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Authors: KD McCrite

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BOOK: In Front of God and Everybody
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Grandma says she likes having her own place, and there was no use in her and Lily sharing the same house. She said she wanted to move out while they still loved each other and got along. It worked out real well.

Other than sitting in the passenger seat of her car while she drives, I like spending time with her. It's like we're good friends, even though she's my grandma. She always listens when I tell her about whatever book I've been reading. She's smart and funny and makes me think of things I never thought of before. For instance, one time when we were walking around in the pine forest beyond her house, she started talking about turpentine.

She said, “You ever notice how good these pine trees smell?”

I breathed real deep. “Umm-hmmm.”

She breathed in deep too. “Yep. I love to smell a pine tree, don't you? But, now, turpentine—why, it's enough to turn your stomach.”

I reckon I must have looked as confused as I felt, because she said, “You know turpentine comes from pine trees, don't you, April?”

Well, I hate to admit to being a complete ignoramus, but I told her, “I didn't know that.”

She stopped and looked me up and down as if something peculiar were oozing out of my skin.

“Do you mean to tell me with all the reading you do, you don't know about turpentine? What do you think comes from pine trees? Pine-Sol?”

“Don't it? All the commercials say—”

Grandma flapped her skirt-tail as though chasing away flies. “Phooey on that! TV has done ruined your generation.
The Cosby Show
is about the only thing worth watching other than
Murder, She Wrote
.”

Now, don't let that fool you. Grandma and Myra Sue watch way more TV than I do. They watch the soaps as faithfully as they go to church, and they talk about those soap opera people like they and their troubles are real. You ought to hear them sometime: “I hope Kayla will come home soon!” or “That Emma. She's plotting against Kim.” Myra Sue even cried when someone died on that show
Search for Tomorrow
. She saved the Kleenex she wiped her eyes on. She has it in a baggie in her drawer with her underwear. How anyone can be that dumb and still be able to eat with a fork is beyond me.

Mama doesn't watch the soaps. She listens to NPR on the radio in the kitchen in the afternoon. She and Daddy do not encourage TV watching, of course, but sometimes they like
Masterpiece Theater
and
NOVA
. I'd rather read. But then, I'm a bookworm, so what do you expect?

That day, when Grandma and I got to her house, she went to freshen up and change her shoes. I plopped down on her sofa. A little glass horse sat on a doily on the coffee table. I looked at it, but I wasn't impressed with Mr. Rance's gift.

Grandma's cat, Queenie, sat on the dining room table and stared without blinking, like she was trying to cast a spell on me. I'll tell you right now, if I'd sat on the table, Grandma would have shooed me off there like a nasty fly. I gave Queenie a grim look. Grandma came into the room with a mess of jangling keys in her hand.

“I thought you was going to put on your good shoes,” I said.

She bent from the waist a little and looked at her feet. “These
are
my good shoes.” She straightened up and glanced around. “Have you seen my pocketbook?”

You have to know that my grandma can't keep up with her big black purse any more than I can sprout wings and fly to Kansas City. Three weeks ago I found it in the refrigerator crisper, on top of the lettuce.

“Why don't we just walk to town?” I suggested hopefully. “It would be real healthy.”

Grandma stared at me like she thought I was nuts.

“It's eight miles to town, you silly child, and ninety degrees in the shade.”

Hopes dashed, I slouched back against the sofa. Her purse was right on the small table next to the front door, but I wanted to put off getting in her car as long as possible, so I kept my mouth shut.

Just then, a big red pickup pulled off Rough Creek Road and into Grandma's driveway. Grandma was so busy looking behind the china cabinet that she didn't hear it arrive. I stood up to get a better look out the picture window.

“You got company, Grandma,” I said.

“Woo?”

“Company. In the driveway. A red pickup.” The truck door opened, and I grimaced. “It's that old man from down the road.”

Grandma stared at me for a moment, then both hands flew up.

“Good gravy!” she yelped. “Jeffrey Rance is calling on me
again
.”

She went trotting off to the bedroom, taking out hairpins and smoothing her hair.

“You gonna start kissin'?” I called after her. “'Cause there's some things a kid ought not to see.”

