Chapter 14: Fightin' Words
Ginny hadn't seemed quite herself Sunday morning, didn't show much interest in the swing, just sat on the bank, staring out at the water. She didn't seem to be be plotting, just lost in thought, and it made Kody more uncomfortable than if she had been her usual, menacing self. He'd offered to fashion her a fishing pole with his extra line if she could find a good stick but she said she didn't much care for fishing. That was probably the most she said all day.
He got up and ready for work earlier than normal the next day, early enough to catch Ginny before she left the house. She still seemed off.
"You not gonna eat any breakfast?" he asked as he finished off a piece of buttered light bread.
"Alright, then. I'll give you a ride into town, if you want."
A few minutes later they were backing out of the yard and onto the dirt road that led into town. Ginny was pensively staring out the window.
"You sure are thinking awful hard. Ain't still beating yourself up over that ball game, are you?"
"No...Maybe a little."
"You played well. There wasn't anything you coulda done to change the way things played out."
She was beginning to believe the inability to tell a convincing lie was an inherited trait.
"I just wish...if we wouldn'tve lost, maybe Tommy and Danny might've had a less horrible weekend."
"Meh. I think their weekend was doomed from the start. How are they, Tommy and Danny?"
"They don't say much about anything but I'm pretty sure they're worried about Andy and Freddy. They ain't heard anything from 'em or even about 'em."
" 'S understandable, but look, don't feel so bad for them. They're really better off now than they were. Doyle Montgomery is a mean, horrible, rough man- a hundred times worse than Ralph even. And you know what a bundle of fun he is."
"I know. But tell them that."
"Yeah, it's tough, but eventually they'll see it, too."
Ginny stared out the window and kept quiet until they arrived in town. "How come you're being so nice to me?" she asked accusingly, just as they were coming up on the store.
"Do I have to have a reason to be nice?"
Kody pulled off the street and parked the truck in front of the store. He stared straight ahead, biting his lip while she glared at him.
"I gave you a ride into town today because I wanted you to go to the Priest's house with me. Thought it might go smoother if you were there since you're their friend."
"Thought what might go smoother?"
"I'm not saying it was right or wrong, them leaving like they did or my role in it; it's just what happened and I think those boys have a right to know what little I can tell them." He related to her all about the sheriff tipping Andy off and his plan to get work elsewhere, and about providing them transportation to the bus depot. And before she could ask, he assured her he didn't know where they had gone or when, or even if, they would return.
"I don't think you should tell 'em," she said when he'd finished.
"You think you should? I didn't want them to hear it from somebody else but on second thought, I can see - "
"No," she interrupted. "I mean I don't think anybody should tell 'em. At all. What you just told me will just give them more questions that nobody can answer."
"Hm. Didn't think about it like that...but it at least let's them know their brothers aren't in jail or dead or anything."
"No it doesn't. All it tells 'em for certain is that you took 'em to the bus station."
He stared quietly at the steering wheel, processing his thoughts, then started the truck, backed out into the street, and drove toward the Priest's house. He turned down the long gravel drive and pulled right up to the screened porch but didn't kill the engine.
"You gonna go talk to 'em?" Ginny asked.
He sighed. "No, you made a good point. Guess you're right. This time."
"Don't ya just hate when that happens?"
She got out of the truck and Tommy appeared on the porch just as she shut the door. He waved to Kody when he opened the screen door and Kody nodded before driving off.
"Mighty nice of your brother to drive ya to town."
"I know, wasn't it?" she said, a hint of sarcasm in her tone.
They sat down in the two white rocking chairs on the porch to wait for the rest of the gang to arrive.
"Danny'll be out in a minute. It was his turn to wash up the dishes."
Ginny nodded. "How was church?"
He shrugged. "Hard to judge, seeing as we ain't ever been before. But it was alright, I reckon. There were snacks."
"Yeah. Father Riley was talking and next thing I knew we were eating crackers and wine."
Ginny laughed. "It's called the Lord's Supper, Tommy. They do that at my church, too, every now and then."
"Dang. I'da been going to church a long time ago if I'd known there was food involved."
"Kody, I'm telling ya, she was all over me like stink on shit!"
Jack had been recounting his Saturday night for the past ten minutes. Kody's attention to the tale came and went intermittently as he stood over the stove reheating the leftovers Aunt Betty had sent over, and he wasn't quite sure who "she" was this week.
They both looked up when the front door opened and Ginny walked into the kitchen. "Is that food I smell?" she asked excitedly.
