Word Count 1,195
Murdoch readjusted his grip on the hammer’s handle his palm slippery with sweat. Just one more shoe and then he could break for lunch.
Pulling the red hot metal from the forge he began shaping it with perfectly placed blows of the hammer his firm muscles bunching with each swing.
He looked up as he plunged the shoe into a bucket of water and noticed his youngest son leaning casually against an awning post watching him with a contemplative look on his tanned face.
“Can I do something for you, son?”
Johnny tipped his hat to the back of his head then crossed his arms over his chest. “Nah, I was just studying.”
Murdoch swiped the perspiration from his forehead with the back of his glove then looked at his son for a long moment. He thought he saw a hint of mischief in the boy’s eyes, but he wasn’t sure.
“Wanting to learn some blacksmithing skills are you?” He asked as he pulled the unfinished shoe out of the bucket and began to examine his work.
Johnny chuckled softly and shuffled his feet. “I reckon I can find my way around a forge.”
“Is that right?” The older man cocked his head to one side in a thoughtful gesture before burying the shoe back in the coals.
Johnny’s eyes narrowed slightly at the tone of his father’s voice and then he began to mentally berate himself. He hadn’t meant to let that slip. Now Murdoch might get it into his head to assign, him, to work the endless job behind the anvil.
Out of his peripheral Murdoch saw the young man grimace and he turned his head to hide the desire to smile which was causing his lips to twitch at the corners.
Returning to his son’s first comment he asked, “Just what were you studying?”
Johnny cocked his left hip out and was silent for a moment. His long tanned fingers fiddled with the leather ends of the stampede strings dangling down his chest. When he finally spoke his voice was soft and each word drawled out lazily. “Oh….., I was just thinking.”
Murdoch fought the urge to grit his teeth. Johnny could be so dang frustrating sometimes with his long silences, constant fidgeting, and short cryptic answers. The boy seemed to enjoy stringing people along.
Blowing out a puff of air Murdoch decided to wait him out. Two people could play this game after all.
When Johnny realized his father wasn’t going to ask anymore questions he stood up straighter and with a waving gesture of his hand toward the anvil he said, “You sure swing that hammer around as if it weighed no more’n that wooden spoon Maria is always wielding about. I was just thinking I’m kinda glad I didn’t grow up here.”
Johnny watched his father carefully and saw the big man’s shoulders tense at the mention of Johnny’s childhood. It was still a sore subject with Murdoch and one which Johnny usually avoided, though sometimes he liked to bring it up just to enjoy his father’s discomfort. The man would get all stiff and rigid, and would talk through clinched teeth reminding Johnny of Jelly’s gander Dewdrop posturing and hissing when someone dared to disturb him.
Murdoch rolled his broad shoulders and set the large hammer aside. Placing his hands on his hips, his expression was carefully guarded as he asked, “And just why is that?”
Johnny looked off into the distance for a beat his fingers now fidgeting with the beaded bracelet around his right wrist. When his eyes met Murdoch’s again it was with a sparkle and a gleam of mischief and the older man’s posture relaxed immediately.
”Well…” Johnny drawled out again his lips quirking into a grin as he clasped his hands behind his back and rocked forward onto his toes. “I was just thinking if I’d of grown up here I don’t think my backside would have been too safe.”
Trying to keep the amusement from showing on his face Murdoch gave his head a brief nod as he picked up the hammer again with one hand and reached for the metal tongs with the other.
His tone was even as he asked, “What makes you think it’s safe now, son?”
Johnny tilted his head to the side as his grin stretched into a full blown smile, his teeth flashing a brilliant white against his dark skin.
Murdoch met the cocky look in his son’s eyes with a look of his own, one eyebrow raised in warning.
Lowering his gaze to the ground Johnny’s smile never wavered as one hand reached up and readjusted his hat, pulling it low over his eyes. With a quick shove he pushed away from the awning post. “I guess I’ll go wash up for lunch,” he announced casually.
Murdoch choked back the urge to chuckle, clearing his throat instead. “I’ve just got this last shoe then I’ll join you,” he offered.
Johnny waved a hand of acknowledgement as he turned to head for the hacienda. He hadn’t made it more than a few paces away when Murdoch’s booming voice stopped him in his tracks.
“Oh, and, John!” The big Scot’s voice rang out with authority. “Leave me a clean towel this time, alright?”
The young man turned slowly to face his father. “Sure, Ol’ Man,” he drawled his tone just as impertinent as his words.
“You just see that you do, boy.” Murdoch said gruffly, pointing the tongs at his son and waggling them for emphasis. “My swinging arm is all warmed up and I don’t think you really want to see me put it to further use.”
Johnny threw his hands up in a defensive gesture and began backing away slowly. “Now, Murdoch, no reason to get your feathers all ruffled.” He chuckled softly as he remembered how he’d been comparing his father to Dewdrop only moments ago. “Besides,” he flashed another cocky grin. “You’d have to catch me first.” With that parting shot Johnny turned on his heel and walked confidently away in that unhurried, rolling gate that was so typical of him, and which resembled a swagger.
Murdoch shook his head and had to chuckle out loud this time as he watched his son’s retreating form. He smiled to himself in wonderment as he turned back to the the forge and placed the hot shoe on the anvil.
How had they gone from the deep distrust and heated arguments of the last few months to this casual teasing banter? Something in their relationship had changed, but as he brought the hammer down to reshape the heated metal he made a decision not to question it further. He was simply going to embrace it.
Mentally he stored away the conversation so he could pull it out later and enjoy it again, along with the image of the smile Johnny had worn on his face. A smile he looked forward to seeing a lot more of in the future.
He smiled again to himself, more confident than ever that this father and son thing would work. They just needed time.
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