Dirty Faces

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Chapter 21: Sweet Things

"Ugh. I can't reach it," Ginny groaned.

"Well, stand up and try," said Jack.

"You'll drop me!"

"I will not....Kody, come stand over here and catch her if I drop her."

Leslie and Kody exchanged unsure looks before he trudged over to stand beneath her neighbor's kitchen window. Those poor people would never leave a window open again after today. Her stomach in knots, Leslie watched as the little girl in boy's clothes crawled from a sitting to a standing position on Jack's big shoulders. Fortunately, it had stopped raining, but every time she looked down at the slippery mud in which Jack stood, she couldn't help but think of all the things that could possibly go wrong. J.D. had stayed in to see to it that their parents kept inside and away from the kitchen window; she was starting to wish she'd volunteered for that job.

"You up now?" Jack asked, grasping Ginny's ankles.

"Yeah." She leaned forward into the open window and stretched her arms as far as they would reach, but her fingertips stopped just short of the cake platter.

"Got it?"

"No. Still can't reach. This table's not right up against the window, ya know."

"No, I didn't know that. Come on back down, then, I guess."

It was only after Ginny was safely back on the ground and putting her socks and muddy shoes back on that Leslie felt any degree of relief. That sense of relief quickly dissipated when she heard a car coming. They all ran around behind her house before it passed, Ginny hopping on one foot, half-way through getting her second shoe back on.

"Was that your neighbors?" Jack asked when they could no longer hear the engine.

Leslie laughed. "Oh, no. You'd know if it was them. Woulda heard it coming from a mile away."

"Good."

She noticed Kody's head was down, his right hand covering his eyes. He knew what was about to happen.

"Alright, Kody. You're up!" Jack said.

"And who's gonna catch me when you drop me?"

"These girls, of course. But I ain't gonna drop ya anyway."

Kody shook his head as he walked along side Jack around the house. "You're gonna owe me for this."

"Only if you get that cake."

He slipped his boots and socks off and Jack squatted for him to climb up. Once on his shoulders, Jack stood to his full height, slipping in the mud but catching himself before he lost his footing. Leslie's heart was in her throat. She wondered if it wouldn't be a bad idea to just go ahead and call Dr. Riley.

Kody grasped the windowsill and pulled himself up to stand.

"Dang, son," Jack whined, his face strained. "You made outta lead or something?"

"He's stouter than he looks," Leslie informed him. Kody looked down at her with his little half smile.

"Well, hurry and do what ya gotta do," Jack grunted.

Kody leaned in the window, reached across the table, and took hold of the cake platter, then carefully pulled it toward him. "I got it!"

"Give it to Leslie!"

She stood on her tiptoes and reached as high as she could to retrieve the loot. Once the cake was safely in her capable hands, Kody lowered himself to sit on Jack's shoulders and Jack squatted to let him down.

"Car!" Ginny hissed.

Jack hurried to the back door and held it open for Leslie and Ginny. Leslie helped him get the new cake in the carrier while Kody sat on the back step, putting his muddy feet back in his boots.

"Leslie, you are a peach," Jack said, once the lid was on the cake carrier and Kody was back in his boots. "Be seeing ya in a bit."

"Y'all try to stay out of trouble between then and now, you hear?" she replied, as they headed out of the kitchen.


Jack walked into the fellowship hall, clutching the cake carrier near him as if his life depended on its survival. The little hall with white cinder block walls was decorated with blue streamers and white tissue paper bells hanging from the ceiling. Two of the three long tables draped in white tablecloths were adorned with evenly-spaced mason jars filled with blue bells and baby's breath, and third table was loaded with plenty of good things to eat. In the middle of this table sat a glass cake stand that he guessed would hold the stack cake once it was assembled. In the far left corner stood another cake stand, also empty. It was tall and was obviously meant to hold a place of great prominence. He tried to avoid the numerous church ladies busying themselves with the final details as he approached the refreshment table, but failed.

"Ooooh, it's here!" Mrs. Harvey cooed, hustling over to Jack as fast as her short, fat legs would carry her. A throng of other women followed close behind her. He donned his most genuine smile for them as he placed the carrier on the cake stand. They reminded him of a bunch of hens clucking over a worm, the image amplified by the large proportion of them wearing feather hats..

