Authors: Sandra Scofield
“I heard Ellis' dad say they're trying to organize the carbon black plant,” David said quickly, hoping it would placate his father. He did not say how worried Mr. Whittey was. The year's work had been spotty; Whittey said a drilling depression was setting in. There were a lot of Whitteys to feed.
“Not roughnecks,” Marge said firmly, and plunged her hands into soapy water. “Never.”
Saul put his hands on the table and leaned into them. “Your grandparents were sweatshop slaves for years. They fought to get fair treatment. I know something about labor! When my brother Karl built his business, he
the union in. He put his own father to work with a contract. Then me.”
Marge said to David, “Your father was in a union at the hospital where we met.” She did not say, an orderly's union.
, Pop,” David said.
“That's right!” his father exploded. “Anything that's not right in front of your nose! Far away and dead history!” He stomped into the living room and turned on the television. It was time for Highway Patrol.
“What's his problem?” David muttered. “What's he want?”
His mother sighed and pulled the plug in the sink. The water would take five minutes to drain all the way out. Then she'd have to rinse the dishes. “He should have worked today.
not bound by anybody's schedule. He only has to organize himself. Idleness makes him moody.” She smiled sadly. “The only cure for melancholy is work, son.”
“What's wrong, Mom?” David said, suddenly aware of his mother's immediate misery.
She began running water again, swishing each dish under the faucet and stacking it on the drain. She kept her back to him. “Joyce Ellen.” The water was rising in the sink.
David put his hand on her shoulder. His sister was unhappy. Big Pete Kelton had not turned out to be such an improvement on Saul Stolboff. Joyce Ellen was only sixteen years old. She did not have the sense of a road runner. Suddenly David could not bear the misery in the room.
He moved the laundry to the dryer, then he went out the back door. Walking alongside the house, he noticed that the siding buckled in waves, like a long stretch of frozen cloth. He did not know how he had failed to notice it before. One of these days it would probably split and peel off like a dried onion skin. There they would be, one flank exposed to the weather.
He took his father's car to go see Glee.
David swung by to pick up Leland, and then went on to Glee's.
“How's she going to feel about this?” Leland asked, when he learned where they were headed.
“I'm not staying. I'll ask if she wants to go for a little ride.”
“With you and good ole Leland.”
“She'll probably be pissed. But she won't act like it if you're along. She won't want you to know she has a reason to be. She'll be Miss Sunshine.”
“She sits in the middle?”
“Her nice creamy thigh alongside my hot hip?”
“You're a piece of work, Leland.” David laughed.
Glee was not at home. Her mother, the now Mrs. Joe Ranger, smiled when she saw who it was, and leaned against the door jamb. She was holding a glass, maybe iced tea. “Your name is mud around here, David,” she said pleasantly, and took a drink.
“I couldn't make it,” he answered with like politeness.
“She's not here.”
“Tell her I came by?”
“She's just down to Dewey's Drive-in, I imagine. With some of the kids from today.”
“I might swing by.”
Mrs. Ranger pulled her arm down from the door frame, switched her drink to that hand, and rested her free hand on the slight rise of her belly, right about navel high. David was acutely aware of her condition. Behind her, a television was blaring in a dim room.
At Dewey's, Glee was in the back seat of Buddy's BelAir, with Dickie Huber sitting so close to her, another person could have still fit in on his other side. In the front, Buddy and Ray Jean were turned around so the four could visit. As cars came around slowly, one or the other or even all of them could wave and call out to their occupants. It was the night before school started again, and people were out.
David drove around once slowly. When Glee saw him, he said to Leland, “Wave, ole Leland.” Leland, laughing, blew Glee a kiss.
The second time around, he parked a few cars away and ordered a Dr. Pepper and onion rings. Leland, who said his own dinner had been light, ordered steak fingers and a chocolate malt.
“Well,” David said as the car hop left with their order.
“I can stand to wait,” Leland said. He had a gawking, happy expression.
