The ride home from practice was completely quiet. The only sound inside of the car was of our breathing. I was so conscious of him sitting a few inches away from me in the passenger seat. As the silence got the better of me, I stretched my hand across the hand rest that divided us, I looked straight ahead, holding my breath. When I felt his hand tentatively slide over mine, I relaxed and fought the urge to jerk my hand away.
It had been like that since we kissed. Part of me wanted to run and hide. Wanted to think about and try to understand how something like kissing Luke could happen. It wasn’t something I had ever found myself imagining. I never fantasized about it, never wanted it. Not until it happened and then something inside of me wanted to kiss him back. The fear in his eyes tugged at me in a way that no one else ever could have. He had put himself out there and I had taken that leap with him. I just didn’t know why.
Hugging him was more for me than it was him. I could feel him wanting to run and hide as well. He knew he was stranded there with me unless he wanted to walk. I didn’t want to let go; I felt the warmth of him. Being so close I was expecting to smell some lingering scent of shampoo, his deodorant, possibly some sweat, but all I could detect was the chlorine that I had grown accustomed to. Touching him, I could feel the smooth muscles of his back. He was stronger, harder than I was used to. I was just a few centimeters taller than him; it was a marked difference than Ally, who barely came to my collar bone. The hug seemed to keep us both upright and still. It was our crutch and our courage.
All of that left the closer I got to his house, especially when he slid his hand from mine with a small smile. He had muttered a quick goodnight and an equally difficult to hear ‘see you tomorrow,’ before he slid out of the car. I wanted to kill the engine and run after him, but the movement by the front window stopped me. I saw Cindy looking out of the window after moving the curtains aside. She didn’t look happy to see me in the driveway and for the first time I didn’t want to spite her or push her buttons. I wanted to get the hell out of their driveway and back home to a hopefully empty house.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I couldn’t get my mind to relax and forget the kiss. Every time I closed my eyes, I seemed to replay the moment before he closed his eyes. That is when I knew he was going to kiss me and that I was going to let him. Although at the time it was still too different, too new. Luke looking like I had already punched him after not returning the kiss only made me want to kiss him again, I wanted him to know that I was okay. I just didn’t know if I was now that I was alone in the house waiting for dawn.
Then there was the problem with having to see him tomorrow at the park. Not having all of my thoughts quelled and thousands more coming as I tossed and turned. I wondered if it would show on our faces. That something had happened, something that was big, and that we didn’t exactly know if it was bad or good. I wondered if we would give ourselves away with one look. I imagined Luke lying in bed freaking out, maybe he wouldn’t even show up tomorrow. He’d make some excuse to stay at home. For some reason, the thought of not seeing him tomorrow bothered me more.
I didn’t know when I fell asleep, but I was instantly awake when Mom knocked on my bedroom door and told me to get up. I glanced over, wide-eyed and noticed that she was dressed in a dress she liked to wear to church. I could smell her perfume and when she smiled, I gave her a weak smirk and sat up not wanting to look her in the eyes.
“You’re wide awake,” she said as she put the back on one of her earrings. When she smoothed out her red hair and really looked at me I glanced down to my lap.
“Yeah I was already awake,” I lied faking a yawn. “Is Dad up?”
“Just went to bed,” she said sighing. “He doesn’t have to work as hard the next few weeks, so maybe you’ll see us around more.”
“Are you off to church?” I asked and she studied me for a moment.
“Are you okay?” She asked her eyes creasing at the corners.
“Yeah, why?” I asked shrugging as I stood and stretched.
“You seem wired, you didn’t get into anything last night, right?” She asked, but she didn’t sound like she was accusing me of anything. That she believed that I had come straight home after practice.
“No, Rick hasn’t been happy with some of the times I’ve been putting in,” I answered hoping a smaller worry would ease her mind a little. “He’s afraid if I keep falling off the college will take away my scholarships.”
