Chapter 17: Twelve
Leslie blinked awake as the robins began their morning song. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, then gasped. The first rays were just peeking from behind the mountains. Her companion was sleeping so peacefully she hated to wake him, but she had to get home quickly.
"Kody, wake up."
"I need you to wake up."
"We fell asleep and my parents'll be getting up soon. I need to go home."
His eyes flew open and he sat shot up. "Fell asleep? I can't believe I did that!"
He got to his feet, jumped off the truck bed, and helped her down, as if he'd never been asleep at all. "Let's get you home." They got in the truck and sped up the rough path and back onto the dirt road. An old farmer was taking a mule- drawn wagon loaded with watermelons into town to sell, moving at a snail's pace and tying up the road. Kody jerked the wheel and passed the wagon in the grass, then stomped the gas.
"Easy now," said Leslie. "Don't want folks to think we're out running 'shine on a Saturday morning."
"Well, your folks seem to like me but something tells me finding your bed empty because you been out all night with me might change that."
When he came to the coal camp, he parked the noisy truck at the end of the street and they jumped out and ran for her house. Once they'd reached it, they darted around the side of the house and came to a stop below the opened bedroom window. The sprint left them panting and they laughed quietly at the ridiculousness of the situation as they tried to catch their breath.
"OK," he said once he'd caught his. "Up you go."
He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up off the ground to reach the window. She leaned down to whisper in his ear. "You know, Jack may well stretch the truth a bit from time to time, but for the record, I happen to think you're a fine dancer."
He smiled. "See you later?"
"See you later."
She reached up and got hold of the ledge and pulled herself into the window, stepping as lightly as possible onto the creaky wood floor. Once inside, she pulled back the curtain and watched him make a run for his truck.
Jack and Ginny had been sitting at the kitchen table when Kody came dragging in. When he'd been an hour late to help Jack and Uncle Bill bale hay, Jack had come to the house looking for him, expecting he'd just overslept. But when he got there, he found only Ginny, who hadn't waited up and therefore had no idea he wasn't home until Jack woke her.
He'd had a hard time looking at either of them, felt like they were picking him apart, scrutinizing him, making up their own stories as to where he had been. Jack had been trying all day to pry details about the previous night out of him but he had managed to brush him off.
Now late into the hot afternoon, Jack and Kody sat on Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill's back porch, drinking ice cold sweet tea on a break from working. Ginny and Aunt Betty had gone in to fix supper and Uncle Bill was off enjoying his pipe somewhere.
"So you mean to tell me," Jack was saying, "that ya took her to the crummy ol' diner that can't even serve up a decent hamburger, snuck her out and kept her out all night but didn't even do nothing, didn't even kiss the girl-"
"I kissed her. Kinda."
Jack shook his head. "Nah, son. Stealing a li'l sugar on the cheek while she ain't looking does not count as a bona fide kiss."
He shook his head again. "I just don't get it."
"Don't get what?"
"It's like you're doing everything wrong and she still wants to see you. Don't make no sense." He thought for a minute then a look of sheer horror spread across his face.
"What is it?"
"Maybe I should be taking advice about women from you."
Ginny stared at her reflection in Mama's vanity mirror. She didn't look any different than she had the day before, when she was only eleven. She decided she envied lighter-skinned girls like Becky, whose skin flushed when out in the sun; despite having scrubbed up well "for church", the long hours of sun on her already dark face left it looking perpetually dirty. She ran her fingers through her unmanageable hair in an attempt to get it to lay down but it still looked like she had lost a bet and been forced to let a five-year-old cut it. The little yellow dress with the pink flower print she wore to church fit her the same as it had the week before. Nothing was any different.
"Ginny, let's go," Kody called from the front room. She slipped on her church shoes and ran out to the truck, where he was already waiting. It was raining; it would rain on her birthday. She stared out the window at the soggy little town as they headed toward the mountain. It didn't look any different to her, either. The rain only seemed to be getting heavier and she didn't see how Kody actually thought he was going to get any fishing in, but she supposed they had to go somewhere to hide the fact that they weren't at church and that fishing hole out on the mountain was probably as good a place as any on a rainy day.