David grinned. “I did come to see Glee, didn't I?” He climbed out of the station wagon and leaned into the car next to his, on the side away from Buddy's car. He chatted with Jason Strickland, who had worked pipeline in Hawaii all summer. Then he went to Buddy's car.
“You missed a good time,” Buddy said as David approached. Buddy had a streak of white goop across his sunburned nose. All four of the car's occupants were in stages of burns, although Glee, being the most tan, merely looked flushed. “Ole Jedsel brought a tent.” David knew what that meant. There had been a place for couples to “retire to,” a hot, still, canvas cave for fucking. “We barbecued, and swam our guts out.”
“Jeez, I don't know why I stayed home,” David said. He knew Buddy was enjoying Glee in the back seat with his best buddy Dick. Glee had scooted as far against the side of the car as she could, but Dickie had not bothered to add a spare inch between them. David thumped the car with the flat of his hand. “Thought I oughta say hi,” he said, and pulled up straight.
Glee got out of the car, and walked around to the back. She leaned against the trunk while David took his time joining her. Dickie, Ray Ann and Buddy stared a moment, and then went back to visiting among themselves.
“Doesn't look like you missed me,” David said. He did not care one bit, but he knew Glee would be hurt if he did not say that.
“Of course I did!” she fussed. “But you weren't
, and I wasn't going to
“Course not.” He moved closer to her, and brushed at her bangs with two outstretched fingers. Wisps of hair were white as lint. She slid her butt along the trunk to find a comfortable spot where she could look like she was lounging.
“I skied on one ski really good.”
“And I raced and beat the other girls. Then they were mad, because it was my idea.”
“How could I have missed it.”
“Davy, why didn't you go, really?”
“I had to do stuff with my dad.”
“Liar, liar, pants on fire.” She giggled weakly.
“With my mother.”
She hit his chest with her little fist. “You're so awful to me, Davy.”
He leaned and gave her a peck on the cheek, right on the bone. She smelled of shampoo. She wore tight white shorts and a sleeveless lime green blouse with a stiff pointed collar. “You smell nice,” he whispered.
“You want to take me home?” She was relaxing, feeling good. She would not pursue the matter of his guilt, because she knew it would not get her anything.
“I'm with Leland.”
,” she said, and drew back. You did that on
“He's my good buddy, like Dickie Huber is yours.” He spoke with no intonation, to see what she would make of it.
“If you didn't want me to go today, you should have said.”
“I couldn't stop you.”
“You don't want me anywhere with other boys.”
“How was Jedsel's big green tent?”
“Did they all sympathize? Did the girls coo and say, That David Puckett, he's a bastard?”
“Did not. I didn't act like it was anything. I said you couldn't come, like it was nothing.”
“I never have as much fun if you're not there.” When he didn't speak, she added, wise little girl, “But I do have fun.”
“That's what I like you for, don't you know? You're the cheerful one.”
“You're sure not! You're always moody. You want to act like nobody could guess what's on your mind.”
“I know, sometimesâ” She grinned. “Don't I?”
He put a little more distance between them. She was expecting him to touch her, or kiss her, here in front of all creation. She could hardly keep from roaming her eyes around to see who was watching.
“Nobody says you can't have other dates,” he said.
“What are you
It wasn't a
” She punctuated with little gasps of breath.
“I'm just saying it could have been, nobody says you're my girl only.”
“I never said.”
“Davy!” She looked ready to cry.
“When I ask you, and you want to go. That's all. We're not engaged.”
“Going steady,” she whispered. “That's what I thought.”
“I never said.”
She had her chin down. She seemed to be studying her blouse's first button. “But you know what you
, Davy. You know what.”
He lifted her chin with his finger. “Your idea, sweetcakes.”
“Why are you being mean to me!” she said loudly. She bit her lip. “You want to break up.”
“Nothing to break up. I told you, there's no contract.”
“So what, there's somebody else you want to date?”
He looked over her shoulder. Two cars down, Sarah Cottle and another girl were drinking Cokes and talking. “I used to go out with her,” he said, without pointing.