“Oh, honey,” Mom said and I heard the clicking of her heels against the hardwood as she walked towards me. She wrapped me into a hug and I felt her kiss my cheek. “You’ll get that sorted out, you know how Rick gets.”
“Yeah,” I answered laughing and although I would never admit it, Mom hugging me took a lot of the butterflies away. I no longer felt like I was about to jump off a cliff, for the first time since the kiss I felt grounded.
“You’re just overdoing everything,” Mom said as she broke the hug, but she kept her arms on my shoulders ready to hug me again if she thought I needed another one. “I know the park is something I’ve pushed you with, but that won’t last forever. You’ll be fine.”
“Thanks,” I offered, and she smiled as she let go.
“Well I better get going or I’ll be late,” she said smiling. “Hopefully, there won’t be any more emergencies at the factory, do you think Luke would stop by for dinner?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered shrugging.
“Don’t worry about Cindy,” Mom countered her eyes creasing again as she guessed at the reason for my stammering. “She can’t keep that boy locked up forever. Do you think Toby or Derek might be free for dinner?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, and she sighed.
“I guess not,” she said sighing. “You make it so hard to keep you grounded.”
“Does that mean I’m free?” I asked smirking when her smile faltered. I already knew the answer, I had definitely earned this punishment and this time I would be seeing it through. They won’t be backing down now, the park looked to be mostly finished anyway.
“No,” she answered her smile returning. “Now get your butt in the shower.”
“Fine,” I sighed, and she laughed patting me on the shoulder as we both left my bedroom.
After my shower, I walked into my bedroom and closed the door behind me. Not paying attention to anything, I dropped my towel on the bed and walked around to my closet. That is when I heard laughing coming from behind the closed closet door. A closet door that I never kept shut, mostly because I usually had shoes and shit spilling out of it and blocking the doorway.
Jumping I grabbed the door handle, covering myself as best I could with my other hand. When the door opened Derek and Toby nearly fell over my shit as they burst out of the closet. Walking back around the foot of my bed, I quickly wrapped my towel around my waist as they laughed.
“What the fuck?” I asked shaking my head. The noise they made, likely would have got Dad’s attention if he wasn’t sleeping through another long week of work.
“We’re here to kidnap you,” Derek answered, “now get your ass dressed.”
“Yeah we already saw too much of your little tadpole,” Toby added, and I heard both snickering as I walked around them to my dresser.
“We’re going swimming,” Derek said, and I sighed shoving a pair of boxer briefs back into my dresser and shoved that drawer closed.
“I have to work,” I countered glancing over my shoulder at them. “So, get lost, losers.”
“Not a chance,” Derek argued as I dropped the towel, not caring that they were in the room now. We had saw one another naked enough times for it not to feel completely weird.
“I’m trying not to get my ass into anymore trouble to get the parents off it for awhile,” I said as I pulled on a pair of blue and light grey checkered swimming trunks.
“Toby, when did our best friend turn into a loser?” Derek asked turning to Toby. They both smirked and I sighed shouldering past them to step inside my closet. I dug around until I found a pair of flip-flops and my sunglasses then I kicked every stray shoe or old swimming trophy back into the closet that had spilled out, but I quickly gave up shrugging my shoulders.
“I think he might have a girl waiting to sin behind the bushes,” Toby answered, and despite being pissed off at having them in my bedroom, I laughed shaking my head. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to talk them out of leaving without me. That I would have to let them kidnap me and take me wherever they were planning on going.
Following them out of the bedroom and down the stairs, I grabbed my keys on the way outside. The sun was already bright, the air sticky and humid. Working on the park would be hell in this weather, it wouldn’t take long for me to be worn out and drenched in sweat. I knew I was overworking my body, that I was showing up to practices too exhausted to put in an honest effort. Of all the days though, I wanted to go in and work. I needed to see how Luke was fairing this morning, I still wasn’t convinced that we’d hide it well though. That it wouldn’t show on our faces or how we interacted throughout the day. Cindy was sharp-eyed and critical, if anyone could see through us, it would be her. I wouldn’t mind thinking I was a bad influence or a punk ass, she already knew that. But I didn’t want her looking at us and think something else might have happened. That something had changed.
