Word Count: 1150
“When I’m twenty-one, I won’t have to mind nobody ever again!” Little Joe Cartwright declared as he threw himself down in a particularly thick pile of hay. His best friend Mitch followed Joe into the loft and plopped down beside him.
“You sure about that, Joe? I’ve seen Adam do what your Pa says, and he’s already twenty-three.”
“That’s ‘cause Pa’s the boss of the whole ranch. Takin’ orders from the boss ain’t the same as having to mind. Adam gives plenty of orders too.”
“Yeah, he does,” Mitch agreed easily, “and bunches of them orders he gives to you.” Mitch laughed mockingly, and Little Joe punched his friend’s arm. Mitch punched back, but after a few more light blows, both boys relaxed back into the supporting fodder.
Little Joe sighed, “That’s what’s so bad, though. I have to mind just about everybody on this ranch just ‘cause they’re my elders, and there ain’t a single soul that has to mind me.”
“There ain’t nobody at my house that has to mind me either,” Mitch commiserated.
“Yeah, but there ain’t but your ma and pa that you have to mind. I got Pa and Adam and Hop Sing and lots of hands like Old Ned and even Hoss if nobody else is around and he takes a mind to be bossy.”
“He a hardly does, though. At least that’s good.”
“That’s just because he ain’t growed into his full bossiness yet, being just seventeen. He can be bossy for seventeen.”
“Is he bossy as Adam was when he was seventeen?”
“Naw, leastways I don’t think so; Adam has more natural bossiness. It just ain’t fair! Adam’s always saying as to how Pa was harder on him about minding than he is on me, but he never thinks as how he had only Pa to mind a lot of the time.”
“I don’t see as how your pa could have been much harder about minding then; he’s pretty strict with you. You have to mind all them other folks just ‘cause he says so.”
“See, that’s why I can’t wait until I’m twenty-one and don’t have to mind nobody anymore.”
“Me too!” came Mitch’s vehement agreement, but it was followed by a deep sigh. “But that’s ten whole more years, Joe. That’s only one year less then we’ve already been alive.”
Little Joe’s lower lip slipped outward in an agreeing pout. “Yeah, ten whole more years.”
“Maybe we can stop minding some folks before that. Ya think so?”
“Mmm, I don’t know, maybe.”
“Does Hoss have to mind everybody like you?”
Little Joe chewed on the end of a piece of hay as he considered his answer. “Well, not exactly. He can’t be no ways disrespectful to anybody much older, but, well, no, he don’t have to mind all the time like I do. Mainly he has to mind Pa, and, well, Pa is the onliest one he has to worry about giving him a real consequence.” Little Joe’s emphasis on the word real let Mitch know exactly to what type of consequence Joe referred.
“Yeah, there’s lots more folks can give a real consequence to us.” Mitch rolled over and stretched out on his stomach. “Hoss probably doesn’t even really have to worry about your pa unless he did something like getting arrested or breaking a big commandment. Not with him being seventeen and so big and all.”
“Pa don’t care about big none. It ain’t like Hoss would fight Pa.”
“No, I can’t see nothing like that ever happening, but still I bet he’d have to do something really big to get a whipping at seventeen.”
“Not that big.” The words slipped out of Little Joe’s mouth before he considered that his brother might not want him sharing certain information with Mitch. When it did occur to Joe, he shifted nervously.
Mitch could read his friend fairly well and knew that Joe suddenly wished he could take his last statement back. “You don’t mean. . . how long ago?”
“That’s not your business, Mitch.” Little Joe gave his friend a fierce glare.
Mitch ignored it. “Come on, Joe, tell. It’s not like I’m stupid enough to tease Hoss. It ain’t nearly warm enough for getting tossed in the horse tough.”
Little Joe shifted again, “Well, umm, you got to promise not to say nothing to nobody.”
Raising his hand, Mitch declared, “I promise not to say nothing to nobody ever.” Then he spit into his palm.
“Well, okay. I’d been kinda thinking like you for awhile now about being too big for a tanning once ya was, well, maybe sixteen, maybe, but about three weeks ago, Hoss got a tanning, so I know that ain’t the way Pa thinks, and if he don’t think that way with Hoss, he sure enough ain’t gonna think that way with me.”
“You sure he got a tanning?”
“What did he do?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I know he didn’t get arrested or break no big commandment.”
“Hoss wouldn’t tell you?” Mitch did not bother to inquire if Little Joe had asked his brother about the cause of the punishment.
“No. I asked Adam, but he just said Hoss forgot he was Ben Cartwright’s son and Pa decided to give him a proper reminder. If it had been something like you thought, I would have found out about it, though; I’d have seen it in Adam’s face.”
“Then ya think your Pa’s mind is set on twenty-one?”
“Yeah, that’s when the law says you’re a man, and men don’t get tanned.” Joe sighed more deeply than ever. “Ten years is a long time, Mitch.”
“Yeah, it is.”
The two boys lay in silence for a few minutes.
“If I don’t leave now, I won’t get home in time to get my chores done before supper,” Mitch announced to the ceiling.
“Yeah, and I’m suppose to straighten up the tack room before my regular chores.”
“Your pa said?”
“Naw, Adam said. He saw Hoss chopping kindling for me when I was late yesterday and said I had to.”
“Well, then there ain’t nothing for it but to get her done.” Mitch rose to his feet and scurried down the ladder followed by Little Joe.
“How many days is there in ten years, Little Joe?”
Little Joe furrowed his brow and then stated, “Three thousand six hundred and fifty. ‘Course, we ain’t got a full ten years ‘cause we both had birthdays months ago.”
“Yeah.” Mitch’s eyes lit up. “I’ve got four months less than you, Joe!” His tone was triumphant.
Little Joe scowled at the thought but just snorted in reply. “Tonight I’m gonna figure exactly how many days it is until I turn twenty-one, just so I can start counting them down tomorrow!”