Mr. McCall had known Julia since she was a little girl. Her grandparents owned land by his place, and he’d practically watched her grow up. That was long before her parents divorced and her mother had lost her mind in the aftermath.
Mrs. McCall had died sometime in between, and Julia’s mom had tried to help him recover from his loss. She had been unreachable in her own sorrow, though. Julia remembered going to Mr. McCall’s house for something to eat when her mother would space out for days on end. The widower took Julia and her brother under his wing, fed them and made sure they were safe when their mom was mentally lost to them.
Her dad’s leaving had scarred them all, but mostly their mother. It was a good thing their mom’s example didn’t affect Julia and her brother any more than it did, or they’d never have made it out of that miserable existence. Mr. McCall was a life-saving father figure after her dad’s abandonment, and Mac — as they called him — helped give them the substance to survive both physically and emotionally.
Julia needed a strong male presence as much as her teenage brother did. There were otherwise so many bad influences in their world, especially for a pretty and impressionable young girl like her. The most daunting one was unfortunately her brother’s best friend, Pete, but Mr. McCall tried to see to it that Pete didn’t bother Julia. At least not if he could help it.
Mac talked to Julia’s brother once about how bad he thought Pete was for both him and Julia. To no avail. He’d noticed a change in Julia’s behavior around that boy in the last few months, though, and he feared what may have already happened between the two.
He was taking a chance, with Julia not being family and all, but decided to discuss the matter with her anyway. If her own family wasn’t there to step in, he was the next best thing to it. Damn her mother for not doing so herself.
The old man took the girl fishing from time to time and decided to broach the subject one of those peaceful afternoons. They had their own spot on the bank where they usually set up, away from where the boys or other neighbors could hear their conversation. It was within this seclusion that Mac stumbled over his words in an abridged version of the-birds-and-the-bees as well as the boy-birds-gone-bad.
This was heretofore a discussion he’d never imagined having with a girl her age, the daughter or granddaughter Mac never had himself. “Now, Julia, honey,” he began. “I wanna tell you something that your momma mightn’t never had told you before.” She sat on the ground with her pole in the water, its red bobber bouncing on the surface, in rapt attention at Mac’s exhortation. “You have to watch out for boys. I know because, believe it or not, I once was one myself.” A slight smile crept across her face but quickly disappeared when she realized he was quite serious.
Mac continued, “You need to watch what you’re doing … and watch what THEY’RE doing. ‘Cause them boys might be up to no good. You’re becoming quite a fetching young woman, and adolescent boys might not be trusted around a looker like you. Their bodies start to take over for them.” Julia began to protest, her face flushing to a darkening crimson, “Oh, come on, Mac …”
“You let me finish,” he admonished. “Your daddy’s not here to warn you about how some boys aren’t gentlemanly but will act a certain way to get you to … warm up to ‘em. And I just want you to be on your guard.” Julia’s gaze was downcast by now, but she respected her elder and listened to his advice. To prevent any further embarrassment on both their parts, Mac decided to stop while he was ahead. He asked, “You understand what I’m saying here, hon?”
She raised her head to meet his eyes and gave a slight nod. Julia said, “No worries, Mac. I still have that old pocket knife you once gave me for my birthday, and I know how to use it if the need arises.” She’d succeeded in cutting the thick tension with her knife of humor.
Mac was the most positive influence in her life, and Julia knew he’d do anything in his power to protect her. There was no way she could tell him what Pete had already done.
I used the weekly writing prompt fetching from the Studio 30+ online writing community.
image: cjdjkobe at everystockphoto.com (attribution license)