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Bodark Creek - 14. Chapter 14

My nephew William wasn’t the first boy I fell in love with, but he was the most serious. “You can’t fall in love with your own nephew,” Rosalind insisted. “Even if he is only a month younger than you are. You don’t feel the same way about Gordon.”

“Gordon isn’t as interesting as William. Besides, Gordy always acts like an idiot.”

“Well, he is an idiot, so it’s not hard for him to act like one.”

Gordon wasn’t really stupid. He just seemed a lot younger than he was. Where William always seemed older.

“He has a job, and he bought his own bicycle, and he even talks about going to college,” I told Rosalind. That alone was amazing. Only our teachers had gone to college, and most of them for only two years.

“You can’t be thinking about William,” Rosalind kept telling me.

“It’s not like I’m gonna marry him,” I insisted. “I’m a long time from marrying anyone. But can’t I kiss him?”

“That would get Daddy really angry. Maybe even furious.”

“Why?”

“Just think about it.”

I did. Then I asked, “Can I just kiss him a little?”

“No!”

“I’m never gonna have any fun. You’re never gonna let me.”

“If Daddy found out we were even talking about this...”

“He’d what? And what would Mama think? Or Frances?”

Rosalind didn’t have any answers. She just knew that we both knew it was wrong. But neither of us knew how wrong, so we didn’t know what would happen if I got caught.

Part of the problem was Mama and Daddy never had any real way of punishing us. That was because Rosalind and I never did anything that was really terrible. Now if it was Charley, it would be easy. Charley was always doing things that made Daddy mad, and there was a whole list of jobs Charley had to do to make it up.

“Who’d weed the garden if I didn’t get in trouble?” Charley would ask Daddy.

“It would get done.”

“No, you’re depending on me to get you angry. Just so I have to do these jobs.”

Daddy didn’t say anything to that.

“So these aren’t really punishments,” Charley went on. “Because they were going to be my jobs anyway. So how will you punish me if I just don’t do them?”

“I still have my belt,” Daddy threatened.

“I’d like to see that,” Charley said. “I’m almost as tall as you.”

Still, when Daddy told Charley to bend over and brace himself, Charley did. “He doesn’t really hurt me,” Charley said. “I don’t think he can anymore. He just makes a lot of noise.”

Daddy was still strong enough so he could go on working at the mill. But he didn’t do the kinds of jobs he once did, fixing and lifting things. He was more in charge of other men without really being in charge.

“How come they never made you foreman?” Sonny asked. “Younger men than you are.”

“I’ve always been too good a mechanic,” Daddy explained. “They don’t want to waste my time.”

He’d also rather be with our family than work longer shifts, and we all took advantage of that. We’d see each other during the week, since we lived so close. And we’d get together on Sunday, after church, for dinner and to play games. So it wasn’t like I didn’t see my nephew William all the time, on top of our being in school together. And it’s not like he didn’t know how I felt about him, or wouldn’t admit how he felt about me. Sometimes, we’d even talk about pretending we weren’t related.

“You’re really only half my aunt,” he’d say. “You’re not full blood.”

“Do you think that matters?” I’d ask. “According to the laws?”

“I don’t know. But I know that if I did certain things, it sure would make people mad.”

“What makes you think I’d let you do certain things?” I’d ask. But he’d only smile.

One time when I asked that, he didn’t say anything for a while. We were sitting on the cement wall of the pond, and there were other kids around. So even if William had wanted to do something, I wouldn’t let it happen.

“Would you let me kiss you?” he finally asked.

I pretended I’d never thought about that. “Kiss me?” I said, laughing. “You mean like on my cheek? You do that all the time.”

He had to admit that, though lately he’d been getting closer and closer to my mouth.

“Would you let me hold your hand?” he asked.

At that time, if a girl let a boy hold her hand in public, it was almost like being engaged.

“That would be too much,” I said.

“Would you let me give you a present?”

“You can always give me presents.”

“What would you like?”

That question came too fast for me to think. And he was just sitting there, smiling, dangling his feet in the water.

“You can always give me candy,” I told. “You know which ones I like.”

“I forget,” he said, teasing.

So I pushed him. Not hard. Just a little. But hard enough to topple him into the pond wearing all his clothes. Now he could have grabbed my legs and pulled me in, but we both knew how much trouble that would cause. So he made it look like he’d wanted to jump into the water fully dressed, and he swam over to the other boys. In a way, it was like he’d really kissed me.

