Chapter 10: A Sack of Flour
Tommy had graciously allowed Cricket McNabb and his buddies use of the field here and there to practice, and over the weekend Cricket had suggested they play each other. Somehow or other, everybody was going to be available Wednesday. Tommy canceled practice, though, on Tuesday, in order to "prepare the field"- the field, otherwise known as the patch of dirt by the schoolhouse. They were going to "prepare" the patch of dirt by the schoolhouse for a pick- up game of baseball. Nobody argued the case, though, because honestly none of them had anything better to do.
Tommy stood with his arms crossed in the general vicinity of home plate, surveying the dirt patch with narrowed eyes. The bruise on his face had faded to a greenish-yellowish color and for some reason it reminded Ginny a little bit of Frankenstein's monster.
"You go to church with Miss Fulchum, right, J.D.?" he observed. Miss Fulchum was the school teacher.
"You reckon you could swing by her place and see if she'd go in the school and get us the bases to use, just for one day? So long as we give 'em back soon as we're done?"
"Wouldn't hurt to ask."
Tommy chewed on his cheek as he scrutinized the dirt patch further. "Lines would be nice," he mused.
Ginny raised an incredulous eyebrow. "Lines, Tommy? Really? This ain't the World Series, ya know."
"I know that! But if we can't get the bases we could at least...draw 'em, if we had the chalk for making lines."
"But we don't have that kind of chalk," Becky reminded him.
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "There's gotta be something we can use."
"Flour?" Danny suggested.
Ginny did a double-take; Danny so rarely spoke.
"Nah, flour'll just wash away," J.D. argued.
"No, no, that's good!" Tommy affirmed. "Flour'll work fine for just one day." He thought for another moment then asked, "Who has some money?"
Not surprisingly, nobody spoke up.
The wheels in Tommy's head were spinning; the rest off them waited silently for them to screech to a halt. "Well, where to get that much flour? I doubt we even have enough to make a biscuit at the house," he said finally, playfully elbowing Danny.
"We have plenty," Becky admitted. "But my mother won' t let us use it and she's home so we can't just swipe what we need."
"There's the store," Tommy observed.
Becky looked appalled. Stealing from the store that was managed by her father and owned by the coal company would be a suicide mission.
"Sorry. No, you're right," he rushed to correct himself. "We're not shoplifters. Thieves, maybe. But not shoplifters."
"We have flour at my house," Ginny offered. "I dunno how much but nobody'll notice it gone."
"Nah, Ginny. You live so far outside town," J.D. said. "Look, we go through a lot of flour at home and we always have plenty. Mama's cleaning the officials' houses today, won't be home 'til this evening."
"Your sister-" Becky attempted to argue.
"Is easily distracted," he cut her off.
Tommy mulled it over a minute before deciding, "That's probably our best bet...Can y'all manage that while I go home and grab a broom to sweep some of this coal dust off the field?"
They agreed and all headed toward the coal camp. "You girls handle the distracting," J.D. instructed them as they walked. "Me and Danny'll take care of the flour. Shouldn't take more than two minutes."
When they reached the Montgomery's house, next door to J.D.'s, Tommy broke off from the group to retrieve that broom and J.D. and Danny slipped around the side of the house. Ginny looked at Becky gloomily and said, "You better do all the talking. I've been told I'm a terrible liar."
"Who told you that?"
Becky rolled her eyes. "He just knows you too well. You're a fine liar, I'm sure."
Ginny wasn't sure that was a quality one ought to be proud of.
The two girls, one fair with curly, red hair wrestled into two braids, the other tan with untamable, dark hair, both equally guilty-looking, continued walking, stopping just before J.D.'s porch; J.D. appeared from around the back corner of the house and gave them the thumbs-up.
Ginny took a deep breath. "Here goes..."
They stepped up onto the wooden porch and Becky tapped daintily on the door. A moment later it opened and Leslie greeted them with her characteristic friendly smile. Ginny already felt bad about lying to her.
"Morning, ladies. How are y'all today?"
"We're fine, Leslie," Becky answered."You?"
"I can't complain."
"Glad to hear it. Is J.D. home?"
