Dirty Faces

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Chapter 7: A New Plymouth

Kody leaned on the counter at the service station, reading the newspaper. The headline on the front page of the World News section read "Churchill Appointed Prime Minister of Great Britain". The morning had been slow so he had been able to catch up with most of what was going on out there in the great wide world. There were horrible things going on in other countries, things of which his family and neighbors were blissfully ignorant. If they didn't hear about it from the local gossips or see it on the church bulletin board it didn't matter to them. But he knew that if he ever planned to escape this little town, and he most certainly did, he would need to be cognizant of what was going on elsewhere, so he read the paper every time he got his hands on one and listened to news broadcasts on the radio every chance he got.

Behind the counter, Andy, the eldest of the four Montgomery boys, sat playing a game of solitaire with a deck of cards covered in black smudges from greasy hands. Andy had quit school the previous year to work and help make ends meet at home since his father was known to sporadically disappear for days on end and the money he made working in the mines and selling moonshine had a similar reputation for disappearing before food was bought. It was a mystery to everyone why the coal company didn't get rid of him; it was speculated he either knew somebody important or knew something about somebody that kept him employed. Too young to work down in the mines himself, Andy was at the station nearly every day pumping gas, changing oil, airing up tires, and washing windshields to make enough to barely feed his brothers.

World news was getting depressing so Kody rummaged through the pages until he found the funny papers. He was only one box into Lil' Abner when the driveway bell chimed and a sharp, burgundy Plymouth coupe pulled up. Andy went to get up from his game but Kody said, "I'll get this one," as he folded the paper and laid it on the counter. Andy followed him out anyway to gawk at the car.

Kody hustled around to the driver's side window, expecting to speak with some coal company executive but his heart skipped a beat when the pretty feminine face of Leslie Williams smiled up at him instead. Her freckle-faced, gap-toothed kid brother grinned over on the passenger's side.

"What can we do for y'all this morning?" he asked, his stomach all a-flutter.

"We'd like an oil change, please," she replied.

"Alright, then. If you don't mind, just pull around into the garage."

She and J.D. got out of the car when she'd shut the ignition off in the garage and she handed the key to Kody. Her long, flaxen hair lay in a thick, loose braid over one shoulder today.

" 'S a nice car," Andy admired. "Is it yours?"

She laughed. "Oh, no no no. It belongs to my grandaddy. He let me drive it today...to get an oil change."

"Is it a '39?"

"It's new!" J.D. asserted.

"Well, not brand new," she corrected. "He's had it long enough to need an oil change."

"But still a pretty new car," Kody marveled. "He must really trust you."

She smiled and rolled her eyes. "I don't think it has anything to do with trust per se. We're just his only two grandchildren so he tends to spoil us."

Kody and Andy nodded, still appraising the car. "Well," Kody said, snapping out of the trance held on him by the shiny car, "y'all can have a seat inside. I won't be too long."

"Is it OK if we sit on the bench outside?" she asked. "It's so nice out today."

"Of course."

"Can I watch?" J.D. asked enthusiastically.

"Um, yeah, I guess so," Kody answered, unsure.

"J.D.!" Leslie hissed.

"What? I might wanna work here one day."

"Really, I don't mind if he watches," Kody lied.

"Are you sure?"


"Well, ok then. J.D., just don't get in the way."

"I won't."

When she was seated outside, Kody slid the jack under the car and began cranking it up.

"Shouldn't you be playing baseball with my sister about now?" he asked.

J.D. flashed that gap-toothed grin. "Leslie's gonna drop me off at the field. Ya know, in the car."

"Oh, I see."

The kid seemed genuinely interested, watching intently and only asking pertinent questions, always careful to keep out of Kody's way, as previously instructed. He decided he didn't mind the little audience after all.

While he was draining the oil pan, a faded Model A flatbed truck loaded with crates of squawking chickens chugged up to the gas pump. Smoke poured from the exhaust and the reek of chicken droppings and gasoline was stifling, choking Kody and J.D. even in the garage. Leslie tried to politely ignore the smell but was soon overwhelmed. She pulled a handkerchief from her skirt pocket and covered her nose and mouth as Andy, face buried in his arm, hurried to fill the tank and get the truck away from the station.