When I told Rosalind that, she was mad. “You can’t treat boys like that,” she said. “You don’t know what they can do.”

“He’s not just a boy,” I told her. “He’s William. He’s part of our family. Nothing bad’s gonna happen.”

But he did kiss me, and it wasn’t on the cheek. And we did fall in love, or as much as anyone can when they’re only fifteen. We’d see each other after school, and we’d do our homework together, and go around town. But we’d always have friends nearby, to be careful. And when they weren’t with us, there were always grown-ups around. We were sure they knew what we were thinking, and that stopped us from doing very much. But we also knew they trusted us.

The first time William kissed me was the first time I’d really been kissed. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“That’s how Uncle Dougie says men kiss.”

“What about women?”

“Well, they must, too, if the men do it. You can’t very well kiss on your own.”

I tried it, and it felt nice. I knew Rosalind had kissed boys, but she never mentioned the exact way. “Does Gary put his tongue in your mouth when he kisses you?” I asked her. Gary was the boy she’d finally allowed to be her boyfriend.

“What!” she said.

“He does! I can tell! Why didn’t you tell me?”

She didn’t say anything for a moment, then she admitted, “I knew you’d just find out. I’m surprised no one’s told you before.” Then she stared at me. “You’ve been kissing William, haven’t you?”

“Just once,” I fibbed. “Well, one time,” I corrected, not wanting to lie to Rosalind. “We kissed more than once, but it was only one time.”

“Does anyone else know?”

“You’re the only one I’d tell.”

“But who will he tell?”

I had to think about that.

“And that’s why you have to stop,” Rosalind went on. “Boys can never keep their mouths shut.”

“At least, not when they’re kissing,” I joked. But she didn’t think that was funny.

The next time I talked with William, I told him he couldn’t tell anyone. “Do you think I’m a moron?” he asked. “My father would beat my brains out. And he’d get Uncle Sonny, and Dougie, and Walter to help.”

“They wouldn’t hurt you.”

“There are laws against this, Addy. We’ve talked about that. So don’t you know what we’re doing?”

“Then why did you let yourself?” I asked. But he knew I was just trying to make him say something bigger. And he wasn’t going to.

“I won’t do it again,” he decided. “You watch. You’ll have to beg me before I even kiss you on the cheek, in church, on Sunday.”

“That’s not gonna happen,” I said. But soon we forgot all that.

The first time we kissed was in the front room of his house. There was family all around, so it didn’t last. Just our lips together, his tongue on mine, and a lot of giggling. The second time, we were in the cemetery, on the other side of town. We’d gone there with friends, but they were putting flowers on other graves, so for a while we were alone.

“I’ll bet you can’t kiss me almost on my mouth,” I said. “While really staying on my cheek.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“I’ll bet you can’t kiss my hand,” I went on.

“Why would anyone kiss anyone’s hand?”

“They did it in old times,” I said. “In the Bible, they even kiss people’s feet.”

“Someone kisses Christ’s feet,” William pointed out. “And you’re not Jesus.” But he was biting his bottom lip.

“What if I kissed your feet?” I asked.

“They’re dirty. We’ve just walked all the way here.”

“But what if you were swimming, and they were clean? And if no one was around?”

“You’d do all that just so I’d kiss your cheek?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“We could go to jail.”

“We’re not going to jail for your kissing me.”

“I’d still get beaten up.”

“That’s the chance you take.”

But I was smiling. And so was he. So we looked around and then kissed for as long as we dared. Then we started laughing and ran off to find our friends.

Of course, I told Rosalind, and of course, she got angry all over again. She even threatened to tell Mama, but I knew she wouldn’t. Because then William and I would definitely get in trouble.

And maybe that’s why nothing ever really happened. I know William and I loved each other, even if he wouldn’t say it. And I knew that if we hadn’t been related, maybe something would have come of it. We had friends who met in grade school or high school and later went on and got married. And William and I never really stopped kissing. Whenever we knew it was just the two of us, alone, we’d do it till we were sure we’d get in trouble. It was always fun and always exciting. Even if we were always a little too careful.

2021 by Richard Eisbrouch
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I can totally understand and appreciate this story, having grown up in an area that is called Appalachia.  I've seen it with my own eyes!  And, no, I did not partake of these actions myself!

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