This is a short story written for a contest based on a photo.
| The barn smelled like it always had – stale, allergen-rich, and leathery from the saddles hanging there in the heat. There he was with his mustache, worn tan Stetson, and red handkerchief wrapped around his neck. I always wondered how tight that hanky was cinched up around his neck and why he wore it. The smirk on his face drained the wonderment from my mind in an instant, though. That unbearable smirk was always his best (and worst) way of communicating. Did he know that? I did not care.
“Well, I guess you…”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“I was just going to say…”
“Shut up. Just shut up. I don’t want to hear about it, okay. With that smirk, you don’t even need to talk. Surprised you ever do talk. Just don’t start now.”
“Phoenix, you have to hear this.”
“No, Jack, I don’t. I know already. Obviously, so do you. So can it. I can’t deal with this right now. I have enough going through my mind without you adding to the tornado of crap bursting out of my chest right now. You hear me?”
All I wanted to do was finish throwing bales so I could go inside, wash up, eat some chow, and listen to my iPod in peace. My best friend had gotten the iPod for me for my last birthday. It was refurbished and old, only 20 gigabytes, which I guess is a small amount of storage, but I sure enjoyed my little technological gem – much more than I enjoyed that letter I had just gotten in the mail.
“You belong here on the ranch, Phoenix.”
“Jack, I belong where my soul tells me to go. And my soul tells me that medical school is where I am supposed to go.”
“Phoenix, this is the second year in a row that they’ve rejected you. None of them highbrows want you around. You aren’t one of them. Never will be, so why fight it?”
“Jack, my name is Phoenix Jones. And one day it will be Dr. Phoenix Jones, Psychiatrist. So you can just stop celebrating my failures all the time and wipe that smirk off your face.”
“Phoenix, the smirk isn’t because I like to see you fail. The smirk on my face is because I know you’ll make it. There’s no doubt. And nobody can stop you. Sure can’t wipe a smirk like that off my scruffy mug, but you’ll learn to live with it, won’t you?”
I was caught flatfooted. “Jack, I…”
“Don’t need to speak. Surprised you ever do.” I could not help it. I smirked and threw another bale.