As I watched Derek back out of the driveway in his bulky black truck, with too large tires, I realized I could drive to the park. I almost did when he drove off into the direction of town, but I didn’t know how determined they were, and I didn’t want them crashing in on me at the park to really kidnap me. So, I sighed, accepting whatever punishment I was going to get and followed him.
Driving past the park, I knew it would be empty. Most people that volunteered to work on it, would still be at morning church services. I wasn’t surprised to see a front-end loader sitting out beside the swing set poles. I knew if anyone could get one there in short notice it would be Henry, he seemed excited enough about the idea anyway. The only truck in the parking lot was a large flatbed truck, likely the one that delivered the front-end loader.
We arrived at our usual tubing spot. There was a hiking trail that led to a small waterfall that fed the river. Toby’s truck would likely be parked at a trail downstream to pick us up after we drifted down the river for awhile. It was something we did often in the summer after the water levels lowered a little and the small sections of rapids calmed.
“You’re quiet,” Toby said as he led the way down the trail.
“He looks funny, too,” Derek added, “Doesn’t he?”
“No gayer than usual,” Toby answered as I sped up my pace to walk beside Derek.
“Fuck you,” I countered shoving Toby’s shoulder. He laughed as he easily regained his balance as we turned a corner in the trail, and I heard the rush of the waterfall. As we came into view the girls were all laying on the bank on towels, all of them in brightly colored bikinis. Seeing Ally lying there made my stomach drop, she was lying on her stomach listening to Heather animatedly gossiping about somebody. I knew there was a good chance she would be there, but I hadn’t thought about her and the kiss.
“We’re back,” Derek said, and I laughed when all three screamed. It was impossible to hear anyone approaching the waterfall.
“Ass,” Ally yelled as she pulled her sunglasses up into her hair pulling some strands out of her face. Her pink bikini didn’t leave anything to the imagination, and I knew Welker didn’t know anything about it or he wouldn’t have let her out of the house. Seeing me she stood and quickly wiped away any stray dirt or sand that was on her legs before she bounced up to where I stood.
“Hey,” I grunted as she slammed into me. Her usual sweet smell of strawberries was mixed with a strong cocoa scent. If we had bears here, they would have already swarmed us. Instead of feeling calm though, I broke the hug and let her study me. When her smile never faded, I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
“It was my idea to kidnap you,” she said smiling as she grabbed my hand.
I looked around the clearing and saw the tubes already blown up and stacked on the beach. There was a small cooler attached to a tow rope on the bottom one. It would be filled with beer, the usual drink for us as we drifted down river. It had make-shift floating devices on it, an invention from Toby’s Dad back when he also drifted down this same river when he was younger with his friends. I don’t think it was something Mom or Dad ever did growing up though.
“She has about drove us all crazy,” Heather added as she walked by us to where the floats were waiting. “Jackson this, Jackson that, I wish Jackson were here.”
“Shut up,” Ally countered offering me a smile.
“You guys probably won’t see me much after today,” I said forcing a smile when Ally frowned. I tried to reassure her, but I knew Mom would be disappointed. I just hoped that my absence didn’t hurt Luke’s chances at convincing Cindy to allow him to come to our school. Even if that meant that I would have to be around him more.
“Is someone worried what his momma is going to do next?” Toby asked as he playfully shoved me on the shoulder as he walked past. “Don’t tell me you want to be at the park right now, not after you’ve seen all this.”
“I don’t,” I countered frowning. They were all looking at me and for the first time they made me feel like a loser. They didn’t know that part of me wanted to turn around and leave, at least I didn’t think they did.
