Stephen held his knee still as his mother cleaned the wound, he was careless at times but he would blame the other kids.
His mother scolded him over and over for playing in the street, not only for it being dangerous but because he should be playing in the grass where it was softer and safer. He listened intently and nodded as he tried to ignore the sting of the antibacterial cream. He whined as she rubbed a none too gently.
You’ll thank me later when it’s not infected, she said firmly and continued. She didn't look up anymore, unconcerned if it was painful. It was a job that had to be done.
Stephen stared at the wall to distract himself; the bathroom wall was covered by a thin strip of wallpaper that was fraying at the corners. It was much nicer when his father was here, nothing was out of place and everything always worked. Now, mother had to call a repairman or an electrician to fix things because she didn't know how to fix it like father. He felt a warm hand on his knee instead of the cold of the antibacterial cream. His mother was rubbing a bandaid down, smoothing out all the creases to try and make it perfect.
His mother stood to full height now, warning him of other dangers and to be careful when he played.
Stephen promised and hopped down from the counter. He thanked her softly, wrapping his arms around her waist and burying his nose into the soft fabric of her shirt. She hugged him back as best as she could before shooing him away to go outside, despite her earlier warnings.
Stephen smiled and bounded out the front door, slamming it behind him in excitement. The street was still the same, with other neighborhood children playing together. He was now more cautious about running down the driveway or out onto the street in the middle of a game. He stood back for a few minutes, observing how they played, what was the rules, and when he could join. They began to pick teams, two leaders, an Indian and a Cowboy.
The leader of the cowboys pointed to Stephen. He moved to stand beside his fellow teammates, proud to be a cowboy against the reckless Indians. They explained the rules; Indians and cowboys fight to the death, Indians had to be shirtless so they could be easily spotted out of the cowboys. Cowboys had to use a nerf gun and Indians had to strike with mud covered sticks. The cowboys ran to their house to collect their guns and the Indians gathered sticks to coat in mud.
Stephen joined the mad scramble to collect guns, running into this open garage to grab two giant guns out of the toy bin. There were a bag of darts beneath them. He grabbed the bag and tied it to the belt loop on his shorts. He picked up both guns and ran back to the circle in the street where everyone was slowly filtering in.
The group of Indians started to huddle together, therefore the cowboys had to do the same. The leader of their group explained a plan; they would stay by the forest's edge, waiting for someone to scoop it out before attacking.
It was simple enough. Both groups broke and the leaders shook hands, the cowboys giving the Indians a headstart since it was their land. The Indians scrambled into the woods, chests bare and sticks wielded. The cowboys watched with amusement as they disappeared into the brush.