"Oh, please, Jack, won't you let us have a peek?" Mrs. Tate begged.

Jack obliged, gingerly lifting the lid from the carrier to reveal the lovely, chocolate-frosted cake. The hall was immediately filled with gasps of awe.

"Just gorgeous."

"That Betty sure does have a gift for baking."

"She's really outdone herself on this one."

They were still marveling over the culinary masterpiece when Jack replaced the lid and left to go find a seat in the chapel.


After the nuptials, the guests slowly filed out of the chapel and into the fellowship hall and began fixing themselves plates from the refreshment table. Leslie found herself talking with her mother, Jack's mother, and Ginny in the back corner of the fellowship hall. Her mother was shaking her head and saying, "That poor girl. It's been raining all day. She's gonna cry many a tear as a married woman."

Ginny's brows furrowed and she looked up at her aunt, who was nodding in agreement. "But I thought rain on your wedding day was supposed to mean you were gonna have lots of babies. Ain't that right, Aunt Betty?"

"Oh, no honey. That's just what we tell the bride. Wouldn't be right to tell her on her wedding day that she's got nothing but misery in store for her, now would it?" her aunt replied.

Ginny's dark brows remained furrowed; she didn't appear to be very comfortable with that explanation, and frankly, neither was Leslie.

"Mama, can I go talk with Kody?" Leslie asked.

"I don't mind, dear."

Leslie immediately excused herself from the unsettling discussion and began scanning the crowd for Jack- he would be among the tallest there and easy to find, and Kody was sure to be nearby. When she spotted the top of Jack's head, she squeezed her way through the crowded little fellowship hall until she got to the end of the refreshment table, where sure enough, Kody stood right alongside him. They both greeted her with polite smiles but neither of them appeared to be enjoying themselves.

Kody stood with his free hand in his pocket, often shifting his weight from one side to the other. Something about the way his smoky eyes so frequently darted around the room and then went back to staring at the cup of punch in his hand told Leslie he was uncomfortable. Jack's arms were crossed and his lips pursed as he looked around the crowd at no one in particular.

"Are y'all having a good time?" she asked, just to spark conversation.

Jack shook his head. "Ya know, I never did like church weddings. Ain't no dancing."

"Oh," she said. Having never attended a wedding that did involve dancing, she didn't know what else to say.

Suddenly Jack's entire demeanor shifted 180 degrees. His pursed lips relaxed into a smirk and his brown eyes honed in on a target. Kody closed his eyes and sighed; he knew that look. Leslie knew that look, too. She had known Jack for as long as she could remember and was thus one of the few girls in town who possessed any kind of immunity to his charms.

"Would y'all please excuse me?" he said, wandering off before either of them could answer. He made his way toward the interior door, where several pretty, out-of-town cousins of the bride or groom had just entered the fellowship hall.

Leslie chuckled. "He's a mess."

"Yeah," Kody muttered.

She looked at him and smiled. "You don't much care for crowds, do you?"

He shook his head.

"Well, we've still got a little time before Bud and Arlene get in here. Why don't we step outside for a minute?" she suggested.

"Okay." He downed his punch and set the empty cup on one of the long tables.

She took his hand and led him through the crowd over to the outside door. They exited into a cloud of tobacco smoke, as every smoker in attendance had seized the opportunity to get their fix during the little intermission. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find that for the first time all week, though low in the sky, the sun had overcome the clouds. Leslie led Kody around to the windowless back of the fellowship hall.

She sensed by the relaxed tension in his hand that he was already relieved, and when she looked up in his face, she knew she was right. His jaw was no longer clenched and his eyes no longer shifty; he actually looked to be amused.

"Why, Miss Williams, you little mountain nymph, it looks like you may be trying to take advantage of me," he said, a smile playing at his lips.

"Me?" she gasped. "Why, I wouldnever."

"Phew. You had me worried there for a minute, what with all these fine church folks around and all. What would they think of such a thing?"

"Imagine the scandal," she said with a grin.