“Then let’s get into the water,” Toby responded, and I shrugged when Ally smiled, and I followed her to the tubes. I picked one of the larger ones without the closed in rubber bottom. I knew those were for the girls, they never really wanted to get wet when we drifted down the river. They just wanted to show off their new bikinis, which was fine by us. At least they didn’t complain about bugs or the heat, or the desire to be at a mall somewhere like most of the other girls at school.
After I settled into my tube and pushed off the bank and into the current I looked back at Ally. She slid into her tube and I started paddling my hands against the slight current to wait for her. I smiled when she drifted into me and I reached out my hand to take hers. Holding her hand and looking around at everyone else linked together, so that we could talk and pass drinks whenever we wanted them. I felt normal again, that I was where I belonged. I allowed myself to relax now that I wasn’t standing face to face with any of them. They weren’t paying close attention to me, so I didn’t worry about them finding out that I had more on my mind than just finishing my park project so that I could be free. That maybe part of me wanted for it to go on a little bit longer so that I could have an excuse to talk to Luke and not have people wondering why I was. Odds were against him ever coming to my school, Cindy seemed pretty fucking stubborn and I doubted even Henry’s calm persistence would sway her.
“I really have missed you,” Ally said, and I pulled her around until she was floating beside me. Here on the river, the trees that surrounded it gave us shade and privacy. It dampened the sound of the cars on the highway and the noise of people. It was peaceful, even with Toby and Derek trying to dump one another and Heather cursing both of them for getting her hair wet.
Instead of looking at her, I smiled and closed my eyes. I gave her hand a gentle squeeze and I felt her thumb rub the back of my hand. It was softer than Luke’s hands, smaller. The fact that I was comparing them made me flush and my heart race. I was at least calmed by the idea that I at least like Ally’s hand better. That being around her was easier.
“I’m glad I got to do this before it started getting too cold,” I said breaking the comfortable silence between us.
“I wish you were finished with that stupid park,” Ally said and I opened one eye and glanced at her. I smiled when I saw her pouting and looking up at the canopy of trees overhead.
“We’re almost done,” I responded, and I watched her readjust on her tube, her bikini top nearly coming untied around the back of her neck. She slid her hand from mine, and I watched unabashed as she retied it smiling at me.
“Ally what are you doing?” Toby asked and I turned to see him sitting up in the tube watching us. “You’ll give the guy a heart attack, go easy on him he’s been with those stuffy church women.”
“Shut up Toby,” I groaned kicking water towards him.
“How many have you bedded now?” He asked dodging the water I splashed at him.
“Those jokes are getting old,” Ally countered reaching out her hand for me again. When I took it she smiled and settled back in. “I wish these things were big enough for both of us.”
“That one probably is,” I said as I watched Toby and the rest of them hit the first bit of rapids and momentarily speed away from the two of us. They weren’t really what I would call rapids, but they were fun enough to break up the calmness of the river in short bursts.
“Want to try it?” She asked looking down at her float.
“It’s too hot,” I answered pretending to close my eyes and shove my shades back over them to block out the sun.
“What else do you guys have to do to finish the park?” She asked and I sighed. I didn’t want to think about the park. Whenever someone brought it up, all I was able to think about was the kiss and I only played along with the kidnapping to forget about it. At least until I was calm enough to figure out my next move. I have never been like this, I usually just did whatever popped into my head at the time. That is what got me into this mess in the first place. Maybe if I had thought before kissing Luke, I wouldn’t have. I would have thought about what it would have meant if I did before I did it. What it would do to me if people found out. What Ally and everyone else would think. If I were thinking that night, I would have let him run, but I wasn’t thinking past the way his lips felt on mine and that I wanted to feel them on my lips again.
“Don’t know,” I answered shrugging my shoulders. “They’re working on the swing sets today, they might do the baseball fields too.”
“Sounds boring,” she said offering me a smile.
“Yeah, boring,” I added squeezing her hand.
