Chapter 4: Lessons from the Master
"Whoa whoa whoa. Lemme get this straight," Jack said, taking a sip of his Coke float. "She's just leaving you. No adult there a'tall. Just my folks near-by?"
"That's correct," Kody affirmed.
"I think I'd be a little more excited than you seem."
"Well it is because my great-grandmother's dying," he said matter -of-factly.
"Yeah....I guess I could see how that could put a damper on it."
Just then, Peggy, the diner's ancient waitress asked in her raspy smoker's voice, " Will you boys be needing anything else today?"
"No, ma'am," Jack answered with a grin. "We're ready for the check."
And then he winked at her. She giggled a little and waved him off as she walked away.
Kody stared wide-eyed across the table. "What was that?"
He leaned across the table and spoke under his breath and through his teeth. "Peggy is probably older than my dying great-grandmother!"
"You just flirted with her."
"I did no such thing! Letting a woman know you 'preciate her and flirting are two very different things. You, my boy, have much to learn from the master."
"I doubt she knows the difference either, Master."
Jack shrugged. "Oh well. Prob'ly been a while since anybody flirted with her. Consider it my good deed for the day."
Kody rolled his eyes and finished off his float. "Anyway, besides my Granny being sick, there's Ginny. She's staying too."
Jack shook his head. "Nah, man. That ain't no problem. It dresses itself, bathes itself, feeds itself, keeps itself entertained. Your sister is the ideal roommate. Besides, she's gonna be on her best behavior because she don't wanna face the wrath of Aunt Susan when she gets back."
Kody sighed. "I don't think she fears anybody's wrath."
Jack pursed his lips. "I'm just saying there are worse things than having your sister around."
Peggy returned with the ticket and gave it to Jack, along with a suspicious glance. "I got this," he said after she walked away.
"You got the tip, too?" Kody asked.
"What? Tip? That's what the wink was all about. Gratitude!"
Kody opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind. He should have expected as much from Jack Paserella. He shoved his hand in his pocket in search of some change while Jack paid at the counter. He was, in many ways still a little boy, a collector of useless trinkets that all made their home in his pockets. He came to this realization as he emptied his pockets onto the table, knowing there was at least a nickel or a dime somewhere in there.
The bell on the door jingled and he looked up to see Jack holding it open for three girls he knew from school. They all greeted and thanked him then turned to seat themselves. Kody searched frantically for that coin, then at last, he'd found it! He placed the dime on the table and leaned down to gather his treasures back up. When he stood straight, he backed into the prettiest of the girls.
"Oh, excuse me," she said meaningfully.
"I'm so sorry!" he gasped.
"No, no. I really should have been looking where I was going."
She smiled as she quickly glanced at the paperclip, broken pocket watch, three washers, marble, baseball card, gum wrappers, pocket knife, and small, folded paper he was clutching. "How are you today, Kody?"
He began stuffing items into his pockets as quickly as possible. "I'm fine, thank you. And you, Miss Williams?"
He nodded. "Well, good day!" he choked, and darted for the door, still held open by Jack, wearing a smug face.
"Good day to you, too!" she called.
In the safety of outside, he could feel them watching him from behind the diner's plate glass windows; he couldn't take his eyes off the ground. Jack considered him for a moment as they walked back toward home then surmised, "Yeah. You need some educating."
A few moments later Mama's voice called to them from across the street. She was getting into the green truck she and her children affectionately referred to as "Lilly" outside the company store.
"Y'all want a ride home?"
They crossed the traffic-less street to join her. "Leaving work early, Mama?" Kody asked, a bit confused.
"Yes. Mr. Kelly was so nice about the whole thing when I spoke with him about Granny. He's letting me go early today so I can get packed and leave first thing in the morning. We'll have to leave pretty early since it'll take us a good hour to get to the bus station."
"You're not driving to Cleveland?" Kody asked, a bit more confused.
She looked confused, too. "What? No, of course not! That would be a horrible trip to drive alone. I'm leaving the truck here for you to drive, and for Ralph when he's here."
Kody's obsessive mind became hyper with activity. Was it a trick? It seemed too easy; there had to be a catch. Was she trying to test him? To catch him doing something he shouldn't? If so, why? He stayed out of trouble, made good grades, and obeyed her completely; he didn't even strangle his sister when provoked. And Ginny was a particularly skilled antagonist. He had certainly never earned such a privilege before, either. If that was the case, what had so abruptly changed?
Jack's eager face gave away the fact that the few wheels inside his head were turning. Mama gave him a stern look then looked back to Kody. "To be driven only when needed, of course," she clarified.
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed. She smiled and looked back to Jack, who was now smiling innocently back at her. She shook her head and walked around to get in the driver's side. The boys hopped onto the back of the bed, Lilly roared to life, and they were off. Jack gave Kody a quick jab in the arm and grinned wildly, like a little kid who just got candy bought for him for no reason. Kody was only able to muster a half-hearted smile in return. Yep, he thought. She's going to catch me doing something I shouldn't.
By the time Ginny got home Mama's suitcase was already packed and sitting by the door. This day she had been swimming, and when Mama looked up from the stove to instinctively command, "Bath. N--," she stopped mid-sentence. "Oh. Just change outta them wet clothes."
When the bedroom door closed, Mama sighed and spoke low to Kody, who was working the crossword puzzle in the newspaper at the table. "Please take her to church so she's in a dress at least once a week." He nodded, feeling guilty for having already plotted to skip church.
"Did you go by the service station today?" she asked, completely switching the subject.
"Yes. Mr. Grant said he could use me a few days a week."
"Good. It'll be good for you to have your own money."
Ginny returned to the kitchen in her cotton nightgown. "Ginny, set the table, please," Mama said as she pulled a pan of cornbread from the oven. Ginny obeyed and Mama continued, "It'll be good for you to have some money and being at work will at least put you around people. I worry about you and your...books."
Kody nodded, never looking up from the crossword. "You're just so quiet and backward..." she went on.
Now on this subject, Ginny disagreed with Mama. If there was anything worth liking about her brother it was his extreme introversion. Though they tended to be at each other's throats at home, he never did or said anything in public that would embarrass her in front of her friends; the only other people she knew who had such a luxury didn't have any siblings. And though she would never admit that she had learned anything from him, she had. She had learned that you learn a lot more by listening and keeping your mouth shut than by running it. She might have even spoken in his favor before Mama went into all the "nice girls at church" he should talk to...if he hadn't eaten the last biscuit that morning. She had really wanted that biscuit.
When she had finished shaming Kody for his awkwardness, Mama let loose on Ginny.
"If I hear about you getting into any more fights while I'm gone, young lady, you better pray I don't come home 'til you're married and off on your own."
She hoped she hadn't seen her gulp; Mama sounded pretty serious. She had been in four fights that school year alone. She just couldn't help it. Once provoked, she couldn't stop herself. And moreover, she didn't see where she was in the wrong in any of those fights - those kids had gotten what they had coming!
"Not only is it not lady-like, it's just not the Christian thing to do."
Mama sighed and closed her eyes. "And please, please don't kill each other."