When they finally reached the spot, he parked the truck and shut off the engine. She silently prayed the rain would stop because she was sure she couldn't take being shut up in that truck cab with her brother for two hours. His lack of conversation had a tendency to make any situation awkward, even though it was precisely what she expected of him. After several minutes of mutual window-gazing, he leaned forward and pulled a package wrapped in the funny papers from under the seat. He sat it on the seat and pushed it toward her.
She picked up and examined the package. A birthday card from Mama had arrived in the mail on Friday, but Ginny hadn't expected any gifts today. "What is it?" she asked.
"Something I think you need."
"No, but now that you mention it, I sorta regret that it isn't."
She looked at the package some more.
"Well go ahead and open it!"
She smirked and then meticulously removed the paper to reveal two bound books. The top, smaller book was a copy of Lewis Carol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The bottom book was not really a book at all, just blank pages with binding, a pad of paper.
"Do you know how old I am today?"
She flipped through the pages of the top book; there were illustrations.
"This book has pictures."
"Don't you think I'm too old to want anything to do with a kids' book?"
"I said I thought you needed it."
She smirked again, tried to read his face, then laid down the book.
"What about this one?" she asked, holding up the pad of paper.
"What about it?"
"What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Whatever you want."
She flipped through the pages; the look on her face conveyed that she surely had plans for this one.
He leaned his head back against the back window and watched the rain, which was showing no sign of letting up any time soon. Ginny likewise stared out the passenger window, but not for long. Her hands soon crept back to the books lying on the truck seat. She flipped through the pages of Alice and examined the many illustrations and noted the titles of the chapters typed across the tops of the pages. This book apparently included animals who talked and wore clothes, which she knew was utter non-sense. She couldn't for the life of her imagine why Kody thought she, who was supposed to be becoming a young lady, would benefit from this book of seeming madness. Maybe it was the cheapest book he could find. No matter the rationale, it was the first book she had ever owned aside from her access to the family Bible.
She laid down the novel and picked up the blank pad of paper. There was much she could do with this one. She no longer would have to scrounge for paper when she wanted to draw, for one thing. Maybe she would keep a diary of her life in it. No, that could be too incriminating. She would use this pad for drawing stuff. Her fingers moved anxiously over those blank pages; she couldn't wait to have a pen or pencil in them to fill all that empty space.
The rain never let up so Kody didn't get any fishing in. When it was time for church to be over, he started the truck and pulled back up onto the mountain road to head to Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill's house. Once in a while he glanced out the corner of his eye at Ginny, and every time she was looking through the pages of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. She was so absorbed in it that it came as a surprise to her when they pulled up in front of the old farmhouse where their aunt and uncle lived.
"You should probably leave those in the truck," Kody said, gesturing at the books.
She nodded and laid them in the seat before getting out and shutting the heavy truck door behind her. They ran through the rain, splashing in mud puddles all the way to the back door. The door was already open when they reached it; they slipped off their muddy shoes and let themselves in. The house smelled of pork chops and cinnamon and molasses.
"Y'all 'bout missed dinner," Aunt Betty announced as she put a plate of fried potatoes on the table.
"Sorry, Aunt Betty. That rain slowed us up a bit," said Kody.
"I 'spected it might. Y'all go on and take a seat."
After dinner, and once small talk about how much the crops had needed this rain had been had, Aunt Betty brought the most beautiful, tall, apple stack cake to the table. Ginny hadn't even noticed it sitting on the counter.
"Happy birthday, young'un!" Uncle Bill exclaimed.
They had remembered, too. Ginny quite nearly blushed as she thanked them while Aunt Betty cut the cake.
"Don't seem like you should be this grown up already," she said. "Seems like you should still be a li'l baby."
After coffee and that wonderful cake and an hour or so of Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill spouting stories about the day Ginny was born and things that had happened when she was very little, she thanked them and she and Kody headed home. When they got there, Ralph's rig was parked in the yard. Great, she thought. So much for a decent birthday.
But to her surprise he was sleeping. Part of her wanted to stay and wait for Mama to call, because she knew she would; but a bigger part of her didn't care to stick around. She and Kody took turns in the bedroom changing out of their Sunday clothes and gathered up a few changes of clothes. Then, she grabbed a pencil out of Mama's junk drawer, opened up her new pad of paper, tore out the first piece, and set to scribbling.
We are at Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill's house. Probably be there all week. Lots of work to be done around the farm. Hope you had a nice run.