“Y’all want a beer?” Derek yelled and I looked down stream to see that they had managed to put quite a bit of space between us.
“Yeah,” I answered shaking my head. I let go of Ally’s hand and she grabbed hold of my tube and I paddled into the center of the river where the current downstream was strongest. When we collided with him he passed me both beers. I handed one to Ally and carefully opened my can. I watched her tap on the metal tab a few times before she slowly opened her own. Drinking the bitter, cold drink, was at least refreshing.
“I didn’t think the old man at the store was going to accept my fake I.D. this time,” Derek said as he retrieved a second beer for him and shoved the lid of the cooler closed.
“Getting too fat to pull it off,” Toby commented as he kicked out and hit Derek’s float. It sent him and Lily spiraling towards the bank.
“Hey!” Lily yelled looking over her shoulder. She had been reading and holding on to one of Derek’s hands only letting go momentarily to turn the pages. When I looked at the cover, I realized it was the book we were supposed to be reading for English class for our outside of class reading reports. I hadn’t started mine and they were due before the end of the winter semester in December. I planned on using online summaries so that I didn’t have to worry about it.
“I wish you’d put that damn book down and talk,” Derek countered splashing a little bit of water at Lily.
“I got this from the library, ass,” she hissed wiping the cover on her bikini. It was a dark blue with silver rings holding the fabric together between her breasts and on the side of each hip. Out of all the girls she was the least covered.
“Oh, I’m an ass now?” Derek asked smiling as he grabbed hold of Lily’s float and pretended to attempt to dump her into the river.
“Yes!” She shrieked dropping the book into her lap. She used both her hands to splash him and she only stopped when they drifted too far apart for her to reach him.
“He does kind of look like one,” I joked, “maybe that’s why you just about got caught with a fake I.D at the store.”
“Go thump a bible,” Derek countered splashing water at me. When it hit both me and Ally, I heard Ally hiss and when I turned to look at her, she had sat up on her elbows and was glaring at him.
“I’ll show you,” I said, and I slid my hand out of Ally’s and slid off my tube. The river water was four feet deep or so throughout most of it. There were some deep pools over our heads, but we rarely swam in the river. As I took a breath, I saw Derek scrambling to start paddling away.
“Don’t go under!” Ally yelled, but I smiled and dived under the water. It was murky and I could only see a foot or so in front of me despite not having an goggles on. Fish darted away from me as I focused in on the sound of Derek’s splashing and took off swimming. I could only hold my breath for a minute or two swimming this hard and I was about to come up for air when I finally saw the cooler towing behind his float. It had broken away from the group and I pushed forward until I could reach out and grab Derek’s hand as he paddled. When I did I heard a scream before I pulled him into the water with me.
When I came up for air, I rubbed my eyes free of the river water and looked around. Derek had already broken the surface and was glaring at me as he caught up to his float and tried to scramble back onto it.
“You’re like a fucking shark,” he hissed wiping his face.
“You could have hit your head on something under there,” Ally yelled as she struggled to paddle with one hand as she towed my float with her other. When she finally caught up to me I slid back onto mine and laid back. The water wasn’t really warm, but it felt good against the harshness of the summer sun and the humid air. I really didn’t know how the girls stood it floating around on floats that never allowed them to touch the water.
“It’s pretty clear,” I countered smiling. “Y’all should try it.”
“No thanks,” she said wrinkling her nose. “Now you smell like the bottom of the river.”
“Does that mean you’re not going to kiss me later?” I asked folding my free hand under my head. It was then I realized that I had lost my shades and I began looking around.
“Yes,” Ally answered then reached beside her and I relaxed when I saw that she had my sunglasses in her hands and was cleaning the lenses by lifting up on the underside of her bikini top. I cocked an eyebrow when I noticed some of her boob slipping out as she did it. “Of course, I’ll kiss you.”
“Good,” I muttered swallowing. “Fuck I’ve lost my beer.”