Glee turned around. She could see Sarah, but she probably did not know. “Who? Who are you talking about?”
“You go out with Dickie Huber, I go out with Sarah. It doesn't mean anything. Doesn't change anything.”
“You are being hateful. You wouldn't.”
“You'd ask that girl out?”
“I dare you, David Puckett! Go do it right now! Go on! See if I care!” She got back in the car and crammed herself into the corner. The other kids in the car were staring at him. They could not have heard much.
He walked slowly, casually, over to Sarah's mother's nice Buick. “Hi there,” he said, leaning against the car, draping one arm on top.
“David,” Sarah said, surprised.
“Long time no see.”
“I guess so.” The girl with Sarah leaned across to look out and see who was there. He did not know her.
“You have a nice summer?” he asked Sarah.
“Sure. We went to Oregon to visit my mom's sister. It was awful pretty there.”
“Hi,” the other girl said. “I'm Mary Holloway. I was in your algebra class sophomore year.”
He had no such memory. Faceless Mary Holloway. “Hi there, Mary Holloway, are you up to trig now?”
She giggled, and swung away to sit up again. “Trig,” she giggled again.
“I saw you, and wanted to say hello,” David said, and thumped the car.
“Nice to see you.” She wasn't giving him much. She was really a very cute girl, very neat and pretty and sweet.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, maybe I could call you?”
She was not at all flustered, as he had thought at first. She was actually quite cool. He admired that. She smiled sweetly. “I thought you were all tied up with a cheerleader.”
“I date her. We're not married.”
“So can I?”
“Don't you want me to?”
She bit her bottom lip, then said, “I have to think about it. And I got to go, now.” She set her glass and Mary's glass on the tray, and rearranged herself. She smiled politely. “See you, Mr. Puckett.” She tapped the horn.
He banged her car again. “You will, Miss Cottle!” He was delighted with the way she had handled him. He had imagined her crying when he never called again, with no explanation. He had imagined she wondered, and asked her girlfriends, What did I do? Then later she learned he had a new girlfriend, that he was in real tight with Glee Hewett. He used to see her in the hall. She would go by like he was invisible. Not like she was snubbing him, or making anything of it. She did not see him, anymore.
The car hop took the tray away.
He grinned and watched Sarah start the car and back out. Going by Buddy's car, he banged on the trunk hard with his fist. Their heads swung so they could see him. He smiled and waved. As he walked away, he pinched the bridge of his nose.
To avoid the packs of kids he knew would be all over the front lawns, David walked toward the school a block over, and came up the back side, but the doors to the huge brick building were locked there. Rather than wait for them to open, he took a deep breath, smoothed his hair, and walked around to the front.
Students stood in clots, mostly boys with boys and girls with girls. They were further divided by that elusive but unmistakably effective system that created layers of popularity and status in the school's society. Shy kids of no particular description seemed to hug the sides of the building, tucked into the shadows cast by the recesses of the structure, or clinging to the huge concrete pillars along the walkway between the two main entrances. Out in the center of the lawn stood girls from pep squad and student council, girls who belonged to clubs and to each other. Nearby, in tight formations like huddles on the football field, stood the boys of like caliber, mostly athletes, along with those boys who for various reasons were buddies of athletes though they had not distinguished themselves in any particular way. David headed to one of these groups, spying Ellis and other members of the tennis and swimming teams, boys not quite up to the football players who occupied nearby territory. These boys, for the most part, wore their hair cut very short, “burred,” and plaid shirts or polo shirts with jeans. A few wore snap-buttoned cowboy shirts and boots. Ellis wore a starched khaki shirt, rolled twice at the cuffs, and new jeans and loafers. He looked scrubbed and gangly, and happy to be escaping the summer's grueling labor. Someone was telling a story or a joke, and Ellis was laughing and switching his weight back and forth on his legs, as if the tale were too funny to stand still for. He had a way of making everybody around him seem to matter, without drawing any real attention to himself. Seeing him now, David realized how much he had missed him in the past months.