"He's supposed to be at the ball field...with y'all..."
"He never showed up," Ginny fibbed. "We just figured he overslept. But ya say he ain't here?"
"No, he isn't home."
Ginny and Becky exchanged puzzled looks. "Well that's strange," Becky observed. "Reckon where he could be?"
Leslie looked a little worried but deep in thought. "You know, yesterday was his birthday," she explained. "Our grandparents gave him some money and I'm sure it's just burning a hole in his pocket. He might have stopped at the store."
Behind Leslie, Ginny spied Danny and J.D. dart stealthily across the doorway that opened to the kitchen.
"You say he has money?" Becky asked, feigning surprise. She narrowed her eyes and looked at Ginny. "I bet I know where he is. I bet that fool's sitting at the diner sipping on a root beer float, while we're all out here sweating it tryin' to find him!"
"That's also possible," Leslie agreed.
"So we'll look there. And then the store if he ain't there," Ginny said. "Thanks for your help, Leslie."
They turned and started to descend the porch steps. "Um, could you..." Leslie began meekly.
Ginny looked over her shoulder. "Of course. We'll let ya know if we don't find him shortly. But I'm sure we will."
They stepped off the porch and headed in the direction of the store. "Gosh dang!" Becky snapped once they were a few houses away. "That was horr'ble. She's so stinking nice and now we got her all worried."
Ginny was glad she wasn't the only one with a guilty conscience. Until then, she had never really been sure just why she and her other friends were friends with Becky. She had supposed that, for her, it was mainly just an effort to convince Mama that all her friends were not, in fact, boys; and for the others it was probably because Becky was not only willing to play baseball with them, but she was just as good at it as most of the boys. It didn't really matter that she was probably only there because she was sweet on J.D. But now it made sense. She was one of them, and a lot more like Ginny herself than she'd realized- capable of doing what she knew was wrong while simultaneously feeling bad about it, and making it look easy. A worthy accomplice.
When they got to the end of the street Danny and J.D., heaving the huge sack of flour, emerged from around the side of the last house to join them in the return to the dirt patch.
The afternoon sun had prevented them from leaving the cool shade of the Montgomery's porch and now they all sat on its splintered wood floor playing poker. Andy was pretty good, they all knew, so the fact that Jack had won the last three hands had them pretty well convinced he was cheating. Freddy had just dealt the fourth hand and Kody was meticulously arranging his cards, attempting to keep Jack from stealing a peek because he knew that's what he was doing, when Andy muttered, "Three o'clock."
Leslie was walking toward the porch. They all looked up from their hands when she got to the bottom step.
"Afternoon," Andy greeted.
"Good afternoon. I'm so sorry to interrupt y'all's game, but would it be possible for me to borry some flour?"
Andy cast his eyes down. "No," he muttered, barely audible. "We ain't got none."
She laughed. "Well that's nothing to be ashamed of. Obviously we ain't got any, either."
It made him smile a little.
"Kody does!" Jack crowed. "He's got flour at his house."
Kody looked at Jack, confused, but when Jack winked he caught on.
"Y'all live a good piece outside town, though, dontcha?" she asked, a trace of suspicion in her voice.
Kody jumped to his feet. "It's no trouble, really. 'S the least I could do for that nice handkerchief I annihilated."
She rolled her eyes. "That was nothing. But if you leave to go home, it'll mess up the game."
He shrugged. "They can re- deal. Besides, Jack's cheating anyway."
Jack put his hand on his chest and his mouth dropped open. "My own flesh and blood..."
"Knock it off, Jack," Andy snapped. "We all know ya been cheating."
"Oh, a feller can't hit a lucky streak?"
"Notthat lucky," Freddy shot back.
Kody stepped off the porch, leaving the other three arguing among themselves. "I'll bring it by your house," he told Leslie as he passed.
"Wait!" she said, hustling to catch up to him and his brisk stride. "Least I can do is keep you company for the walk. I am the one that come begging. If ya don't mind, that is."
He fought back the goofy grin threatening to overtake his face. "Don't mind one bit."