“You can have mine,” she said as she held out her hand with my sunglasses. I took them from her and slipped them over my eyes as I watched her readjust her top before she reached over to the cup holder on her float and took a drink of her beer before handing it to me to finish.
“I wouldn’t give him your beer, Ally,” Derek said still pretending to be pissed at me. “That’s what the loser gets for drowning my ass.”
“Serves you right,” Lily countered shaking her head. She had gone back to reading, but she winked over the top of the book at Derek.
“Do you guys hear that?” Toby asked and I looked over at him and Heather. She looked to have fallen asleep in her float. There was a hornet inspecting the top of her can of beer, I knew that if she was awake, she likely would have bailed out of there.
“Hear what?” Lily asked closing her book. “It’s not an animal is it? A snake?”
“How do snakes sound, Lily?” Heather mumbled then reached for her beer until she noticed the hornet had landed on it.
“We’re getting close to the park,” Toby said ignoring Lily. “Can’t you hear them losers working?”
“Toby,” Heather hissed, “Toby, get this thing away from me.”
“Get what away from you?” Toby asked still sitting up to listen.
“The hornet, dumbass,” Heather countered as I turned my head to listen for any sounds of them working at the park. I could just barely make out the sound of what had to be the front-end loader. Toby finally turned his head away from the noise as Heather started backing up against her float. It threatened to tip over, but Toby splashed water towards the can and the hornet flew away.
“Losers,” Derek said shaking his head. “Only dumbasses would be out doing shit like that on a day like this.”
“Yeah,” I offered sighing when the noise from the park got louder as we curved around it. The car would be parked not far past the park. I probably missed the only truly fun day of work there, watching Henry attempt to work heavy machinery. He seemed excited about it, but he didn’t look like the type that would know how to use a front-end loader. The thought of laughing with Luke as we watched as Henry ground the gears and bounced around in the seat made me smirk.
“What?” Ally asked and I turned to see her studying me.
“Nothing,” I answered squeezing her hand gently. “Just enjoying the day.”
“Good,” she said and we all settled in to drift the rest of the way down the river.
A little while later Derek told us that we had arrived at the trail that led to the cars. The guys jumped off their floats and pulled the girls to the banks so that they could get out of their floats and stay dry. I helped Derek haul the cooler, still full of beer, out of the river. Then we dried off with the girl’s towels before we packed up everything and started down the trial. Slower this time since we were all barefoot after we left our shoes in the cars back at the waterfall trail.
After we stepped out onto the gravel parking area at the entrance of the trail and Toby walked over to where he hid the keys to his truck. I watched Toby reach up and under the front fender and fished them out before I let the tailgate drop and we shoved the cooler into the back. Then I helped the girls climb up. We handed them the floats and they started letting the air out of them as I climbed into the back of the truck with them and Derek got into the passenger side.
“Come with us to get something to eat,” Ally said as she held the nozzle open for the air to escape. Her float was rapidly deflating as Toby started the truck and backed out of the gravel and into the road towards town and where we left the other cars.
“I better get on home,” I said sighing. “Mom probably has already heard about me ditching out on work.”
“Then you’re already in trouble,” Ally countered, but she frowned. “I guess we should have let you go on into work.”
“I had fun,” I offered smiling. “I should have snuck out on them once or twice already.”
“So, you’ll come and eat?” Ally asked and I smiled and nodded my head. She made a good point, I would be in trouble anyway, I might as well eat first.
We ended up pulling into the drive thru of McDonalds before we retrieved the other vehicles. Toby paid for the food we got, and we all ate on the way to get the cars. It didn’t take us long to get back to the trail, it wasn’t too far down river, but we had wasted a good chunk of the day not going anywhere. It was how things were supposed to be here during the waning summer. Especially during my senior year. I was supposed to relax and count the days down before graduation and worry about missing my friends. I wasn’t supposed to kiss Luke and have that fuck everything up. I couldn’t shake it off though, as hard as I tried all day the kiss stayed with me.