"Yep. Aunt Betty sent it and it outta be just about heated up."
She slid into the chair across from Jack to wait.
"Anyway, like I was saying, we had a real good time," he said, tying up his story.
"Who?" Ginny asked.
"Me and my girl."
"Sally. Who else?"
"But I thought..."
"She just can't stay away, I reckon."
"What's so funny?" Jack snapped.
"Nothing. Pepper up my nose."
Jack narrowed his eyes. "Talked to Leslie Williams after Sunday school yesterday. She said you had supper at her house th'other day."
"I heard that, too, Ginny added. "From J.D. How come?"
"I was already there and they asked me to stay."
Ginny thought a minute and then wrinkled her nose. "You're not...Noooo..."
"You? A girl? She seems so nice...what's wrong with her?"
Jack had turned his head to hide the smirk on his face. Kody's cheeks burned hot. "I just like talking to her, that's all," he said quietly.
"You're right, Ginny," Jack said, once he was able to control his facial expressions again. "She's a very nice girl, and pretty, too. I don't get it either." He grinned at Kody. "So ya gonna take her out sommers?"
"Yeah, Friday," he admitted, still clearly embarrassed. "Going to the diner. That is, if it's OK with her daddy."
"The diner?" Jack scoffed. "Aw, no, man. You can't take Miss Leslie to the diner."
"You gotta take her some place nice."
"I asked if she wanted to go somewhere Friday and she suggested the diner."
"Well, OK, if you say so. But Jeb Payne's havin' a dance in his barn that night..."
"Yes, Jack. Because that would ensure a second date."
Jack and Kody had been working in the fields with Uncle Bill since before daylight and had finished early enough to reward themselves with a late dinner at the diner. After a glass of sweet tea they were still parched and both their glasses had been sitting empty for some time; apparently Peggy was taking one of her frequent smoke breaks. The bells on the door jingled and more sweaty, sun-baked customers entered and seated themselves.
"Hope they ain't thirsty," Kody muttered.
"Knew I shoulda winked at Peggy when she brung out the food," Jack said, staring outside with his head leaning on the plate-glass window.
They were too tired to talk and too thirsty to finish their food with no beverage, so they just sat silently in the booth, Kody leaning on the table, his head in his hands, and Jack gazing thoughtlessly out the window.
"Oh," Jack suddenly uttered, sitting straight up in the booth. "Uh-oh."
Kody jerked his head around to look out the window at the scene behind him. There was a group of kids on the dirt patch by the school and two of them were fighting.
He slid out of the booth and ran out the door, the bells jingling wildly, Jack following closely behind.
"No, no, no, no, no," he mumbled as he ran for the dirt patch.
"Hit 'im harder, Ginny!" he heard the little red-haired girl yell.
His sister, who had been rolling around in the dirt with her opponent when he first looked out the window, now had the boy, who was considerably bigger than her, pinned to the ground. She had her arm drawn back, ready to strike the next blow. Becky Kelly and J.D. Williams stood by cheering her on, near enough to see the action in detail but far enough away not to be pulled into the scuffle themselves.
"Ginny!" Kody shouted.
Too late. Her fist came down hard on the boy's face.
"Nice one!" J.D. commended.
The big boy threw her off him and got to his feet, but Ginny was on her feet just as fast. She ran at him and threw him back to the ground but before she could get another punch in Kody had pulled her off him. She struggled against him, trying to get back at the boy who didn't seem to mind Kody's presence in the least. He lunged at them with his arm drawn back but Jack caught his fist. He looked up at Jack, his broad shoulders towering over him, and released the tension in his arm. Jack let go of his fist and shoved him back, but the boy managed to keep on his feet.
Ginny was still trying to wiggle free of the hold Kody had on her but he managed to wrestle her arms behind her back and pin them there.
"Go home, all of you," he commanded.
J.D. and Becky immediately obeyed and ran off, but the boy stood there heaving, staring at Ginny. She tried in vain to break free and get at him but Kody threw her over his shoulder so she couldn't see her provoker.
"You deaf?" he reiterated. "Get outta here."
This time the boy cracked his neck, turned, and walked off. Ginny still struggled against Kody as they headed back toward the diner.
"Put me down!"
"Put me down now!"
"Not 'til you settle down!"