He slowed his pace, maybe so she could keep up, maybe so it would take longer. She explained that she'd had the chicken nearly cooked before she realized she didn't have any flour for dumplins, and she didn't suppose her mama and daddy would be too happy with just chicken and nothing when they got home. He nodded and agreed. She went on talking about the weather being so hot and other trivial things and he mostly just listened, not because he didn't care about the subject matter; he just liked hearing her talk.
"So my brother tells me your mama went out of town and left you in charge."
"She must really trust you."
"Never gave her any reason not to, I suppose. I'm pretty boring."
She laughed. "I doubt boring is the best word."
"Oh, I assure you, it very much is."
"Must be so exciting to not really have to answer to anybody."
"Eh. I pretty much do what I would do if she was here. Like I said, boring."
She shook her head. "I think you're confusing boring with other words, like nice and trustworthy and responsible."
He looked down at his feet, hoping she hadn't seen him blush.
"For example," she went on, " I think it's really sweet of you to play ball with my brother and his friends like you do. What happens at that ball field is pretty much all he talks about."
"It's just something to do." He felt guilty knowing that this summer his involvement was only the result of blackmail.
"And it's nice that you do it. It really means a lot to those younger kids that you and Jack and Freddy and Andy go out there with them so they'll have a full team. It may just be a game to you, but talk to my little brother and you'll know it's a lot more than that to them."
He smiled sheepishly. Why argue? Let her think he was a saint.
She chattered on and he soaked up every word, speaking only when absolutely necessary. When they reached his house she noted the green truck sitting in the yard.
"Shame she didn't leave you the keys."
"She did. I just try not to drive it much because it eats gas and gas costs money. And I'm trying to save up."
"Oh," she smiled. "Responsible."
She followed him onto the porch and he held the screen door for her. "I'll just stay out here. Don't think it'd be proper, nobody else home."
"Oh no!" she spluttered. "I'm not suggesting anything about you in particular. It's just..."
"No, no. Of course. I'll just be a minute." He shut the screen lightly, walked into the kitchen and squatted to pull the flour from its home in the bottom of the cupboard. He sat it on the counter and grabbed a coffee cup from the top shelf, thought, then put the cup back up, snatched the truck keys off the table, and carried the half- full sack back outside.
"Oh goodness, I don't need that much!" she exclaimed.
"Well we don't need any of it. I can't cook and bless her heart, Ginny tries, but she can't either."
"Are you sure?"
He laughed. "I'm more than positive." He held up the keys. "Can I give you a ride back to town?"
The sun had already reddened her fair cheeks and wilted her bouncy, blonde hair, leaving strands matted to her forehead and the rest hanging limply down her back. "I don't mind walking back. Would prefer it, actually."
He assumed she didn't want him to spend gas driving her home and he figured she had a new word to describe him-cheap- but he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to listen to her a bit longer. He carried the flour sack back to town, purposely dragging his feet and absorbing every word that poured forth from her pretty lips. She talked to him so easily, as though they'd known each other their whole lives. In a way, they had, but they really hadn't. Everybody knew everybody else in the little town, but they had never been friends or shared one another's company, only ever really speaking politely in passing.
As they came upon the company houses, she started laughing at random.
"What is it?"
"Your ears must be bleeding I've been talking so much. Chattering on mindlessly like I have been."
"It hasn't been mindless at all."
She smiled. "You don't say a whole lot."
"I don't have a whole lot to say."
"I don't think that's true. I'm sure you have plenty of intelligent, observant things to say. I think you just choose not to because you prefer listening, which, Mr. Paserella, is a particularly rare quality in the world today." She looked down at her feet, still smiling. "Though I think I'd like to hear those thoughts in that head of yours." She looked up just in time to catch him blushing.
He walked her up to her door and handed her the flour. "Thank you," she said. "For the flour, and going and getting it."
"Thank you for the company." He smiled that sheepish little smile. "And now, Miss Williams, I believe you have some dumplins to make."
He shoved his hands in his pockets and turned around, stepping off the porch and heading in the direction of his home. She stood at the door, flour sack in hand, watching the quiet, mysterious boy walk off until she realized she'd been standing there a bit too long, and finally went inside.