In Chapter 2, Jodie’s passive streak is obvious, as she daydreams about Coach repeating his idea for what she considers her “Solution” of getting away. Hot temperatures of the beginning of summer slow any of her possible action. She does feel a kinship to the overdressed new boy at the track meet, but of course, says nothing to him about anything. Fortunately, none of these are an obstacle when Idette, Coach’s wife, takes the bull by the horns and makes a way for Jodie to be free of pressures. Even Ardis, Jodie’s mom, can’t get in the way if there’s money involved. What can possibly stop freedom?
The remainder of the cool night and the rising sun created a low fog. It had been two months since Daylights Savings began, a special event to Jodie since it meant the bus no longer required use of its headlights. She had spent the dark, winter rides cringing whenever the bus approached an oncoming vehicle; Kenny’s endless use of the brights had to hurt the eyes of other drivers.
The bus rumbled along, creating a rhythm convinced of its destination. The ground, the ground, the ground. She tried to ignore it, but it persisted. She looked upward as if a cloud might help her.
Two black birds sat on a telephone wire and she admired their pleasant rest. The bus passed them and she turned around. We left them behind, she thought. They’ll have to fly to the ground if they want to eat. The early bird catches the worm, worm, worm. Too bright-lights-worm-worm-worm.
Misty said, “What do ya think that cloud looks like, Jodie? Over there. What is it, Jodie? I think…” The question provided relief.
Jodie nodded and mumbled an encouraging answer. Then from her aisle seat, she watched the fast moving cloud, accommodating in shape and speed.
Wow, Coach! Cool! I would love to work for ya and my mother will think it’s a great idea. We don’t even have to ask her; she’ll want me to. Awesome! That is great, Jodie. We have everything settled. It is all ready today if ya want. Her animated words, his stenciled ones, sounded mismatched.
The cloud had made it seem so easy. She tried again.
Jodie! I have to ask ya. The question is—heck, why do I even ask? Work for us! Ya start tomorrow!”
She craved his command saving her from her own. More than once she had decided to stay after class and talk to him for real, but her feet kept moving until she found herself back at her locker and wanting to squeeze inside. The contortion would stifle her if she fit, but would be better than wide open conversation.
The bus pulled up to the school’s sidewalk and blocked the handicap parking spot. Jodie and the kids exited. The last week of school had arrived with three shorter days. Her dad had emailed her that Texas kids had to go to school till June. She took it as another reason for her not to try to escape.
Bright lights, birds, birds, birds, cloud. She wanted her mind to shift on its own. Misty could not after all, leave first grade and follow her through a day of eleventh. Could she? She thought she laughed to herself.
A kid walking past her groaned. “Not again!”
She stopped making the noise. She was usually more careful.
She trudged into the school and directly to the room where Coach already sat at his desk.
She chose a chair in the front row, sat and reviewed her notes. One pen rolled away from her and onto the floor. A sign I should talk to him. Her mouth opened.
Coach glanced up, as if he knew she wanted to speak. “Question?”
Al and L. L. entered the room. Other students followed. She closed her mouth.
He frowned, then stood. “Okay, everyone. Here it is, my last exam of the year, your invitation to summertime. I’m not trying to find out what you don’t know. Yes, that means I want to find out what you do…”
After she finished the exam, she quickly looked at the others behind her while Coach read a book. Heads pointed toward their desks, and a few hands scribbled. Backs stayed bent. She returned to her own exam to review its answers again. She had to have done something wrong.
If I’m the last student left in the room, it will be the real sign. Her thought would stand up from the floor, walk over to him and chat.
She watched him watch everyone leave. Then as she pretended to rummage through papers purposefully dropped, he spoke.
“Have a great summer, Jodie. I really hope it’s your best ever,” he said with his uncommon tone, as if disappointed in her again.
As he left the room, she thought of ways to have done better on the exam. She should have studied more.
She walked to the hall, and he was gone. Everyone was. It was for the better; empty hallways were safer.
To the side of her, the janitor appeared. “Hurry it along, Miss May. I gotta do my job.”
There, standing on the walk, the vacant bus lane confused her. Bus number five, though the school only owned three, was absent. The janitor’s pickup stood alone at the far end of the parking lot.
At the meet. Everyone ‘cept me. The younger kids would have taken the bus; she should have too. Kenny knew that, and it was first time he had left her. Then she remembered he said he had a dentist appointment and the school board president would drive for him.
A public phone back in the school would allow her to call her mother, but she had heard the doors slam as if the janitor was making sure she could not. The heat urged her to move forward.