“See y’all later,” I said after Toby killed the engine. He parked beside my car and I leaned over and kissed Ally, tasting salt and 7Up. She smiled and pulled me back in for another kiss and we both laughed when we fell over the floats onto the bed of the truck.
“Get a room, slut,” Heather said, and I looked up to see her smiling and shaking her head.
“Don’t look, pervert,” I countered as I did a push up and then helped Ally up. Then I jumped over the side of the truck and gave them all a quick wave before I opened the door to my car and slid into the driver’s side. I was still damp from the river water and now that I was away from the river, I noticed how much I did smell like the water.
I waved at them before I sped away towards home. I didn’t look to see if people were still working as I passed the park on my way. I didn’t want the off chance of seeing Luke to deter me from the ass chewing I was sure to get when I got home. Mom didn’t say anything about emergencies at her job, so she would have settled in for a relaxing Sunday. The thought of her nearly ungrounding me this morning did make me slow down just a little bit as I left town and headed home.
When I arrived, I parked beside Mom’s car and by the time I was out of the car and headed towards the front steps, she had opened the door and was standing on the porch with her arms crossed.
“I’m sorry,” I offered when I reached the bottom stair. “They showed up here and surprised me, I didn’t want to go with them.”
“Then why did you?” She asked letting her hands fall to her sides. “Just when I thought you were turning the corner; I was going to invite them to dinner tonight.”
“Dinner?” I asked frowning. “I already ate.”
“Of course you have,” she said turning around to open the door. She held it open for me and I reluctantly walked up the stairs and into the living room. Now that I was inside, I could smell the food cooking in the kitchen.
“I do feel bad,” I countered as I turned back around to face her. “I argued with them to just let me go in, but Toby rode with me and…”
“You make your own decisions, Jackson,” Mom interrupted holding up her hand to stop me from talking. “You know this doesn’t help Luke’s cause either, right?”
“What does that have to do with me?” I asked crossing my arms. The air conditioning against my damp clothes made me shiver, even if it was a welcomed change from the heat outside.
“You’re the example, Jack,” she answered putting her hand on her hip. “You’re the person that will either convince Cindy it is a good or bad idea to send him to school, we already talked about this.”
“Then her mind is already made up, right?” I asked crossing my arms. “She already doesn’t like me, I bet she was happy as shit that I didn’t show up today.”
“Language young man,” Mom hissed shaking her head.
“Sorry,” I mumbled reaching up to scratch the back of my head.
“Sorry is right,” Mom countered, and I saw her eyes brighten. “That’s exactly what you’re going to do.”
“Excuse me?” I asked as she reached up and grabbed hold of my ear before I could react.
“Get out to the car,” She ordered as she opened the front door. When I hesitated, she tugged on my ear and I grimaced and followed her out onto the porch. After she saw that I wasn’t going to argue she let go and I walked around to the passenger side rubbing my ear as my face began to flush.
“Have you completely lost it?” I asked after I buckled my seat belt.
She didn’t say anything as she backed out of the driveway and sped off down the road. Now that we were in the car, I could smell the dirty river water on me and I wanted to take a shower. I didn’t dare look over at her or try to weasel out of whatever was going through her head. She had her shoulders squared, both hands on the wheel. It would take an act of God to get her ass to turn around now and I definitely wasn’t him.
When we arrived at the park, people were still milling around. I sank down into the passenger seat when I noticed that Cindy, Henry, and Luke were in the middle of a small group. They were all smiling and talking. Henry pointed out randomly, probably replaying everything that happened during the rebuild. I had to admit that the park looked nice, they had completely mowed and raked the baseball fields.
I bit the back of my bottom lip when Mom honked her horn. I glanced over to see her eyeing me from one side, a smug smile on her face. It took everything I had to push back all the protests screaming in my head as she pulled in beside Henry’s truck, still piled high with trash from the last day’s cleaning.
