Dirty Faces

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Chapter 16: Freckles

The porch light lit up at Leslie's house before Kody had even shut off the engine. He had her home well before the curfew they'd been given but he imagined her nosy mother had been sitting by the window since he picked her up, waiting for the first hint of the return of his noisy truck engine. Leslie shook her head. "If you don't wanna walk me to the door, I wouldn't blame you."

"I don't mind talking to your parents."

"I think I mind you talking to my parents."

"They can't possibly embarrass you more than my mama would me if she was here...Heck, my whole family seems to have a certain knack for embarrassing me."

"Oh, come now. They mean well."

"And so do your folks."

"I suppose so." She looked up to watch the activity of the curtains, fully expecting the front door to open at any moment and her daddy to be standing there with a shotgun. "Speaking of your family, did you know there was a barn dance tonight?" she asked.

He chuckled.

"What's funny?"

"Speaking of my family... yeah I heard, obviously from the same source as you."

"I've heard Jack can really cut a rug."

"He can indeed."

"I'd like to see that sometime...he says you're quite the dancer, too."

"Does he, now?"

"Yep, told me so Sunday."

He said something under his breath that she couldn't quite make out but was pretty sure it included the word murder. Then he laughed and shook his head. "Oh, Jack, Jack, Jack."

"What is it?"

"You know why his eyes are brown, dontcha?"

She thought for a moment. "Because...your aunt and uncle both have brown eyes?"

"No. It's because he's full of shit, that's why. I can't dance."

She laughed. "Well that's fine, too, because neither can I so far as I know."

"So far as you know?"

"I've never actually tried. As I'm sure you've noticed, my mama and daddy are a bit...old fashioned. They think dancing's sinful."

"Then it's probably best we didn't go dancing tonight, seeing as I can't and you ain't allowed, don't you think?"

"I guess so," she sighed. "Had a nice time anyway, though. Thank you for supper."

"Thank you for the company."

She smiled and looked down at her hands folded in her lap as she tried to think of more to say to make their time together last a little longer. Just then, he leaned over, gave her a peck on the cheek, then quickly sat back up and looked out the driver's side window, like nothing had happened.

She was about to say something when the front door opened and J.D. stood in the doorway. She groaned. "I can't believe they'd stoop to sending out my little brother. I should go. Goodnight."

He didn't want her to get out of the truck because he wanted more time with her, too, but he didn't put up a fight because the night had gone well - he hadn't even spilled his Coke on her at the diner like he'd feared he would. He wasn't quite sure how she'd taken his pathetic kiss and he assumed the longer they were together the more likely something would go wrong.

"Goodnight."

He waited until she was inside, the door was shut, and the porch light turned off before he started the truck and drove off.


Later that night Leslie lay in her bed with the lamp on. She had a book of Tennyson's poetry open but she wasn't reading it; she knew those poems all by heart anyway, just as well as she knew King David's psalms. Her mind was instead on that odd, swarthy boy she'd known all her life yet never really known at all, whose company she so enjoyed.

The boys who had courted her (or had tried) all made it a point to tell her how pretty she was, all except him. She wondered if he just didn't think she was attractive, but then she decided she didn't much care whether he did or didn't because he made her feel smart and significant and she found that she rather liked feeling that way.

Ping.

Something hit her bedroom window, or so she thought.

Ping.

It happened again and the noise was surely coming from the window. How convenient it was so late at night and she was the only person in her house awake to hear it.

Ping-ping....ping.

Now that was deliberate. She kicked off the blanket and laid the book on the bedside table, snatched her robe off the post at the head of her bed and slipped it on, then got up and walked over to the window. She pulled back the curtain and noticed the limbs of the crab apple tree outside her window were moving an awful lot for a relatively calm night.

Ping.

She angrily threw open the window but her mood changed immediately when she caught the glint her lamp light cast off his wide grin.

"What are you doing?" she whispered. "Are you crazy?"

Kody was balancing precariously on one of the crabapple tree's flimsy limbs, chucking the little fruits at her window.

"I wanna show you something. Can you come out?"