It was humid, and daylight shimmering off of the flagpole hurt her eyes. If she moved too quickly, the day’s strong humidity would knock her to the ground. That wouldn’t happen, since her listless way only allowed her to move at a bovine speed. I used to be able to run the floor, catch the rebounds…
Two blocks later, she reached Main Street. She entered an air-conditioned store and walked past a row of motor oil and mechanical gadgets. At the till, the owner Conrad was nowhere in sight, nor his wife Connie.
Their employee Mikey greeted her. “Whadda you want?”
He knew she only used the phone when she came in, but she considered a different request. A cup of water would help. But that lacked guaranteed use of the phone. He wouldn’t give both. She decided on the most practical. “Um, uh, phone, please?”
He slid it over the counter. “I need to find my wench set, anyway. I mean, wrench set, wench.” He walked through the swinging door that led to the mechanic’s area. She ignored the old insult, and expertly dragged a finger around the rotary face. Its numbers were long ago blurred by dirty fingertips and smeared oil, but it was no matter. The round arrangement was the same as at her house, unlike the nine-digit rectangles everyone else had.
When a child answered the other end, Jodie sweetly asked for his grandma. It seemed a cold minute before Ardis came to the phone. Their negotiations soon stalled.
“But Ma, I’m stuck in town—it’s hot out, really hot. You know I don’t…”
Her mother rambled questions and left no pause for a response. She couldn’t just leave the grandchildren, could she? Hadn’t Jodie ever thought of that? Her mother listed Jodie’s newest faults, like high expectations and self-centeredness. If you had been the baby boy I prayed for, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, now would we? Her mother didn’t say it again, but might as well have since it rang through Jodie’s mind from years earlier.
Jodie wanted to suggest that Uncle Robby would watch the kids, or better yet come get her. She rarely saw him, but he would, she was sure of it. He just didn’t have a phone. The easiest words flowed from her mouth like oil for a rusty bike chain. “You’re right; I planned missing the bus and everything. You’re always right, ma.”
Her mother continued until Jodie ended the call by hanging up. She knew she would later suffer an old lecture about her mother’s favorite commandment of honoring parents; the cost would be little compared to the worth of what she had just purchased.
Outside, only the leaves of trees farthest above her rustled in a wind, reminding her of the chill she had just left. Her denim jeans stuck to her skin again, and repeated the fact her life lacked pleasant mediums and temperate in-betweens. It was either cold enough to hurt, or stifling and the same. Trying to walk faster only made her swallow more slowly.
Why is life moving up there and not down here? Her feet shuffled, but then carefully stepped over a dusty anthill with its busy residents appearing directed and focused.
A dog jumped inside the fenced area next to her. He barked loud enough for her to cover She imagined a perfect day. No barking. No people sneering, lots of trees and sky, and an occasional break from the heat. I wouldn’t need much else, she told herself. Hot-Mother- Mercy.
The trio of words assisted her over the pavement and past the should-have- saids to Coach, to Mikey, to her mother. Even her toes sweated, her socks already moist. Her hand became wet after wiping at her brow. She wanted sandals like even boys had.
At the sound of a whistle in the distance, the sound of cheering people followed. Her steps slowed more. The whistle guaranteed Coach’s presence.
Maybe it’s the real sign. Her body wanted to be closer to the sound, but her feet kept pace. Just show up. Just show up. The unfamiliar thought peeled each foot from the cement. She chuckled. Where’d that one come from?
Minutes later she felt closer to breathlessness, though she had walked as slowly as her body would let her. The number of people seeing her at the meet would directly correlate to how well she would be treated. Name-calling, tripping, or the worst, whispers not fully heard but interpreted by her imagination.
Approaching the track with its people, she remembered an old water fountain located between the dirt parking lot and the track. It might not be working, but she thought she would give it a try. She walked in its direction and found a two-foot tall wooden plank sticking from the ground. Along its middle ran a metal pipe and a brown, splotched spigot came from its end.
A kid, a sophomore from another town, the pastor’s son, stood next to it pouring out the contents of
a large yellow cooler. It probably held the team’s leftover purified water supply they had “Wait!” It had not burst from her; she had willed it. She surprised herself.
As if startled as well, the boy stopped pouring. Her words recovered themselves. “Um, can I get a drink first? I’m not, uh, um…you know, feeling okay…I—I—need…”
The boy looked at her with the heat of the day. She recognized the glint. As he held both her stare and the cooler, he slowly continued pouring. Then the water stopped.
With each of his shakes, the last three drizzles fell, as if he wanted to ensure that even those were unavailable to her. He smiled and pointed to the wet ground. “Sure, help yourself.”
