Chapter 24: Peculiar Behavior
Attracted by the sweet fragrance the bush gave off, Ginny stopped just before she reached the road and picked off a few honeysuckles. She plucked the ends off the little white blossoms and sucked out the sweet nectar; she knew the yellow flowers had sweeter nectar, but these would do.
After selecting a few more honeysuckles and draining them for that split second of sweetness on her tongue, she continued through the woods toward the road. Though the shade from the trees made the woods relatively cooler than she knew the road would be, she couldn't wait to get there. Her wet overalls were heavy enough without being constantly pulled at by briers and bushes and having to step over fallen trees and branches all the time.
As she neared the dirt road, through the trees, she could make out a familiar figure headed toward her - dark hair, head down, hands in his pockets, long strides that made for a brisker pace than anybody else she knew. Ginny grinned as she silently continued toward the road and crouched behind an elderberry bush just beside it. As he got closer, she could see that he was chewing on his bottom lip and surmised that he was in no mood for nonsense, but opportunities like this didn't come up to often.
"Boo!" Ginny barked as she jumped out from behind the bush the second her brother passed it.
Kody gasped as he spun around. "What the --Ginny-- Ugh! What's wrong with you?"
She was laughing too hard to care what he had to say. "Your face! You shoulda seen---"
"Yes, I'm sure my facial expression was highly amusing. Glad I could offer you some entertainment."
He had already turned and was continuing toward home at his unnecessarily quick pace and she hurried to catch up and walk along beside him. With one last giggle she asked, "What's got ya so gun-shy?"
"I'm not gun-shy. But when you do obnoxious, creepy stuff like that, you can expect people to react that way."
"I'm not creepy," she muttered.
"Yes, Ginny, you are a very creepy little kid."
She didn't care to say much else to him at this point so they continued walking along the dirt road at their own paces. A few minutes later, though, he stopped and waited on her to catch up with him. He glanced at the leaves and twigs stuck to her arms from where she'd climbed out of the river soaking wet and ran straight through woods. "What'd you do today?
As if the wet overalls weren't a dead giveaway, but she knew what he was asking. "How 'bout we just don't beat around the bush, Kody. We both know what you're interested in is what I didn't do today."
"Alright, what didn't you do today?"
"Well, I didn't get in your hair."
"That's right; you didn't."
"And I didn't get in no fights."
"And I didn't go in that ol' house."
"Works for me."
They walked on a ways down the sparsely-traveled road, the quiet only interrupted by the katydids and the occasional sound of Ginny slapping the mosquitoes off her neck and arms; she must have tasted better than Kody because they didn't seem to be bothering him. She supposed the honeysuckles must have made her sweeter.
She wished Kody would have just kept on walking fast because she was hungry and she could smell food on him like she was bloodhound. But, she reminded herself, she would be with Mama soon and being with Mama meant not being hungry. And not having to miss her.
In the distance she could hear the sound of an approaching vehicle - a particularly loud vehicle. As the sound intensified, a green pick-up truck came into view. Ginny's heart leaped at the thought of it being Lilly. The truck seemed to be moving along pretty fast and it was only moments before it sped past them.
They coughed violently as dirt from the dust cloud surrounding the speeding truck filled their lungs, but Ginny didn't mind. She was sure it was Lilly. When the dust cleared she looked up at Kody and grinned with enthusiasm. "She's home!"
Ginny couldn't for the life of her understand why the look on his face didn't match the excitement she herself felt, but she paid no mind. She had decided a long time ago that trying to make sense of her brother was a waste of time. With dirt now caked on her wet overalls, she broke into a sprint; it felt like her legs couldn't carry her home fast enough.
When she finally saw the rusty metal roof, Ginny didn't even notice that stabbing pain in her side or how out of breath she was. She shot across the yard and bounded up the porch steps and through the front door. Expecting to run into her mother's open arms for a very welcome smothering hug, she was instead greeted by cigarette smoke.
Mama turned around in the old chair and smiled weakly. "Hey, sugar. I sure have missed you."
Ginny didn't venture any further from where she stood, dumbstruck, just inside the door. She could only stare at Mama: at Ralph's cigarette, as shaky fingers brought it to her lips, and at the far-off, hollow look in her eyes. Something was very, very wrong and she wanted to ask what it was but words evaded her.
Maybe Granny had passed away. Maybe Mama and Ralph had had one of their fights; he always said the meanest things when they fought. Maybe she had found out about Ginny's fistfight with Sam Green, and maybe this was what disappointment looked like.
"I don't suppose you'd know when your brother'll be getting home, would you?" Mama asked.
Ginny was relieved to have a question to answer, something to distract her from the questions buzzing in her own head. "He oughtta be here real soon." She looked over her shoulder and saw him coming into the yard. It was downright shameful that he could walk nearly as fast as she ran.
A moment later Kody was standing behind her. He seemed to have run into the same invisible wall she had, as he remained just outside the doorway, holding the screen door halfway open. Mama took a draw off the cigarette and tapped the ashes off in the ashtray on the end table, then turned around in the chair again. "Hey, darlin'. How 'bout you shut that door before you let the bugs in."
Kody stepped inside and lightly pulled the screen door to behind him. Mama turned her back to them once more and said, "You kids come sit down over here. I've been needing to talk to y'all."
Ginny stepped over to the couch, then, realizing her britches were still damp and she reeked of the fishy stench of river water, sat down in the floor near Mama. Kody sat down on the couch, on the cushion nearest Mama. He looked nervous, or uncomfortable, or worried, or maybe all three, and his eyes were full of questions.
Mama finished the cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. They waited while her trembling hands pulled another one from the pack and struggled to light it. It wasn't until after she'd taken a couple puffs that she spoke. "Y'all both know how much I love you, don't you?"
Kody's brows knit tightly together, but he and Ginny nodded.
Mama shook her head and something like a smile crossed her worried face. "No. No, you don't. Not until y'all have children of your own could you truly know that." She took another puff. "But you do know that I love you very much?"
Again, they nodded.
She set the cigarette in the ashtray, letting it burn, and sat back in the chair. Then she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let out a long sigh. With her eyes still closed, she shook her head. "Lord, please help me."