She looked over her shoulder like someone was about to walk in her room, though she knew good and well her whole family was asleep; she could hear her daddy and J.D. snoring from where she stood.

"What do you wanna show me at this hour?"

"Don't you trust me?"

"Yes, but- why the tree?" she giggled. "Why are you in the tree?"

"Figured you could crawl out the window on this tree, reckoned you might need some help."

"How very thoughtful."

He grinned again then caught himself, wide eyed, as he nearly lost his balance.

"So are you coming out or not?"

"OK, give me a minute. I gotta get dressed." She shut the curtain but yanked it right back open. "You get out of that tree before you get hurt!"

"I'll be fine."

She shut the curtain again, took off her robe and was about to change out of her nightgown when she heard a violent rustling of leaves and a thud. She threw her robe back on and rushed to the window. The tree was no longer occupied. She looked down and was barely able to make out his shape, lying face-up on the ground.

"Oh my goodness! Are you OK?"

It had, at the very least, knocked the wind out of him because it seemed like an awfully long time before he insisted he was fine.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, just get dressed."

When she had changed back into the clothes she had worn to the diner and slipped her shoes on, she returned to the window and pulled back the curtain.

"Are you ready?" he whispered.

"Yes. Now, how do you suggest I navigate this tree?"

"Forget the tree. The tree was a bad idea. Just jump and I'll catch you."

"That doesn't sound like a much better idea. Maybe I should just try to sneak out the back door."

"No, it'll be alright. I'm a good catch. I play catcher, you know."

"Its not that. I just don't want to hurt you."

"You won't hurt me! You can't possibly weigh much of anything."

"Don't take offence, but you're not very big yourself."

"I'm stouter than I look!

It wasn't a far drop from the first story window but it was high enough to sprain an ankle or a wrist or two on landing. She hesitated but she had said she trusted him, after all, so she crawled out the window, cinched her skirt, drew in a deep breath, and jumped, landing easily in his arms.

"See. Told you I was a good catch."

He set her down and took her by the hand. "Come on. We've got a li'l ways to go and not much time to get there."

"Where's your truck?" she asked as they hurried out into the street.

"Too late at night to be driving that noisy thing through town!"

He led her away from the company houses and away from the paved streets out to the long, dirt road that led out to the holler where he lived. As they hustled along, he pulled an ancient time piece out of his pocket and looked at it, then put it back in his pocket.

"Will we make it?" she asked.

"Dunno. That one's broken."

He let go of her hand to dig in his other pocket, eventually retrieving another ancient pocket watch. He glanced at it, returned it to his pocket, then took her hand once more. "We'll need to take a short cut."

The next thing she knew he had darted off the road and they were rushing through the woods. The moon was bright but the thick tree canopy made it so dark she could hardly see where she was going; he, however, seemed to know these woods well and for that she was grateful. He grasped her hand more tightly and said, "Try not to let go of my hand. There's some pretty steep drop-offs through here."

Briers and various bushes scratched at her legs and she prayed they wouldn't leave marks her parents could see. She had always been a good girl and she couldn't for the life of her fathom why she was doing this, nor why she didn't feel the least little bit bad about it. She supposed part of her should be worried that this boy was dragging her out to the middle of the woods so late at night with no one else around, but his warm hand around hers and that wide grin she saw each time he turned to look back at her assuaged every doubt. Expectation made every undulating step more exhilarating than the last with whatever it was he wanted to show her growing ever closer.

After a while, the moonlight revealed what she thought was a clearing up ahead and he slowed his pace. "Almost there."

"And what will be there when we get to it?"

"You'll see."

When they reached what she had thought was merely a clearing in the trees she found that they had in fact come upon the river. She noticed his truck parked at the end of a rough path she guessed led back to that dirt road they'd been on earlier. Nearby, a railroad bridge traversing the calm river passed overhead, the whole scene illuminated by the crescent moon and the starry sky on the clear night. She looked up at him, puzzled. His lips curled into a half-smile.

"When I was a little boy, Mama always made me be in by dark, " he explained. "But once in a while my daddy would bring me out here, late at night just like it is now, and we'd sit on that riverbank and wait and I'd be so excited I could hardly contain myself."