He grinned back, putting his arm around her waist and pulling her in closer. He leaned down, his breath warm and quick on her face, then pressed his lips to hers. He tasted like ginger ale and orange sherbet, and though he wasn't the best kisser, she supposed she could work with him on that. She was more than willing.

When they pulled away, she quickly looked down at her feet in an attempt to keep herself from giggling like a schoolgirl. Her heart was a fluttering butterfly trying desperately to get free of the mason jar that was her chest. She took a step back, pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear, all the while feeling his eyes on her. When she got the nerve to look at him again, he was wearing that half smile she so adored.

"And here I thought I wasn't gonna get nothing out of coming to this dumb ol' wedding," he said.

She lost control. Those schoolgirl giggles fought their way to the surface, and he couldn't help but laugh, too.

They noticed that the chatter of the socializing smokers had died down, and when Leslie peeked around the side of the building, she saw the last of them going inside. "Looks like the reception's started," she said with a sigh. "Best get back inside before we're missed."

When they got back in the fellowship hall, most people were sitting down eating, and they easily found Leslie's family. Ginny was sitting next to J.D. and they were whispering and snickering -- obviously enjoying themselves with their people-watching. Since there weren't enough seats for everyone, Leslie and Kody stood behind the two of them. Jack wasn't seated either. He was still over by the interior door, working his magic on the ladies. The bride and groom were standing behind the refreshment table, about to cut the now-assembled, incredibly tall, apple stack cake.

Once the stack cake had been cut, Aunt Betty got up from her seat and went up to the refreshment table to serve her famous yellow one. Suddenly Bud and Arlene didn't matter, as all eyes were fixed on that perfect cake at the far end of the refreshment table. Aunt Betty was beaming as she cut into that sweet delight that fetched her so many compliments. She slid the cake server under the freshly-cut slice and plated the most gorgeous piece of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting anyone had ever seen.

A hush fell over the fellowship hall and time seemed to slow down. Leslie's eyes widened and she jerked her hand up to cover her mouth. Kody's jaw tightened. Ginny got choked on her punch and J.D. started thumping her on the back. Aunt Betty looked down in horror at the brown cake on the plate in her hand, then her eyes flashed up and found their way to Jack. The fiery look she shot at him was enough to stop him mid-flirt.

Finally, the sing-song voice of Mrs. Burchfield, the mother of the bride, cut through the silence in the fellowship hall. "Who wants chocolate cake?"

Though the wedding guests had all been expecting Aunt Betty's yellow cake, none of them were about to refuse any cake, and soon, there were just as many slices of chocolate cake as stack cake on the dining tables. And then it started: the buzz about the cake. It was unequivocally the best chocolate cake any of them had ever had. Apparently Mrs. Pickett had a pretty impressive recipe. It was certainly even more impressive than Bud and Arlene becoming man and wife.

Near the end of the reception, Mayor Burchfield approached Aunt Betty as she was retrieving her empty cake carrier. "Why Betty, you sure did throw us for a loop with that cake!" he said with a broad smile. "How long've you had that recipe up your sleeve?"

She smiled sheepishly and shrugged.

"Oooh, you sneaky thing, you!" he went on. "I dare say that cake's even better than your yella cake."

*****

Jack, Kody, and Ginny sat on Aunt Betty's couch, awaiting their fate. Jack was still remorseful for having dragged them into this mess and kept apologizing. Kody wasn't hearing a word of it because his mind was strictly on Leslie Williams' satin lips, sweet as Uncle Bill's muscadine wine. Ginny tapped her foot anxiously, wishing Aunt Betty would just hurry and get it over with. She had already picked out the perfect hickory switch and wanted to go get it before she forgot where it was. It was a fat one that didn't have any little twigs or buds on it; that kind always stung less than the skinny ones.

Aunt Betty finally stalked into the living room and stood facing them, her arms crossed. She looked at them one at a time, starting with Ginny, then Kody, and finally her disappointed eyes came to rest on Jack. None of them returned her gaze, their eyes all downcast.

"I don't even wanna know," she said. "But I hope you're all happy with yourselves...'cause now you gotta get me that recipe."



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