“Out,” she ordered cocking her eyebrow when I hesitated. Fearing that she was about to haul my ass out of the car by the ear I unhooked my seatbelt and opened the door.
She quickly followed me out of the car. I closed my door and waited for her to walk around the front to where I stood. I didn’t want to look towards Henry and the group, I knew they had to be looking at us now, their conversations dropped. I slumped my shoulders when she grabbed hold of my elbow. I almost yanked it out of her grip, but I knew where she’d grab next and the elbow wasn’t half as bad.
“Hi there everyone,” Mom greeted, and I glanced up to see her smiling at the small crowd. “As you probably noticed, Jackson missed the final day of work.”
“Grace,” Henry said and I looked up to see that he had taken a step forward, but Cindy had grabbed hold of his elbow. On the other side of her, Luke was practically hiding behind her shoulder.
“Not now Henry,” Mom said turning to me. “Jackson has something he’d like to say.”
“No I don’t,” I countered, my voice barely a whisper, but she nudged me forward anyway. My face was hot and I only scanned the crowd to see that all their eyes were on me, some of them hiding smirks, others looked to be patiently waiting. Cindy was practically beaming from ear to ear, like she had just won the fucking lottery and it made me want to turn around and bolt. I didn’t want to give her the benefit.
“Go ahead Jackson,” Mom said as she reached forward and firmly gripped my shoulder.
“I’m sorry for missing the last day of work,” I started and glanced slightly behind me to make sure I was saying what she wanted to hear. When she smiled and nodded for me to turn back to the crowd in front of her I chewed on my bottom lip. As far as I knew, I had said everything that I had needed to, but she didn’t seem satisfied. “It looks like you did a lot of work today to finish up and I feel bad that I wasn’t here to help.”
“And what were you doing instead?” Mom asked stepping up to stand beside me.
“Hanging out with my friends on the river,” I answered glancing down at the ground. It was the first time that eye contact had really bothered me, I usually never broke it.
“We’re going to have a grand re-opening next week, Grace,” Henry said and I looked up to see him looking at me, his eyes soft and sympathetic. At the mention of the re-opening, Cindy’s smile faltered, but she didn’t take her eyes from me.
“Jackson will be there,” Mom said nodding her head. “He’ll also be in touch with you Henry, to work out the day he missed, isn’t that right Jackson?”
“Yes ma’am,” I muttered wanting to shrug away from her. It was the first and last time I called my mother ma’am, if I had anything to do with it.
“That sounds reasonable,” Henry said offering me a small smile. “I’m always getting into something.”
“Thank you for your time,” I muttered and turned away from the crowd. Mom let me walk back to the car and I slumped into the passenger seat and waited as she talked to people she knew from church and then finally to Henry and Cindy when the crowd dispersed. Luke hadn’t left his Mother’s side, but I kept making eye contact with him from where I sat. He looked like he wanted to run up to the car and talk to me, but I caught myself shaking my head, hopefully telling him to stay put.
When Mom finally said her goodbyes and came back to the car, I waited for her to close the door before I turned to her. She looked over at me as she started the car and carefully backed out of the parking spot.
“Was that really necessary, Mom?” I asked crossing my arms.
“Yes,” she answered offering me a quick smile. “I believe you learned a lot today.”
“Yeah,” I countered, “that my mother is crazy.”
“No, that when you mess things up you need to grow up Jackson and take responsibility for your actions,” she countered.
“That too,” I said leaning back into the seat closing my eyes trying to calm myself down. As Mom drove back home, I didn’t think I could face any of those people again, especially not Luke. No matter what the kiss meant from the other night. I didn’t see myself coming out of my room for at least a month or two. When I opened my eyes to sneak a glance at Mom, she seemed to be completely relaxed, that she completely forgot that I had been an ass and skipped out of work
“Shit,” she hissed as she hit the gas. “I completely forgot about dinner still being in the oven.”