He pulled the working time-piece from his pocket and inspected it. She waited patiently for him to continue.

"It's been so very, very long since I've been here, but if memory serves me right...."

He raised one finger as if to say wait for it, and looked off into the woods, in the direction of the low rumbling she was just beginning to hear.

"She oughtta be coming through right about...now!"

The rumbling grew louder and louder until she could identify the distinct sound of a train moving along its tracks. As it got closer she could faintly make out a light shining through the trees, growing ever brighter as it approached. The rumbling soon became so loud they couldn't hear each other without raising their voices.

"You might wanna cover your ears!" he yelled.

"Huh?"

Just then the horn blew, filling the night with its long, low moan. She jerked her hands to her ears and gritted her teeth as the whole clearing lit up like day, set aglow by the engine's brilliant head lamp. She gasped in awe while he simply stood smiling, lost in the moment, or maybe in some other moment of which she wasn't a part.

The light revealed the reflections cast on the water in perfect detail; the moon and stars, the trees, the bridge, and the train all appeared in the ghostly parallel world that was gone in a matter of seconds. Once the engine was over the bridge, the riverbank and the water fell comparatively dark, lit only by the stars and moonlight. The train cars crossing the bridge continued to make talking an impossibility. He walked over to the truck, let down the tailgate, and hopped up in the bed, patting the spot beside him for her to join him. She obliged and they watched the train cars pass over the river without so much as a word.

When the last car had crossed the bridge, he said, "You must think I'm awful silly bringing you out here to see a train. Like you ain't ever seen one before. It sure was something when I was a little boy, though."

"Thank you for sharing it with me. It really was quite spectacular, not silly at all."

He stared down for a minute, debating whether he should say what he was thinking or not. When he'd decided, he said, still hesitantly, "I really hope I don't get you in trouble for being out so late. It's just that I want to know everything about you and there're only so many hours in the day."

She blushed. "What is it you want to know?"

"Well..." He bit his lip, planning his words carefully. "I got to thinking after I dropped you off tonight. You said you probably couldn't dance, but then you'd never tried."

"That's right."

"I just wondered if that was the case or not."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"And I said a li'l bit ago that I wanted to show you something."

"The train wasn't all?"

He hopped off the tailgate. "I wanted to know if you were a good dancer, and to show you that I truly am not." He held out his hand. "Will you dance with me?"

She laughed nervously. "But there isn't any music."

He put his finger to his lips. "Shh...don't you hear that?"

She listened to the train, now merely a hum off in the distance, and the chirping of the katydids and crickets, and the bullfrogs and tree frogs croaking, and the occasional ripple of the water. "You know, I think I do." She scooted off the tailgate and placed one hand in his and the other around his shoulder. "Is this right?"

"Yes, good guess."

"So now what do we do?"

"You follow my lead, but remember, I can't dance."

"That sounds easy enough."

He lead her in a sort of awkward two-step to the symphony of the train, the katydids, the crickets, the frogs, and the river. When she looked up at him with her deep, brown eyes, he was taking in every detail of her face, and he seemed to be rather amused.

"What's so fascinating?" she asked.

"Those little freckles scattered across your nose and cheeks."

"Oh." The way she said it conveyed just how offended she actually was; how unflattering it was to point out her flaws!

But he laughed. "I think they're...nice."

Remembering how terribly odd he was, she quickly forgave him and laid her head on his chest as they gently rocked side to side, abandoning their miserable attempt at two-stepping.

"Kody?"

"Mmhm?"

"How come you never tell me I'm pretty?"

He stopped dancing or rocking or whatever it was he was doing and looked her square in the eye, clearly disturbed. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea you didn't already know you're beautiful."

The honesty in his voice took her by surprise and she felt like she should say something but didn't really know how to respond.

"But I guess it wouldn't hurt to remind you from time to time," he added with that half smile she was beginning to adore.

When they decided mutually that he had stepped on her feet enough for one night, they hopped back up in the truck bed to watch the twinkling stars and lightning bugs. She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed contentedly.


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