He kicked some dirt into the shallow pool and walked away; she appreciated his lack of calling her by a name.
At the spigot, she turned its handle. Brown water ran from it and splashed below. It Looking at the miniature lake, she became the giant, but not even her enormous need would make her crouch to sip. She edged over to the water farthest from the spigot, the water more likely to be from the cooler. Her hands dipped into it. It was refreshing, so much that she knelt closer to splash some of the cleaner water on her face. She made sure her mouth was closed.
Laughter stopped her. “TUN-dra, TUN-dra! Chug it, baby!” a boy hooted.
She turned around to see two boys punching at each other and laughing in her direction.
But I wasn’t drinking. In a blink, she was there again. Not among the women dressed in black and white, but in Cort’s old van. Jill took a swig and passed it to Jodie. “I know you’re thirsty,” she had said. The driver, Troy, tossed an empty beer bottle out the window and steered toward the country roads. Al sat on Cort’s lap on the passenger’s side.
She blinked again. Before her, she considered her wet hands to be a break from the heat, enough that she let herself wander closer to a large tree and away from the track where athletes, watchers, and certain laughter gathered, and perhaps even a ride home. Her tongue curled roughly in her mouth; she still needed water.
Coach stood less than ten feet from her on the other side of the shade. Wanting to observe him before he saw her, she walked closer but made sure the trunk separated them.
Though his teeth held a whistle, his words remained crisp and clear. “…We’ll look forward to having ya next year. We welcome another, especially a long distance like you,” he said to a boy she didn’t recognize.
“Well, you know I just thought you two should meet now,” Connie said, as if defending herself.
“Of course, Con, of course. I’m glad ya did!”
The boy stuffed the fingers of one hand into the pocket of dark jeans. He wore a long sleeved, dark t-shirt with darker spots under his arms. He looked as overheated as she felt, and stood close enough to Connie as if related. His other hand regularly squeezed at a tied red bandana as if donating blood.
Coach continued talking, and Jodie stepped from behind the trunk to see him and the boy better. She thought Coach engrossed in the conversation.
“Jodie!” He walked toward her. “Idette’ll be ecstatic. She’s around here, somewhere. Tony, Connie, ‘scuse me.” He began pecking at his cell phone.
The thought of his wife being happy to see her confused her. They hadn’t seen each other since the team’s accident. But Jodie let go of that discomfort in order to consider a different one: If Idette saw Jodie, there wouldn’t be a person at the meet who didn’t know it. She didn’t want that attention.
She walked away and saw a quieter possibility. “Jill!”
At her name, the girl turned, then muttered something about shoelaces and the least of her problems. She began jogging, literally running away from her.
Jodie called after her. “Could…give, me a ride—later, of course. Well, um, I need a…I-I-I…I-I need a ride…” She wanted her sweat drenched head and heavy, dark clothes to speak better for her, though Jill did not turn around to see.
“Hello stranger! How’s my girl?” Like a jet flying overhead, the words startled the air.
It was Idette, and as always her voice matched her stance. She once had told the team she used to win arm wrestling contests against men back when she did that sort of thing.
Jodie nodded, but she wanted to run onto the track, to do whatever she had to do to get away. The heat, the teasing, Jill’s dismissal, and now identified by someone who followed unwritten rules—a specialty of Ketting, but ones no other resident recognized.
“C’mon girl, it’s been awhile, but you know me better than that.” Idette wrapped her arms around Jodie, who inhaled a sweaty smell that reminded her of freshly cut grass and fried food—better times.
“Hey, ya want one? I have an extra.” Idette casually handed her a bottle of water.
Jodie eyed the unbroken seal of the cap. Then she wondered why she appreciated Idette’s question instead of simply providing. She wondered why the woman was being nice to her, but drank anyway and in almost one long series of gulps. The coolness touched her insides.
“Listen,” Idette said, while keeping an arm around her. She jiggled her set of car keys. It was one of her trademarks; most people left their keys in the ignition. “I was about to head back to the diner. Hey, you’re on the way; keep me company. I’ll drop you off.”
Under the heavy arm Jodie shrunk. She felt confused by the kindness and her inability to recognize attached strings, but a short drive with Idette had to be better than heat stroke. She nodded again.
The two walked the length of the field to Idette’s faded blue car wedged between the bank president’s Cadillac truck and a little white pickup with a rusted out bumper. There was just enough room between the cars for the doors to open without touching the next vehicle.
Idette drove off the grass and bumps and onto the smooth highway. Long grasses waved freely in the wind, and beyond them the beginning of crops poked up from black acreage.
