Ten-year old Sidney Wilks poked a stick into the ant hill just to see the insects scatter. He dug the point of his pretend sword into one of the large-bodied ants and grinned. It wasn't a nice thing to do, but he wasn't feeling nice at the moment.
The front door opened and Sidney's father, Jackson, stepped out onto the porch. "Get out of the dirt."
"Yes, sir." Sidney stood, before brushing the dust from his pants.
"If you're gonna stay out here, sit on the porch," Jackson ordered.
"Yes, sir." Sidney sat on the end of the porch and let his feet dangle over the side. Good manners were a requirement in the Wilks' house, but inside his head Sidney was busy giving his dad a piece of his mind. Sometimes he wished a big ole bug would crawl up his dad's nose. The image almost drew a giggle from him. Almost.
If he'd had to lose a parent to cancer, why couldn't it have been his father? Yeah, it was a hateful thing to think about, but Sidney had never got on well with his dad. His mom, on the other hand, had been his entire world.
Elizabeth Running Elk-Wilks had been one of the strongest people he'd ever known. She was like a superhero. Not because she wore a cape or anything. Heck, most of the time she'd worn a big plaid shirt with a floppy leather hat she called Old Ben.
Sidney had thought his mom was indestructible. "Damn cancer," he cursed. Before the ovarian cancer had ravaged her already-thin frame, taking over the rest of her body, Beth had worked right alongside the men on the Running E Ranch. She was up at four in the morning and went to bed well after Sidney. Somehow, in between, she'd managed to make her son feel like the most special boy alive.
Sidney kicked back with his heel against the lattice that surrounded the porch. Now that she was gone, he knew he'd never again be special to anyone, certainly not his father. His dad always made him feel like a disappointment. His mom had understood that he wasn't meant to be a rancher, but his father still hadn't given up hope.
It wasn't that his dad was out and out mean. He was just...hard on him. Sidney supposed his dad thought that would make him tough or something. He snorted to himself. Even at ten, he knew he'd never be like his dad.
He lay back on the porch and rested his head on his clasped hands. Staring up at the light blue painted ceiling, he wondered what the kids at school would say when he returned. His father had kept him home for the last week. There were things to be done, his dad had said. Sidney still didn't know what those things were, though. The only job he'd been given was to box up his mom's clothes. He still didn't understand why he'd had to do it so soon after her death.
Actually, now that he thought about it, Sidney was glad he'd been assigned the chore. It had given him a chance to keep a few of his mom's clothes. He hadn't kept many things, but there were a few items he'd hidden in the back of his closet.
Sidney heard the screen door slap shut and tilted his head back. He looked at Mrs O'Dwyer. She looked upside down. Funny.
"Sidney, wouldn't you like to have a nice plate of food?"
"No thank you, Ma'am." There were too many people in his house. They all seemed to think a piece of cake or a chicken leg would make him feel better that his mom was down in the ground. They were a bunch of buttheads.
Mrs O'Dwyer made some kind of tsking noise and returned to the house to hang out with the other adults. Sidney's dad had told him it said a lot about his mom that so many people wanted to pay their respects after the funeral. Sidney wasn't really sure what it said. Maybe the restaurants in town were closed, because everyone who came seemed to be hungry.
Sidney rolled to his side. He knew his suit was getting all dirty but he doubted he'd ever wear it again. He noticed a small bubble in the grey paint of the old floorboard. Reaching out, he ran his short fingernail over the bubble until it popped free, leaving the weathered wood exposed. He wondered how old the board was. Had his grandpa, Harry Running-Elk, built it?
"I wish you were here, Grandpa," he whispered.
A tear dripped across his nose and onto the porch. He quickly wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his coat before glancing around to make sure no one was around. There were quite a few cowboys who lived on the ranch, and the last thing Sidney wanted was for someone to tell his dad.