She stopped squirming and after a minute he let her walk but held her tight by her upper arm, dragging her along. When they got back in front of the diner, he jerked the passenger door of the truck open and all but threw her in. "Don't bleed on the seats!" He slammed the door shut and stalked around to the other side and got in, slamming his door as well. Jack went back in the diner to pay for the half-eaten meal. They sat in the truck, both staring angrily straight ahead.
"What were you thinking?" he snapped.
She didn't say anything.
"Who was that?"
"Sam Green," she mumbled.
"What's your problem with him?"
"You just punched him. Just because."
She crossed her arms and turned her head the other way.
"He needs to learn to keep his mouth shut."
"He needs to learn to keep -?" he spluttered. "You need to learn to act like a decent human being! What did Mama tell you about that?"
She stared out the passenger window. "Why should I be decent when he ain't?"
The bells on the diner's door jingled and Jack emerged. Ginny scooted over to accommodate him; Jack and Kody were a tighter squeeze than Mama and Kody. Once he was in, Kody started the truck, backed up, and headed home. They rode out of town in silence.
"He was saying things about Tommy and Danny," Ginny finally admitted, quietly.
"And what concern is that of yours?" Kody asked. " I didn't even see either of them around."
"That's just it. He was saying horrible, mean, awful things about them and their brothers and their daddy and their dead mama and they weren't even there to defend themselves."
"Where were they?"
"The Priest makes 'em eat supper. They weren't back yet."
Kody shook his head. "You can't do that. You can't just go around beating up whoever says anything about you and yours that you don't agree with."
" 'S not like I threw the first punch."
He slammed on the brakes. "He hit you first?" he and Jack repeated, almost in perfect unison.
"Yeah....did ya think I'd just tear into somebody so much bigger than me? I ain't stupid, ya know."
"You watched the whole thing. Did he?"
"Hell if I know, things happened so fast. But if she says he did...Where does he live? Turn the truck around!"
"What? No!" Ginny insisted. "If any body's gonna finish him it's gonna be me!"
Kody rolled his eyes. "Nobody's gonna finish him." He pressed the gas again. "Getting whooped up on by a li'l ol' girl's bad enough." But truthfully, there was a part of him that did want to turn the truck around.
When they got home he took his first good luck at Ginny. She was bleeding a little from a cut on her right brow and she had a busted lip; he hadn't gotten a good look at that Sam character but he suspected he'd fared worse.
"Go clean yourself up," he said once they were inside. She stomped outside to fill the tub on the back porch, slamming the door behind her.
Jack watched her as she went out the back door. When he was sure she was out of earshot he said, " Ya know, I wouldn't mind having a friend like ol' Pit Viper there."
Kody shook his head as he plopped down on the couch. "I dunno what I'm gonna do with her."
" Did you get a good look at that other kid's face?"
He shook his head. "No, I was too busy fighting with her."
Jack grinned. "Man, she blacked his eye good!"
"Ugh." He buried his face in his hands. "And Mama's supposed to call this evening."
"I still say that kid needs to be taught a lesson, hitting a girl like that. We oughta go stomp his- "
Two long rings and a short one, that was their ring on the party line. Kody answered the phone and Ginny stepped outside as soon as he established it was Mama on the other end. She sat down on the front step to listen to the katydids instead of the retelling of the day's events.
Mama had insisted on calling to check in once a week instead of just writing, probably because she could hear guilt and failed attempts at lying in their voices whereas she couldn't on paper. Those long distance calls weren't cheap though; Kody would have to compress the details. It wasn't long before he called for Ginny and she dragged back inside to accept her fate. He handed her the receiver and walked into the kitchen.
The conversation was virtually the same as it had been the week before: Mama missed them, Granny wasn't doing any better or worse, Uncle Kent was putting in a lot of hours at work, Adam was remarkably helpful. Ralph had stopped by for a visit as he passed through, they could expect him to be home in the next few days. Kody had told her about Doyle Montgomery; it was bound to happen sooner or later, and that priest must be a nice fella for taking in Tommy and Danny like he had. But not a word about her fist-fight.
Mama said she supposed they'd talked long enough and Ginny hated to hang up because hearing her voice was so comforting, but she did. Then she walked into the kitchen, where Kody was reading the newspaper at the table.
"Did you say anything to Mama about, ya know, today?"
He didn't look up from the paper. "Nope. Reckoned if you thought she should know, you'd tell her. Did you?"
"Didn't much expect you would. Probably for the best, too. Everybody in town don't need to know our business and them Easterly sisters ain't got nothing better to do than listen in on other folks' phone calls and gossip."