Dirty Faces

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Chapter 33: Untruths

"More coffee, hun?"

The gravelly voice brought him back to the outside world he just seemed to keep slipping out of this day. Kody smiled and pushed the cup toward Peggy. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you."

He stared at the nicotine stains on the old waitress' fingertips as she refilled the chipped, white coffee cup, and thanked her again before she walked away because everybody knew Peggy didn't hear too well these days.

"Awful late in the day to still be drinking that stuff," said the pretty little thing sitting across from him. "Rough night?"

He met Leslie's gaze with a weak smile. "Something like that."

More like 'exactly like that'. If he'd slept at all the previous night, he'd forgotten. But when morning had come and Mama had offered to give him a ride into town, he knew he should take her up on it. He'd done a pretty fair job of keeping himself busy so far, but sitting still in the cool diner now made him miserably aware of the effects of his sleep deprivation. Tonight, he knew, he would sleep like the dead. That was something to look forward to.

Leslie's big, brown eyes studied him as she sipped on her strawberry milkshake. Any other day he'd wish he was the straw, but not this day. This day, he wished to be anywhere but here. It was baffling how that way she had of putting him at ease just by being near her was today working the exact opposite. Kody stared down into the coffee cup, all the while feeling her eyes on him. Without even saying a word, she was chipping away at the wall he'd put up, and that was terribly disconcerting.

Finally, she took her pretty lips off the straw and spoke. "You thinking about tomorrow?"

He nodded.

"I take it y'all will be leaving out pretty early in the morning?"

"Probably around daylight," he replied.

She bit her lip, absentmindedly stirring her milkshake with the straw. "You driving?"

"Yeah, I'll be driving Lilly."

"How long does it take to get there?"

He shrugged. "Several hours, I reckon."

She seemed satisfied with his answers and resumed quietly sipping her milkshake. He was relieved to find that she associated his distance today with the impending trip to Cleveland, that she hadn't read any further into it. That part of him that wanted to tell her everything wanted to tell her. Keeping anything from her seemed wrong, and he hated that it felt that way. He'd known he couldn't pretend nothing was wrong and expect her to buy it. Pretending was for kids anyway, but he realized he was going to have to get better at lying, or at the very least, playing dumb.

He had heard the stories about what didn't actually happen at the old foreman's house for as long as he could remember, and would continue to do so as long as he was stuck in this little town. But it would be different now. Now he was one of the few who actually knew the truth, but would continue having to let on like he was just as clueless as everybody else. Not to say that he'd ever had a problem keeping his mouth shut, because he hadn't. It was just that it was so wrong yet so necessary that it bothered him like it did. In truth, going to Cleveland was a blessing, because it meant he wouldn't have to deal with the dilemma for as long as they were there.

There had always been something, something that he just couldn't put his finger on, that made him different from anyone he knew. Even around the few people he trusted, he still felt out of place. He didn't know if anyone thought he was weird; no one had ever told him he was, but he'd always felt a little bit weird inside. And now, knowing that his entire family was an accessory to murder, trusting and relating to people was just going to be that much harder.

He finally looked up from the cold, black coffee, and, not surprisingly, Leslie was looking right back at him. She forced a smile. "At least you'll be with family. Get to visit with folks you don't ever get to see. That'll be good."

"Yeah, I think it will."

She was quiet for a moment, as if considering her next words carefully. Then she said, "Will you write me?"

He gave her his best lop-sided grin and replied, "Of course."

But he knew he wouldn't.

Ginny focused on the baseball she was lightly tossing in the air and catching as she waited on the Priest's front step. She told herself if she kept busy and didn't look in the direction of that old house next door, she wouldn't think about it. But she found that she wasn't even very good at lying to herself.

She heard footsteps on the porch and the screen door creaked open, and Tommy reemerged. "Sucker?" he offered, holding out several of them for her to choose from.

"Where'd these come from?" she asked.

"Father Riley keeps 'em for sick kids when they come see him."

"Oh. OK, thanks."

She selected a sucker at random and Tommy dropped all but one of them in his pocket. He sat down beside her and they unwrapped their candy in silence. The one Ginny selected turned out to be cherry-flavored, which was good because she liked cherry.

"Well, what does he think?" she asked after a minute or so.

"It ain't broke, just sprained."

"What does that mean?"

"I'm not sure, really, but I reckon broke would be worse. He told him he'd need to keep off it as much as possible for several days, at least. He's got it propped up right now."

The day had started off well enough. Kody had come to the ball field with Ginny and Jack had shown up a little later, so it had almost felt like a real game with several of them playing. When dinner time came, Kody had gone and gotten Leslie and took her to the diner. This worked in Ginny's favor because she knew he'd be nice to her in front of Leslie; she'd managed to snag a burger and a Coke out of the deal.

Jack and Kody didn't return to the field after dinner, but the rest of them kept on playing. They all seemed to be playing harder than usual for some unknown reason. When Danny slid into third, he said his ankle was hurting him, but he kept on playing. He limped around on it until it was twice its normal size and purple, at which point Tommy decided they ought to have the Priest look at it. Now Becky and J.D. had gone home and Danny was laid up inside with his foot propped up on pillows.

"He'll be able to play after it gets better, though, right?" Ginny asked.

"Yeah. But I dunno."

"What is it?"

Tommy chuckled. "This ain't been the best summer for baseball. We just can't seem to keep enough folks around to make up a team. Never was a problem before. Now Danny's hurt and y'all are leaving, so that leaves us with...four."

"When's Rowdy gonna be back?"

"Week after next. But, still."

Ginny was sad for Tommy that his beloved pastime wasn't working out so well for him, and she was sad she would just miss Rowdy returning home; she'd missed him.

Lightning bugs were coming out despite the fact that the sun wasn't anywhere near ready to set, and she and Tommy sat there on the front step watching them as they enjoyed their suckers. Somehow, in watching the little light show, Ginny's eyes found their way to that old house. She didn't even realize that she was looking at the old foreman's house because her thoughts were already on it, where they'd been all day. It wasn't until Tommy noticed she was staring at it that she realized she was. "Sorry about that," he said.

"About what?"

"That we weren't ever able to figure out what happened over there. I know you wanted to know real bad. I woulda liked to have known myself."

"'S alright. There's probably nothing to find out anyway. I doubt anything happened there at all."

"Yeah," he agreed. "You're probably right."

"You know how people 'round here like to make a mountain out of a mole hill."

"That they do."

He'd bought it. She'd lied to her best friend and he'd bought it.

There were footsteps on the porch and the screen door creaked open again. They turned to find the Priest standing over them. "Thomas," he said, in that soft-spoken yet authoritative manner he had that Ginny found so very intimidating, "Time to get washed up for supper. And you, young lady, had best get home as well."

"Yes, sir," said Tommy.

He and Ginny got to their feet and stood for a moment, just looking down at their feet and not saying anything. She wanted to hug him but everybody knew that wasn't in her nature, so she didn't. "Well," Tommy finally said. "See ya later, I guess."

"Yeah, see ya later."

Ginny turned and headed out the gravel drive. She heard the screen door shut but didn't turn around to watch Tommy go inside. But when she was nearly to the road, she did turn around, and she could see that the Priest was still on the porch. She smiled at him, and though she couldn't quite be sure, she thought that, just maybe, she saw him smiling back.

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