“Gregg told me you turned down our summer job,” Idette said, suddenly. The woman wiped at her nose with her hand.
Actually, I never refused. I just chose not to respond. Besides, he only asked me once.
Besides, you know, the summer will be busy. She wondered why some thoughts spoke clearly, yet silently, and yet those ones only reached her mouth with her mother.
“Remember,” Idette said, “you know me. I don’t give up.”
Jodie didn’t know what she meant. They continued driving until the blue vehicle slowed down onto dirt roads, and then turned onto a single dirt path wide enough for a tractor.
The car stopped close to the house. Seconds separated Jodie from door to door, and the car door creaked as she opened it. “Um, thanks,” she mumbled over her shoulder. She wanted to add that Idette had saved her life, that she had been teetering and the woman steadied her. She wanted to point out that no one else had helped her. Idette should be rewarded.
The sound of jangling keys stopped Jodie from another thought, and Idette already stood at the passenger’s side.
“Ya know, I haven’t talked to Ardis for ages! I need to pay her a visit.”
Jodie felt as hot as she had before receiving the bottle of water. With Idette beside her, and with no other options, she nodded.
They entered the mudroom of the house, and Jodie slipped off her shoes. Before she could suggest Idette keep hers on, she had slipped hers off as well.
They stepped into the kitchen, and nearly stood in the TV room. The AC felt like a cold slap compared to the cool temperature inside the car. Words croaked out of her as if back at the track. “Ide, um—Mrs. Jorissen here.”
Ardis shouted as if they were in the mudroom and not four feet from her.
“Whaddas she want now?”
Jodie’s hands flexed as if able to remove the remark.
Idette smiled. Her words took over. “Just wanna say hello, Ardis! Hello!”
Jodie was sure Idette had more, and her visit might tip the floor the other way. Though her presence unsettling, Jodie thought the house craved even a temporary shift.
“Idette Jorissen, what a surprise!” her mother’s tone, sounded warm, and unlike the outdoor temperature. “ Jodie, why didn’t you tell me we were going to have company? I would have made some ice tea with a sprig of mint, or taken cookies out of the freezer. You know, it’s certainly too hot to cook.”
You refused to rescue me. Idette knew what I needed. And you know the freezer only has…
“Oh, don’t even bother, Ardis. I saw your girl at the meet. Boy, I’ve missed seeing her more, but anyway, I asked if she’d accompany me out, didn’t even tell her that I’d stop in. Jodie, dear, why don’t you leave us adults alone? Go get out of those jeans.”
Jodie climbed the stairs, but strained backwards to hear and her body tried to hold onto the first floor’s air.
“…Wanted to pass an idea onto you, Ardis…”
Jodie caught Idette’s words like, maybe rather than the declarative is, words that didn’t let her mother remember the corner where she sat. Jodie had learned.
She saddened at the probable exchange. Her mother would nod and smile. Idette would pitch whatever idea she had. Her mother would nod and smile again. It all meant little beyond the walls of the house.
With each new step the cool air lessened and the heady heat began to touch her. Towards the top, the air from the first floor mixed nicely with the heat of the second. She waited an extra beat before continuing.
For a moment, she felt wise at not being present on the ground. Then she remembered it was Idette’s wisdom that had instructed her upstairs.
She peeled off her jeans and changed into shorts with an elastic band. Her legs scared her.
She wasn’t sure why the hairy legs of boys did not, and wished she owned her own razor and shaving cream, or one of those new combined ones.
Her attention stayed on the top of the stairs that she could see from her bed in the only space of the upper level. She sniffed at a t-shirt from the floor. One of the benefits of basketball season had been that her stuffy nose cleared. Probably the exercise chased it away, but she imagined it had been a magical spell that began with the first practice and ended with the last game, the same one that guaranteed lunch with teammates and her nickname still meant she held The sound of footsteps approached. Idette’s head popped up to the second floor to a Jodie, fully dressed.
“Zoiks, girl. It’s a sauna up here. Get a fan.” She turned around before reaching the top step. “Oh, yeah, and it’s settled. I’ll pick you up Friday morning.” From the stairs, Idette grabbed a stuffed bear sitting on the landing and threw it at her.
With two hands, Jodie caught him like a dusty basketball before he hit the rainbow curtain next to her. When she turned her face, she noticed her childhood’s plastic doll with crayon rouge lying on the floor and wondered how many years she had left it there.
Idette, barely louder than Jodie’s thoughts, shared what was sure to be her first lie.
“You’re a great student; I know you’ll make a great waitress.”