Kody was nearly finished with the oil change when the smell and smoke finally cleared. He wiped his hands on his navy blue coveralls and closed the hood then slipped in the driver's side to back the car out of the garage. J.D. hopped in, ready to leave and impress his friends with his snazzy ride.

"All done?" Leslie asked when he got out.

"All done."

She stood from the bench and the handkerchief she'd forgotten to put back in her pocket fell to the ground. He instinctively reached down to pick it up.

"Thank you," she said.

He noticed a prominent black stain on the white cloth when he handed it back to her. She noticed, too. He mustn't have wiped his hands very well; there was probably oil on the steering wheel as well.

"Oh no. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he gushed.

"It's nothing, really. It'll come out," she said.

But he could tell she was upset. He glanced again at the handkerchief in her hand. It had surely been a gift, with it's intricately embroidered purple flowers all along the edges. She stuffed it back into her pocket and stuck her hand in her other pocket, pulling out the money that her grandfather had given her. She handed the money to him and he found that it contained an extra fifty cents.

"Let me go get you change, " he said, turning to go inside.

"No change," she said.

"I can't accept a tip when I just ruined a piece of your personal property," he insisted.

"Then consider it payment for services rendered. I think you gave my brother a thorough lesson on car....stuff today." He opened his mouth to argue but she held up a hand, shushing him and indicating that the conversation was over.

He stared at the ground. "Well, thank you." They stood in awkward silence until Leslie asked, "Sooo....can I have the key back?"

He had completely forgotten he still had the key in his hand. He dangled it over her hand and narrowed his eyes. "Are you even old enough to drive?" he asked jokingly.

She smiled and shrugged. "I'm fifteen."

He hesitated, then smirked and dropped the key in her hand. "Well alright. Y'all be careful."

She smiled and got in the car and turned over the ignition.

"I'm really sorry about your handkerchief," he reiterated.

She was still smiling sweetly as she pulled out of the service station. "Don't be."

He sighed and walked back inside to put the money in the register, his mind trying to fathom how someone with a face like hers could be so incredibly nice as well. It just seemed like too much for one person. Pretty face or kind heart, one or the other; never both.

Andy was once again seated behind the counter, playing solitaire. "That kid is a walking, talking freckle," he said, never looking up from the cards. "But Leslie, now, she's something else."

Tommy had tried in vain the last couple years to get Kody and that arm of his on third, but he was stubborn and Tommy just wanted nine warm bodies on the field. When Kody showed up with a catcher's mitt he didn't even bother to put up a fight. Jack and Kody were pleasantly surprised to learn that Freddy Montgomery had started coming to the field and that Andy would, too, when he had days off work. Andy and Freddy had been eager to play, as anything that didn't involve working or being home sounded like a good idea to them.

With more people there it was exciting. Things happened faster. Jack and Freddy in the outfield caught fly balls that wouldn't have been caught with just one outfielder. Kody catching meant Danny could play third, thus adding another infielder. Most days afforded only seven or eight of them because of work and other obligations, but the one day that week there were nine playing was just wonderful; they hadn't even disbanded for dinner, just played right on through until dark.

Ginny was grateful for her brother's stubbornness. Playing first, she rarely had to catch a ball that he threw. She hoped his arm had gotten rusty since last summer but the day he fielded J.D.'s chopper, she realized that it had not. Her left hand stung like fire and when she took her glove off, shaking her hand, her palm was bright red. She agreed with Tommy that that arm would be better utilized on third, but she was entirely content with only having to risk breaking her hand once in a while. As far as she was concerned, he could stay behind the plate as long as he wanted.

No one else quite shared Tommy's passion for the game but his enthusiasm was at least moderately infectious. His euphoria when they were playing pleased Ginny because she knew that he didn't have much else to smile about.

She had expected to hear much complaining from Jack and Kody but she had heard virtually none; they would never admit it, she knew, but they were actually enjoying themselves. They talked and laughed about plays and bragged on their own athletic prowess each day as they walked home from the field. It was apparent they had quickly forgotten they were there in the first place as a result of blackmail.

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