She popped her head around the doorway between her bedroom and the living room and glared at me.

“Hush that, for heaven's sake!” She popped out of sight again, and I heard bobby pins hitting the little glass tray on her dresser. “You oughta be paddled for eavesdropping, April Grace Reilly.” A second later her bedroom door snapped shut.

I looked outside again. He was standing out there by his truck, a huge, old man in his black Stetson hat, bright red shirt, black jeans, and cowboy boots. He eyeballed the house like he was fixing to buy it. Then he walked around a bit, gawking up and down, right and left, as if he were looking for something. Then he came toward the house, so I right quick settled back down on the sofa and pretended I was somewhere else. His boot-steps thundered on the porch floor as he approached the door.

“Miz Grace, darlin', are ya home?”

The voice boomed into the house as what looked like a red-and-black grizzly bear passed the window and blocked out the daylight from the screen door like a solar eclipse. The odor of Old Spice came through the open windows and screen door and went right up my nose.

“Say, sugar plum,” he yelled. “You here?”

Queenie shot down off the table and streaked into the spare room. He yanked open the screen door and walked right in, just like he'd been invited.

“Miz Grace!” he bugled like a lovesick moose.

I made a real admirable attempt to keep my hands off my ears. He didn't see me, and I sure as shootin' didn't let him know I was ten feet away. He stood for a minute, then walked kinda all quiet and sneaky-like over to the TV. He looked at it close, then bent over a little and examined the brand-new VCR sitting on top, which Daddy and Mama had given Grandma last Christmas.

Not many people had VCRs in 1986 because they were new and expensive gadgets. But they were real nice if you wanted to sit in the front room and watch a movie. Grandma was afraid of it, if you can believe that. She said she was afraid she'd push the wrong button and burn the house down or something, even though I've shown her a million times how to use it.

With his big ole pointy finger, Mr. Rance poked the little flap where the tapes go in, smiling as big as if he'd discovered gold in the backyard. He muttered something about that “nifty little item oughta be worth something.” He straightened and looked around, but I sat quiet as a mouse, praying he'd never see me. And he didn't. Not right then, anyway.

What he
did
see was Grandma's purse, laying right out there on the little table by the door, plain as day. Boy, oh boy, did his eyes light up. He turned toward it, his hand out.

And he saw me. He gave a jump of surprise. I didn't know I looked so scary.

“Grandma is in the other room,” I told him.

He stared at me a few seconds, then said, real loud, “Well, who are you? Wait! Don't tell me. Let me guess.” He snapped his fingers. “You're Miz Grace's grandson.”

I don't look like a boy, even if he couldn't see my long hair.

“I'm a girl!” I yanked my red braid over a shoulder and all but waved it at the old goofball.

“Why, blamed if that ain't so!” He laughed like an asthmatic hyena. “Blamed if that ain't so. What's your name, young'un?” He sat down right next to me. The air around us practically turned blue from all that Old Spice aftershave lotion he musta bathed in.

“April Grace Reilly.”

“Ha!” he said so loud and quick that I was the one who jumped that time. “Named after your granny, are you?”

I nodded and wished that said granny would get back in here and take care of this thing.

“You like school?”

“I like summer vacation better.”

He leaned closer and yelled, “How's that?”

I could see, plain as daylight, that he wore hearing aids, so why didn't he turn 'em on?

“I said I like summer vacation better,” I repeated.

He snorted and laughed and slapped his thigh like that was the funniest joke since God created Myra Sue. Grandma finally came out of the bedroom, her hair all fresh combed and smooth. She wore her new, blue, just-for-church dress.

“You going to church, Grandma?”

Her cheeks got red, and I realized too late that she'd dressed up for Mr. Rance. He turned to face her and looked her up and down the way Daddy does to Mama when he thinks nobody is looking. Mr. Rance didn't seem to care that I was sitting right there.

“Well, don't you look a picture, Miz Grace?” He pushed both hands against his thighs and stood up, grunting a little.

“Thank you, Jeffrey,” she said real soft. I doubted the deaf old man heard her.

Then he did the unthinkable. He gave her a big, loud, wet smooch you could have heard clear up to the Missouri state line. I squinched myself back into the sofa as far as I could and pressed my face with a green cushion embroidered with the Lord's Prayer.

