll never pack it again. I swear. I got mad, and it was like, there, you know? I wasn't even thinking. Before I knew it, you all were running and . . ." He swiped his eyes with a forearm, his tattered shirt cuff flapping open.

Was he crying? Mary, Nick, and I glanced at each other, then back at him.

He winced as his arm brushed the swollen cheek. It was turning purplish. Then said, "Where I lived before, you had to have a knife on you if you wanted to survive. It's like a habit. It gets you by, from day to day."

Nick said, "Right. Some habit. That's rich!"

But Mary cooed in her lost-puppy-dog voice, "Oh, you poor thing! Was it that bad in the city you came from? You can play with us any time you --"

I crossed my arms, still breathing hard. "He can not . . . What's gonna happen next time one of his . . . habits takes over?"

Craig looked down at the gravel, not saying anything.

To my surprise, Nick backed me up for a change. Usually he sides with Mary.

"Rico's right," he said. "Dude, if you're really sorry, you're gonna have to show it by letting us see you change for a while, before you're on the team again."

Craig's shoulders slumped, and he turned slow, to leave.

Before he got three steps though, Mary said, "Wait a minute! Couldn't he come play at the park games on Wednesday nights when we're with the Youth Pastor and the church team? Wouldn't that work? There'd be plenty of people around. And it would give us time to get to know each other in a safer --" She broke off, embarrassed.

Craig turned back, looking kinda hopeful for a second, but then shot a look my way and shook his head. "Nah! If you don't want me around . . ."

Well, my ribs still ached, my arm still stung, and it seemed like I was never gonna get my breath back . . . But it did sound like it might work, and the dude looked so down. Reluctantly, I signaled Nick with a nod.

So Nick said, "Right then. Let's try it in a bigger group. You can come Wednesdays."

That's when, for the first time ever, I actually saw Craig smile.

"Thanks," he said. Then repeated, "Thanks!" and waved as he walked away, saying over his shoulder, "I'll see you Wednesday."

So it worked out okay in the end. The dude really did change. Within a few months, the four of us were back to playing at the schoolyard again, regular, on Saturdays.

After some more months, he even started coming to church with us Sundays. Mary was the one that talked him into that.

And I never did end up slugging him. Which I guess just goes to show . . .

The Lord does answer prayer.

The End.

Rick over at Pod Tales and Ponderings is hosting Friday Fiction this week. So be sure and drop over there as well, to find links to the whole selection of entries by Christian writers, and/or to add a link of your own and join in the fun! We all welcome comments and discussion!
Bear's news and free multi-media Christian resources: Bear's Writing Den


Shellie Bailey said...

I really liked this. Thanks for sharing.

Denise said...

Bless you, you always bless me.

Sara Harricharan @ Fiction Fusion said...

Ah, what a nice ending. I'm glad that poor Craig wasn't slugged after all.

Catrina Bradley... said...

Applause applause!! Excellent story! The voice sounds just right for the age of the MC. Your characters are very similar of the teens in my story "Second Thoughts." They could be two chapters in a book! :)

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