Grandma mumbled something. “Whatsa matter?” Mr. Rance boomed. “Ain't she never heard of kissin' before?”

I kept the cushion over my face and pretended I was in the Outback of Australia, away from Rough Creek Road, Myra Sue, the St. Jameses, Queenie, Mr. Rance, and Grandma.

“April and I were fixing to go into Cedar Ridge,” Grandma said. “It's Tuesday, you know. Double coupons at the Grocerteria, and one percent off regular prices for seniors.”

Then Grandma yanked the cushion away from my face and looked like she wanted to swat my behind.

“Well, what a coincidence.” Mr. Rance grinned so big, he like to have split his face. He had a mouthful of teeth, and he was showing every one of them. I hoped they were real, because I sure didn't want to see dentures fall out of his head. He continued, “I was on my way to town myself, so I come over here to see if you wanted to go along, maybe have lunch at the Koffee Kup.”

“Oh.” Grandma looked about half-pleased and half-nervous.

“We've done had lunch,” I told him, hoping he'd go home. “Grandma made tuna sandwiches with little pickles in them.”

“Oh, April,” Grandma said, laughing all funny-peculiar. “That was just a little snack. And actually, Jeffrey, I was going to take April into town—”

“Bring 'er along! The more the merrier.” He turned to me. “Whatcha say, kid? I'll buy you a hamburger at the Koffee Kup.”

Now, I was of two minds about this. While I was downright overjoyed that I might be safe from Grandma's driving this week, I really, really did not want to sit in a café with those two senior citizen lovebirds. What if they started smooching right at the table in front of God and everybody?

I gulped. “Mama needs me to help her get ready for company,” I said. I looked at Grandma. “If you're going to go with Mr. Rance, you won't need me.”

“Well.” She seemed to think it over real hard. “Well, all right, then. But you and me will go next Tuesday. How 'bout that?”

Next Tuesday was a whole seven days away. Maybe she'd misplace her driver's license by then.

“Okay.” I scooted off the couch. “See ya later.”

I ran outside and raced toward our house before either of them had a chance to change their minds and call me back.

Mr. Rance had moved from Texas to Rough Creek Road early this spring, and according to my daddy—who makes it a point to welcome all the newcomers and see if there's anything he can do to help them settle in—the old man used to have a big ole ranch and lots of thoroughbred horses. He said Mose Fielding sold Mr. Rance that twenty-acre parcel of dirt that his hogs had ruined. You know how hogs root around, upturning rocks while they snuffle and snort, looking for something to eat. It takes forever for the grass to grow back where hogs have rooted. Well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know thoroughbred horses couldn't live in such a place.

When he first moved here, Mr. Rance had bought a little trailer to live in, but I didn't think he stayed there very often. Maybe he was bored or something, because I saw him in that red truck, driving up and down Rough Creek Road about ten times a day. Plus, every blessed time we went to Cedar Ridge, there was that same red pickup parked at the Koffee Kup.

Here's the thing: that morning I was about halfway across the hayfield when a thought hit my brain and made me stop dead in my tracks, so I could give it serious and detailed consideration. Why would someone with a lot of horses leave a big horse-raising state like Texas and come to the rocky hills of Arkansas and live on a hog-rooted twenty acres where nothing would grow? Why would anyone do something that dumb?

And here's another thing: with his own wife dead just a few months, why was he suddenly hot for Grandma? Maybe he wanted a brand-new wife, the thought of which made me swimmy-headed.

Boy, oh boy, thoughts flooded through my head so fast it was hard to keep up with them. A particular remembrance, though, seemed louder and bigger than the rest, and it was this: he'd been kinda sneaky in Grandma's living room, looking at her stuff like he wanted to swipe it. And what about her purse? Would he have picked it up if he hadn't seen me? It sure looked like it from where I sat.

“I bet he's a crook,” I said aloud. “He's probably wanted down in Texas and came to the Ozarks to hide from the law.” I've seen cop shows on the TV, and an awful theory rose up in my brain. “Maybe he's a horse thief. Or worse, maybe he even
killed
his wife.”

BOOK: In Front of God and Everybody
10.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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